Revise for Focus: Plot and Subplot in the Right Proportions

I recently did a revision of a short novel manuscript, based on editorial Notes. The Notes were not specific, rather quite general. You see stories of 15-page editorial letters, but this was the total opposite. Basically, the story seemed out of focus and the interest lagged at a couple points.

Refocus the Story

Wow. What a vague comment. But immediately I knew what the problem was.
My story has a main plot — Parties– and two subplots, Bugs and Music. In the original draft. Chapter one focused on Parties/Bugs, but chapter two went to Music/Bugs.

What is the main plot? Parties.
But when chapter two went to Music/Bugs, it threw the main plot out of focus. Instead, I moved the Music/Bugs to chapter three and pulled a later Parties chapter up to the chapter two position. Of course, that meant smoothing out transitions and timelines, something easy to do; it was also easy to get wrong, because it was tiny things that indicated the timelines. “Later that day. . .” “. . .from yesterday.” I am very bad at finding all of these small edits and am relying on some critiques to make sure I didn’t miss something.

Besides the position of the subplots, I also realized that one subplot had too many scenes. In the short novel that I’m working on, I didn’t have much room for each subplot, so when Bugs got four pretty major scenes, it threw off the focus again. After evaluating the four scenes, I realized that one was slightly repetitious and I could cut it without affecting the overall story. That strengthened the Bug climax because the two lead-up scenes were enough and it left this remaining scene more fresh and fun.

Finally the Notes suggested that the climax of the main Parties plot was too short. Duh. It was only half a chapter. In the revision, it begins in the next-to-last chapter, and continues through most of the last chapter. Making the climax of the main plot longer, gives it more weight.

Overall, here’s what I did:

  • Cut a Bugs scene.
  • Rearranged the order of Parties plot, Bugs subplot, and Music subplot.
  • Strengthened the Parties main plot by enlarging the final Party scene.
  • Created more tension throughout by tweaking the emotional impacts of events.

All of that because the Notes said the story was out of focus and the final Party scene needed to be longer. It’s what we do: we revise.

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