The Art of Insertion

A review of your latest draft can result in a decision to strengthen certain character arcs or plot lines. Commonly, you realize that you have gaps in coverage, or a character/plot ends uneventfully and too soon. You can make a conscious effort to plug those holes. 

First, draw up a chart to find out exactly when a character participates in which plot concerns. Let’s say you have four plot lines that need to be shored up. They can be divided into four columns. Write down the page numbers for each scene and a few words about what happens—as a reminder to yourself. 

When you read vertically, column by column, the true structure of that concern will emerge. For example, there is an 90-page gap between appearances for the divorced dad. If you give him an extra scene, you could divide that number by two, and now he would have only two 45-page gaps. If he is ranked third or fourth in your plot lines, that is fine. You look for the page number halfway in between, and you’ll find a suitable place roughly about then for the insert.

Should he be raised to more importance? You may decide to have him appear in two new scenes. Now he would appear every 30 pages or so. Yet that may raise a different issue, because you may not want to break up that 90-page stretch two full times. You may be alternating nicely, say, among your top three characters. 

In that case, see if you can slot him into an existing scene. A divorced dad can show up unexpectedly, and if only the kids are around, they likely will be glad to see him. So you give him some stage business as well as a few lines commenting on the extant action in a way that furthers his character portrayal. You’re not interrupting anything now.  

The same technique works in extending a plot line. Ending anywhere from the 50-page mark to the end of the novel will feel satisfying, again depending on the plot’s importance. In order to give the last scene some pop, truly finishing things off, you may have to devise a chart-topping conflict. That can involve writing two scenes: one to set up the final obstacle and one to resolve it. Or, if you already have a scene you like as the subplot’s finale, move that scene later and insert a new scene in its place. 

Exercise: One option that shouldn’t be overlooked is: spacing out your present scenes with longer gaps. A plot column may reveal that a plot line is all bunched up in a certain sector of the book. That makes sense, because you were focused on it then. Is the story’s time element, though, so crucial? Could secondary-plot scenes from later be inserted in between several if not all of those scenes?

“When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.” —George Orwell

Copyright @ 2021 John Paine. All rights reserved.

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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.