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How to Edit the Plot

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As we continue this editing series how we can develop a great story by having all the layers in place before actually writing, or if you’ve already written your book, how to make sure all the layers are in place.

The second layer in developing a great story is developing your story’s plot.

Surprisingly the story’s plot extends beyond points of action in your story and reaches into the area of the characters and how they interact with the story’s trajectory.

How to Edit the Plot

  • How well do you know your characters?
  • How do your characters interact with the story events?
  • How well do you create suspense, conflict, and context throughout plot?

How well do you know your characters?

Knowing your characters is more than knowing their outer attributes. Knowing your characters internally is key to mapping out a rock solid plot. Let’s explore some ways we can really get to know our characters.

If we describe our characters in terms of physical appearance, that’s great because it gives readers a visual representation; however, if we describe our characters by what drives them, then we open the door for readers to understand how our characters live and breathe. Which, by the way, enhances the plot.

For example, a librarian who doesn’t particularly like books, but is simply driven because of the patrons who frequent the library might offer an interesting plot and chain of events.

How do your characters interact with the story events?

Every story has that one character who makes the story shine, much like the key actor in a film. Which character comes to your mind? I’m thinking of D.C. Morse in the BBC series, Endeavour, and Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice.

With our librarian, perhaps she feels remorse from an event in her past, and she seeks to cover her own feelings by paying attention to the library patrons. What if this self-serving action sends her on an adventure as she gets to know each person, therefore helping her through her own inner struggle? What chain of events would have to happen for this to be resolved?

How well do you create suspense, conflict, and context throughout plot?

Alfred Hitchcock said, “Emotion is an essential ingredient of suspense.” And, I would also add, an essential ingredient of conflict and context in the plot as well.

Back to our librarian. Would she argue with one of the patrons, or go out of her way to help another reunite with a family member? What if she was suspicious of one but not of another? If one of the patrons was homeless, would she let him sleep in the library, sneaking him in after closing? What if a young patron checked out the same book week after week, and the librarian was reminded of her own childhood fascination with books and experiences anxiety from the memories? What happened back then? And what would happen if someone found out now?

And if another patron, who did not have enough money for a library card, possessed sticky fingers, would she turn a blind eye, because she knew they were researching for something important, and this person always returned the books? What would happen if they didn’t, and the library director found out and confronted the librarian about this employee infraction? And really, why did the librarian feel motivated to let the patron take books home without a library card?

A Few Examples

Lillian Avery in Anchor in the Storm (Waves of Freedom series) by Sarah Sundin wants to prove herself by getting a job as a pharmacist. But when she gets the job, she’s thrust into more than just working at the pharmacy—by mistake she’s discovered a drug ring. How she reacts to each situation sends her deeper into the events, until she’s caught right in the middle of the struggle. . .

In Lady Jayne Disappears by Joanna Davidson Politano, Aurelie Harcourt struggles to find a home with her deceased writer-father’s wealthy family, she embarks on the adventure of finishing his last story, and is thrown into a whirl of trouble with her new family—who seem to thwart her every effort of finding out what happened to her mother.

Secret Sauce to the Plot

My favorite editor, Maxwell Perkins (who worked with F. Scott Fitzgerald and other authors of that time), said to “just get it down on paper, and then we’ll see what to do with it.” I love that because it brings home the reality that if we don’t write, we’ll be staring at a blank page. And heavens, we can’t edit a blank page!

Each writer and author benefits from exploring their characters inside and out, while asking “what if?” at every turn when crafting their novel’s plot because it’s really the secret sauce to writing a great story that captivates people, agents, editors, readers, marketers, and the person who wouldn’t necessarily pick up a book and read it.

Questions? Comments? I’d love to engage in the conversation with you! Drop your question or comment in the chat below, and I’ll look forward to responding!

Your Turn!

What is something unusual that your character possesses that could enhance your story’s plot?

What are three ways your character interacts with the plot?

