How to Refine Your Novel: Plot at the Word Level

Paralell Lives ((A Novel of the 1960s))I’ve been taking my historical novel Parallel Lives through multiple final steps refining each scene and considering the impact of the words I chose. Daily, I discover meaningful insights through new strategies and twisting old strategies in new ways to create plot at the word level. I keep wanting to share what I’m finding helpful how to refine your novel: plot at the word level. Focus exclusively my own work? Share with others? I tell writers I consult with always to put yourself, schedule your writing first. Still… 

The struggle I’m experiencing as I attempt to focus exclusively on my own novel — versus sharing with you — highlights to me in very obvious ways my propensity for teaching and sharing are at the core antagonistic. Why antagonistic? Because I often use helping others as a way to avoid my passion / facing the blank page / wandering off into an imaginary world with so many other pressing demands. Helping others is easy. Fulfilling all the necessary steps toward my own personal goals alternate between doable and insurmountable. 

how to refine your novelMy hiatus from social media and dedicating all my time to my own writing and putting my true passion ahead of others often feels uncomfortable. More and more, I find myself protecting my time for writing.

Now, as my form of a compromise — and in an attempt to catch up as I wait impatiently for Friday so I can read and evaluate all the work I’ve done on my manuscript over the past several months — I share those tips I found helpful for how to refine your novel: plot at the word level.

So far, in what I’m calling this program How to Refine Your Novel: Plot at the Word Level — Behind the Scenes, I’ve covered:

Step 1: Emotion

Step 2: Conflict

Step 3: Scene Types


Step 4

In Step 3 you identified or redefined or committed to a different Scene Type than you initially wrote for every scene (yes, I did every scene when refining my novel though focusing on the Energetic Markers and key turning points alone is enlightening), I also found Step 4 – Goal powerful in solidifying and grounding all the scenes. 

Double-check the protagonist’s goal in each scene. A specific, measurable goal turns floating and rambling scenes into tight and focused and meaningful scenes.

The protagonist’s goal is the 4th column on the Scene Tracker (to learn how to create a Scene Tracker for your individual story, check out my latest plot book — Writing Blockbuster Plots). 

Wedged between the Character Emotional Development column and Dramatic Action column, the goal helps define the Character Emotional Development / what’s important to the character. The goal also defines the Dramatic Action in every scene with the steps the character believes will move toward her nearer to success. 

Create scene goals that are measurable, quantifiable and that characterize the protagonist as she moves yet another step closer (she believes) or is spun away from her overall story goal.

Step 5
Internal monologue

Pick a color. Highlight

  • the thinking the characters do
  • insertions of descriptions
  • setting forth or explaining something from the character’s point of view / explanations of ideas
  • background information (including all memories and flashbacks of prior events ) 
  • any retelling of what’s already happened off the page (in other words, not in real time scene)

Scan the pages for a sense of how much of the scene is internal. Telling and explaining creates distance between the characters/story and the reader. Readers tend to skim the internal stuff unless written well in search of movement and “the good stuff” — exciting action. Consider sections to cut or go back and actually insert live scenes that put the reader fully into a pivotal and important scene when it belongs sequentially.

For more steps, sign-up for my free monthly Plot Tips ezine 

Disclaimer: This sort of exacting refinement can be tedious and tiring and well worth the time and effort. You’ll learn lots about yourself as a writer. What’s missing. What works. How to add the missing parts. How to broaden what works.


In How to Refine Your Novel: Plot at the Word Level, we’re analyzing:

deep scenes

Writing Blockbuster Plots

1) The 7 essential elements of plot in each scene using my newest book Writing Blockbuster Plots

2) Scene Type choices with the help of Writing Deep Scenes