Friday, June 3, 2022

How To Engineer A Revision


What does it mean to engineer a revision?

In my current WIP, I am working with two distinct points of view moving through simultaneous timelines against a hefty historical event. The challenge was making these points of view distinct without compromising either  timeline, while still making sure that the event – a coming together of complex social and political systems – was easy enough for young readers  to follow. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.


So how does one weave together all of these elements into a cohesive story? I first came upon the term “story engineering” in Larry Brooks’ excellent book, Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing (Writers Digest Books, 2011). Story engineering is not just about planning or outlining, but certainly that’s a part of the process. In the same way that engineers really on blueprints to create a structure that bears weight and resists the elements, writers arm themselves with a strategy to create an equally structurally sound foundation upon which all the literary elements may rest.

Looking for information on how to engineer two points of view at once, I went to my go-to for information on writing strategies. Lorin Oberweger’s  Free Expressions Seminars .

And –of course – I found the perfect workshop: Non-Linear, Dual-Timeline, And Multiple POV Plotting with Donald Maass. No one does it better than Donald Maass. During the almost two-hour workshop, Donald offered step by step instruction, citing examples from ‘break-out’ fiction to support his process.

Returning to my WIP, I began to engineer my two points of view and their plotlines. (This is a basic step by step that fits my particular narrative. For more information, especially as it relates to your project, you must check out Donald Maass’ workshops at Free Expressions.)

First, I divided the draft by points of view. It’s like having two (or more, depending on how many POVs are used) separate stories. The parallel narratives need to be so tight, and so relevant, that one cannot exist without the other. While the two points of view need to be pronounced, and distinct, they need to be connected by theme.

Next, I reviewed the carryovers (transitions) between chapters to make sure the story of each point of view flowed.

Next, I reviewed both timelines to make sure the scenes connected to the broader plot.  This includes adding research as needed to make sure each scene was complete.

I then combined the two stories into one, aligning the events to strengthen the timeline, reinforcing the causal chain. This means quickly establishing the narrative pattern, in which the points of view shift between the characters. It also means noting where additional chapters might be needed to complete the timeline.

Finally, To keep the reader oriented, I review each points of view to make sure the characters are distinct, reinforcing certain literary devices. These devices include vocabulary, sensibilities (world views), personality traits, and specific artifacts (such as pets or songs!).

Now the foundation is set, and the real work of revision can begin!! Allons-y!!

-- Bobbi Miller


Carol Coven Grannick said...

Bobbi: this is such a wonderful and informative post! First, gratitude for the link to Free Expressions, and second—I love the way you've shared "engineering" to feel so organic to one's story, rather than imposing an external structure. Thank you and best wishes for the novel!

Teresa Robeson said...

What a fascinating look at the breakdown of your process, Bobbi! I have the Story Engineering book but need to read it more carefully again. Lorin and Donald always have excellent advice and I'm glad you found what you needed to move the story forward.

Linda Mitchell said...

This is such a fantastic post! A keeper. Thank you for sharing resources and how you were able to grow from them.