… With as Little Downstory Impact as Possible

When I say I am a business analyst, people think is the most boring job ever. Probably the antithesis to being a writer, they imagine, is the unimaginative, dull position of business analyst. Not true. It requires a great deal of out-of the-box thinking, and problem and solution analysis.

I caught myself doing this type of analysis when I was rewriting some major scenes in Magic by Starlight over the last few weeks. I took notes on my process so I could share them with you. I used this technique on at least three major scenes in Magic by Starlight, and I have one more to go.

Step 1 – Write a Problem Statement.

A problem statement is one brief sentence that, in software development, is worth millions of dollars.

It is just as crucial for your story.

You have to find the moment that the scene goes wrong before you can think of your solution. You have to find your problem. This is known as problem analysis. Discovering the problem is often a challenge. Sometimes you think you know what the problem is, but you really don’t. In software development, it is crucial to develop the right solution to the right problem. Otherwise you waste a shocking amount of money.

Here’s my problem statement:

Problem: Tory being left alone so she can be kidnapped by Ozelle is a TSTL moment that exists only for author convenience.

The dreaded Too Stupid to Live moment. It had to be eradicated.

FiveWhysTo find the root problem, keep asking why?! until the answer produces no more whys. This technique is called the Five Whys, although there does not have to be five. The result can be brutal, as mine is, so prepare yourself. I’ll try to recreate my line of thinking.

  • Hmm. I don’t like the way Julian and Tory look, leaving Tory alone like that. They both knew Ozelle was in the area.
  • Question: Why does Julian leave Tory alone?
  • Response: Because he has to take the mysterious missive to the Silver Corps to be decrypted.
  • Question: Does he really have to leave her alone in order to do that?
  • Response: Yes.
  • Why?  Because I needed him to do so in order for Ozelle to kidnap Tory.
  • But why did Julian have to leave?
  • Because it was convenient to the author. (Ouch!)

And the answers to your five whys many lead you to a problem you didn’t expect.

Step Two – Identify the outcomes you need to keep.

This was a major scene upon which a great many subsequent scenes depended. Therefore, I had to find all the outcomes that I needed to preserve in order to not have to rewrite the entire book from this point forward.

Therefore I reread the scene previous to this one, then this scene, and then the followup scenes. Next, I did a little analysis in order to strip the scene down to only the outcomes I needed. These were my desired outcomes:

  • Intercept and retrieve missive, preferably delivered by Miss Henry so subsequent scenes with her make sense
  • Ozelle trying to steal missive from Miss Henry; Julian and Tory stopping him
  • List of people coming and going from The Foxhunter’s Rest, compiled by Crowley
  • Tory grabbed by Ozelle

Step Three – Identify the outcomes you’d like to add.

  • Strengthen or replace weak scene remnant
  • Grow Tory and Crowley’s relationship (a goal for every scene in which they appear together)
  • Opportunity to make Ozelle more menacing

Step Four – Identify the outcomes you like to get rid of.

I really only had one.

  • Tory kidnapped because TSTL

Step Five – Brainstorm a replacement scene.

You now need to write a scene that has all of your desired outcomes and none of your negatives. When I brainstormed this scene, I used a simple outline. I used the KISS principle and I thought a lot about the scene during several commutes until I knew how I wanted the scene to go. Then I wrote it. It went quite well.

Were there mistakes made by the characters? Yes. But they are small mistakes that add up to one big one. Not one big groaner that will leave the reader slapping their forehead and possibly casting my book aside in disgust.

Step Six – Adjust subsequent scenes.

You cannot remove and replace an entire scene without some kind of adjustment to the subsequent scenes. While the new scene is fresh in your mind, read the scenes that are most impacted by the replaced scene, and make any necessary adjustments.

When I wrote my Six Paragraph Synopsis Method, someone left a comment saying that they recognized it as basic business analysis, so this job has come in handy to my writer self more than once!

Step Seven – Final Polish

Do yourself a favor. Do all of the above for each troublesome scene before you start your final polish. You do not want to be rewriting major scenes without a final polish to capture any inconsistencies. So plan any scene rewrites before you get to this step in your manuscript clean-up process.