Troubleshooting a Problematic Chapter: The issue isn’t where you think it is

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

So, I’m still working on this ‘editing journey’ with Divided Elements. It’s not so much a journey of ordered paths and clean lines as it is a 90s mosh pit that spits me in and out and jams me up against a whole slew of obstacles. But, in any case, I’m on it and I’m making some progress.

The hardest part has been writing new scenes to plug plot gaps and/or correct timelines.

This is for a number of reasons:

1) It pulls me out of full editor mode and into a quasi- (and much restrained) creative mode,

2) It demands consistency not only with what came before, but also what comes after, which entails a lot of reading and attention to detail, and

3) It happens in a kind of vacuum, outside of the original flow of writing. It’s not an organic process of creation, with the drafting momentum pushing it along a nice trajectory. It’s forced – a manipulation of a newer puzzle’s piece to fit an older puzzle – a shaving here and snipping there to jam it into place with (hopefully) some finesse that makes it appear seamless.

I’ve struggled with these scenes (hence the angst that’s poking through in the above para). I’ve written each of them close to ten times over. Nothing seemed to be working, no matter how many changes and revisions.

And then I realised that the problem wasn’t in the new scene, it was in the preceding one.

Remember those Bugs Bunny episodes where he would end up in some random place? He would poke his head up, look around, pull out his map and frown in concentration. And then the epiphany would arrive and he would realise his error – he should have taken that left, all the way back in Albuquerque.

It was the same with me. I realised my problem with the troublesome scene wasn’t in the preceding sentence or paragraph. It wasn’t in the scene at all. It came long before that, in my story’s metaphorical ‘Albuquerque’.

So instead of just manipulating the new puzzle piece, I also began to rearrange the older puzzle piece.

I went back to earlier scenes and chapters to add subtext and foreshadowing. I slightly tweaked the trajectory of earlier plotlines to allow a connecting piece that would fit the overall story better.

And it’s working.

So, if you’re in the same problem that I was, ask yourself:

1) What gap are you trying to fill with this new scene/chapter? 

2) What does it need to achieve? 

3) How do earlier scenes/chapters compromise this goal? 

4) How can you alter them to make for a smoother transition to the new scene?

I hope that helps. Good luck and happy writing/editing!

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Troubleshooting a Problematic Chapter: The issue isn’t where you think it is

9 thoughts on “Troubleshooting a Problematic Chapter: The issue isn’t where you think it is

  1. Adventures in YA Publishing says:

    This is why CPs and Beta Readers matter so much. I love how a simple comment of theirs can open my eyes to a problem in my manuscript that I didn’t know existed–or, connect the dots for me when I knew there was trouble, but I didn’t know where or how to address it. Yes, story problems often hide in places that are not immediately evident to us writers, which is why it’s so important to take a step back and think critically what we are trying to achieve with every scene, and what needs to be tweaked to achieve those goals.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. JA Andrews says:

    Mikhaeyla,
    I love this post! I didn’t even realize you had a blog! Am going to add you to my Feedly stream.

    This is exactly where I am and exactly what I realized last week (thus the rewriting of my first four chapters. Oy.) But I’m so much more comfortable with the thing sI need to add in next.

    I hadn’t thought it out quite this clearly, though, so thanks! I’m adding a note to my scene checklist to make sure my problem aren’t because of something that came earlier

    Like

    1. Thanks JA! It was a big lightbulb moment for me. The other thing I would add is this – Trust your instincts. If an earlier scene seems a little off on your read through, explore it (or ask your CPs to help you assess it). Invariably, that is where the problem lies. Good luck with the rewrites!

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  3. I love the bugs bunny analogy. I call the stage you’re at… revision as in, I write first draft, sit it down to rest for as long as I can, reread, review, then revise and finally edit. I can’t even call it Editing until then as edit is the last chance to round up typos, grammatical errors, consistencies worse than that punctuation. For me the “E”word is terror inducing. But done it has to be, I cope better not admitting I am editing, until the end. Maybe blind ignorance, or fooling nobody but “yep! Jus sayin”😇

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    1. I thought editing/revising would be the easy part. My story would be written, the plot structure articulated, the characters fleshed out, the world building developed. Editing/revising would be like informed/guided creativity, rather than diving into the unknown creativity of first drafts.

      Obviously, I was wrong. This stage comes with a lot of looking in the mirror, finding the flaws (and the forest for the trees), and hoping that you’re pulling out weeds and not roses.

      It can be terror inducing – but so can writing the next chapter in a first draft. Such is the life of a writer!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I keep a file called “word theif”, where I store the cut pieces with a note telling me where I took them from. It’s not so scary if you can get them back and you can always use them in something else. Good luck.
        Ps. Good stuff never comes to us easily, or it’s not worth having. 😇

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