Revising Your Plot Before You Write

Hello there, mortals. I come bearing a suggestion that I wished I had known prior to my first draft (which is still god-like in perfection, of course).

Unfortunately, I know there are plenty of writers out there known as pantsers--they prefer to write as they go without the majority of the plot or details pre-planned. That does not mean you can't read this post (I command you to read this post). But for you plotters out there, this will be particularly helpful.

You should revise your plot before you write.


It never occurred to me to take a red pen to my outline. I was more concerned with finding some coherent form of a plot and then trying to superglue the scattered pieces together as I wrote, like connecting the dots. Part of this problem originated from my not knowing the ending of my story when I started the outline. There is nothing wrong with that, but it makes going back and revising your outline all the more helpful.

A CP of my alter-ego introduced her to this idea, and light bulb! For anyone familiar with the grueling work of moving around chapters, cutting subplots, and beefing up others, perhaps you can see the sense in this.

I know it's frustrating to start revising when you're so ready to start writing. I promise that you'll thank yourselves later. Take that from an immortal being.


Step OneStart with the ending.

Things To Think About: Do you like it? Really like it? Is it satisfying? Is it memorable? What sort of impression does it leave for a reader, and is that what you want? If you plan to write a series, does it imply future books? Does it tie enough of its plot up to still stand alone? Does the majority of your cast participate in this ending?

Step Two: 

Make a list of all your scenes and title them (Nobody will see these titles. It's so you remember what each scene is). Write these on flashcards, sticky notes, a Word doc, or Excel, whichever you prefer.

Note About Scenes: These are not the same as chapters. Some chapters can have several scenes, others can add up to one scene. A scene will be a little plot in itself, meaning it starts with some kind of desire or intention and reaches a conclusion about that at the end.

Step Three: 

List all your subplots as headers. This includes 1) the main plot line; 2) a romantic relationship or friendship, if you have one; 3) a B-Story (as in, a secondary plot line that starts about 1/4 of the way through the story can converges with the main plot at the end). There could be more or less, but don't go overboard, and make sure you have at least two.

- Main plot: The escalating tension between the factions that centers around the Divergent.
- Relationship Plot: Tris and Four
- B-Story: The training to become Dauntless.

Also: Include a card for your main character's arc.

Step Four: 

Put your scenes under each of these headers, in the order in your outline. You'll likely have to make duplicates of your scenes since they might (and should) fit into more than one category. Put each of your subplot sections in chronological order (The order of your scenes in your outline, not necessarily how they are ordered in a strictly time sense.). Your main plot line's category should be the largest.

Step Five: For each header:

1. Does each one have a catalyst within the first scene or two?
2. Does each have a climax? Does its climax coincide with the overall climax?
3. Does each have a resolution?
4. Examine each individual scene as a domino. They should look like this:
     A --> B --> C --> D....
    Each new scene should spur the next one, and it should be impossible to have C without also having     B. No skipping from A to C.
5. If one of the above does not work, think about reordering your scene, changing the cast present, tweaking the subplot, etc.

Step Six: Now combine all your scenes into one giant, chronological line.

1. The domino effect should still exist, even with all your scenes together. There is some room for pauses, of course, but the scenes should not flow disjointedly.
2. Is there a huge gap between A in one subplot and its B? If so, consider reordering your scenes.

And you're done! Be proud of all the work you've put into your manuscript and its improvement before you've even started.

Hopefully this exercise helped you trim the overflow subplots and help paste your story together, and, down the road, you won't need to rewrite chapters to change their order.

Look for a future post about Revising Your Characters Before You Write, by none other than me, your future world ruler.


  1. I never thought of this! I'm definitely trying this out though.

  2. Thanks for this timely post! As someone who is trying to superglue parts together, this came just as I was ready to throw the whole MS into a shredder.