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How to Edit Your Character

We’re into a New Year. Perhaps you finished a novel during Nanowrimo. Maybe you plotted a new story to begin writing in January. New Year, new goals, new story, right? I’d like to touch a little on how to edit your character. This might be something you tuck away and pull out after you’ve finished your discovery draft, or something you’re ready to use if you’ve completed your draft during the November writing frenzy.

I’d like to share a blurb from a well-loved classic to delve into the art of editing your character so that their inner/outer journey, actions, and dialogue is specific to the special person you’ve created. These elements will apply to both fiction and non-fiction.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is a leading example of the depth of story through the power of its characters and how each character is important to the plot. We see all of the main elements in Jane’s character that really endear her to us: background, personality, appearance, and journey.


Jane in Jane Eyre came from a horrible background. She thinks she will be nothing more than a servant because that’s what she’s been told as a young girl. However, she desires to be more, and applies at Thornfield Hall as the new governess. And throughout this new experience, we see Jane struggle with feelings of being good enough for her new position, but how she chooses to react to those past situations in light of her interactions with Mr. Rochester eventually allows her to influence Mr. Rochester’s life.

What about your characters? Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, you have many different characters who all play a part in your story. Your main character drives the story, and the other characters enhance what your main character does. What brought your characters to the beginning of your story?


When Jane first meets Mr. Rochester, she thinks he’s an angry person, but he does not scare her. What does that tell you of her personality? Her background of being treated unkindly and unfairly is characterized in her personality. She is not afraid of Mr. Rochester because she has learned how to respond to less-than-desirable actions from others. Jane’s gentle, firm, and idealistic personality is consistent throughout the novel, which creates a compelling character in Jane, and one that readers admire and love.

What about your story? What motivates your character to do the things they do, say what they say, or react and respond to different events within the story? In a non-fiction manuscript, your character’s personality will enhance the illustrations for each point you’re trying to

make and the content will really come alive for your readers. Developing these elements will ensure your character has a depth of personality that will affect your readers.


Jane thinks she is plain, but in the end Mr. Rochester thinks she is the most beautiful person he’s ever seen, even though he has lost his sight due to the fire. Why is this? Jane’s inner character shines through to her outward appearance in her tone, mannerisms, and attitude.

What about your characters? Your readers will gauge your characters’ general appearance (hair color, eye color, skin tone, height), but it’s the inner appearance we create that will give readers a deeper understanding and appreciation for your characters. For example, a reader may find a character’s smile to be endearing, while the character themselves may think that their smile makes them look awkward because they have a crooked smile. When we describe the characters in our manuscript, we may be compelled to give a list of all of our character’s features. However, this type of character description bogs down the story. The trick is to describe characters in a way that is natural, and that is through your character’s actions in each scene.

Character’s journey

There are two kinds of journeys for your character. The inner journey and the outer journey. Each journey motivates the character throughout the story and engages the reader in your character’s life. What is the inner journey and the outer journey supposed to look like? The outer journey is what the character wants, and the inner journey is the inner struggle of that desire.

Jane wants to be treated not as a servant but as an equal. She wants independence, but she also wants someone to love her. The story shows how she displays that independence by standing up to Mr. Rochester’s indifferent attitude toward her. But with her inner journey, her struggle, she fears that she is not his equal because of their class differences, and she also fears that she might lose her independence, even though she desires to marry Mr. Rochester.

What about your characters? What does your character want? What is your character struggling with? What are they afraid of? What do they have to lose? Your characters will go through a series of emotional arcs. Michael Hague describes a character arc as a journey from living in fear to living courageously. Whether fiction or nonfiction, you decide what your character or reader wants. Then you structure the different events that your character goes through with the inner journey of how they are internalizing the events around them based on their outer journey, what they want.


The key here is to create a trail of breadcrumbs that leads your readers from Point A to Point B, keeps them guessing at how the character is going to get what they want, and what might get in their way and prevent them from getting what they want. And these four elements of your character’s background, personality, appearance, and journey set the stage for an engaging reading experience that whisks your readers away to a world of characters—and story—your readers will never forget.

Please take a minute and join in the discussion! I’d love to hear from you!

What’s your favorite character from a novel you’ve read, and what makes that character special to you? How can you enhance your own characters by the characters you read about in other books?