During the week, I posted a picture on my Facebook page of a chart I like to do at the end of my second draft. It helps me see where the gaps are and what I need to work on in the next redraft. Unexpectedly, the picture attracted a flood of comments and requests for me to blog about how I use the chart and what I do when I’m redrafting a novel. So, here goes!

The Second Draft

I’ve blogged before about how my first drafts are a bit of a mess; I don’t print out my first draft, I don’t spell check. I even leave typos in as I’m writing because I don’t know if the sentence or the word will stay in the story so there’s no point in worrying about fixing it up until I know if it’s staying.

Which means that one job I need to tackle in the second draft is tidying up the prose and smoothing out the mess. I also take a good month off writing after the first draft to do the bulk of the research. Then, all of that research info needs to be incorporated into the second draft. And, the book I’m currently working on, The French Photographer, just like next year’s book—The Seamstress from Paris—is a dual narrative. That means I have a narrative of about 90,000 words set in the 1940s, plus a narrative of about 35,000 words set in contemporary times. Both narratives are interwoven together throughout the book.

So the biggest job is making sure those two narratives are woven together properly, which is where the chart comes into its own!

My “What is Known” Chart

The chart doesn’t actually have a name so I’ll call it the “What is Known” chart until I think of something catchier! My books are already divided into parts when they’re written, but you can also use the chart for a book that doesn’t have discrete parts. Just consider where there are natural breaks or parts in your story and use those.

Along the top of the chart I list all the parts in the book—Photographer has 10 parts, Seamstress has 12! Down the side, I have three rows:

  1. What is Known to the Reader
  2. What is Unknown to the Reader
  3. How Has the Character Changed?

Then, for each part, I fill in the info. For example, by the end of Part 1 in A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, the reader knows that Evie has been accepted into medical school, that she has a job in the Ziegfeld Follies, that she has feelings for Thomas, that her mother and father won’t speak to her, that Charlie is a very nasty piece of work etc.

Things the reader doesn’t know include: what medical school will be like for Evie, what working at the Follies will be like, how Thomas and Evie might feel about one another when he returns from London etc. So the list of known/unknown things relates to the main plot and each of the subplots.

There needs to be a good balance between What is Known and What is Unknown: if too much is known, then there is no narrative tension, no unanswered questions that the reader wants to keep reading in order to discover the answers to. If not enough is known, then the reader will be confused, uncertain about which story events are the most important, will feel lost and not engaged in the world of the story.

Of course it’s not possible to say that you should have x number of known events and x number of unknown events because no story works like that! But putting it all down into a chart means you can see exactly how much you’ve given away and how much you still have left to reveal.

How it Works For Me

Because I’m writing a parallel narrative, each narrative needs to echo the other. The characters in one narrative are related or tied to the characters in the other narrative but how they are relate or are tied isn’t clear to the reader. I have to drop clues in one narrative thread that are then picked up on in the other narrative thread so the reader can start putting together the pieces of the puzzle. If the threads don’t have those echoes or motifs or clues then it will read like two disjointed stories.

So my chart helps me to see how the threads are unravelled and how they lead, hopefully with an element of surprise but not of absolute disbelief, to the final reveal.

But it also helps me to see how each subplot is or isn’t working well enough. For instance, in The French Photographer, as in all good stories, there is a villain. I had a sense that I hadn’t used the villain enough, that I could get more narrative tension if I let his threat hang more heavily over my main character. But it wasn’t until I put everything on the chart that I could see how the villain subplot unravelled and where exactly were the opportunities for him to have more of a role and for his subplot to be strengthened.

Now, in the third draft, I’ll go back in and fix that subplot and I’ve noted on my chart exactly what I need to do in each part of the book to make it work better.

I might leave it there, otherwise I could go on for pages! I hope that makes some sense and explains a little bit about what a writer might do when redrafting a novel. Of course there’s a whole lot more but I might save that for another blog! If you have questions though, please ask away as questions are always great for helping me come up with new blog posts!