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