Monday, June 1, 2015

Tracking Story Threads by Annette M. Irby

printed manuscript with pen and pencil

Recently I printed off 280+ pages of my nearly-complete manuscript. I wanted to get an idea of the story’s flow and figure out missing scenes. Yes, I have the outline on Scrivener index cards, but reading the pages in order helps me gauge the flow better than skipping around in a Word document. 

As I’m working through hard-copy edits (and even while I’m typing the story the first time through), I keep a notepad nearby where I list page numbers and threads that will need to be readdressed in the story.

Have you ever read a book where a thread wasn’t closed? I remember a novel I read years ago where a specific element was a key part of the character’s knot. She struggled, sought advice, and worried. We spent a lot of pages, a lot of words, on that element. But when she actually faced the situation, the writer glossed over it, leaving it off screen and never following up. I felt cheated, as if the editors and author didn’t give readers credit or didn’t consider the reader’s response. There we readers were, immersed in the story, and then we were denied what we’d been reading to see. The hook became a betrayal.

In sewing, if you don’t tie off your threads, you risk the fabric coming apart. In writing, you risk losing reader loyalty. Generally, you satisfy readers by tying off those threads and tracking them will help you do that.

Now, that’s not to say you need to tie everything up in a neat bow. Sometimes writers leave threads incomplete because that treatment is more true to life. You get to decide how you address the threads you introduce. Just remember, the more time you spend on something, the more your readers will expect you to revisit that thread later. 

I’ve heard some mentors recommend highlighting various threads by subject throughout the story in order to track them. I like that idea and have used it before, on hard copy. *wink*

What techniques do you use to track your story threads? Are some threads easier for you to track? Do you print your manuscripts at or near completion in order to edit them? 


Her Nerdy Cowboy

Whoever heard of a bookish cowboy? When Logan McDaniel’s brother-in-law dies, he steps in to help his beloved sister run her ranch. But what does a city boy know of herding cattle? Claire Langley loved her cousin. After he dies, she agrees to serve as a temporary nanny for two heartbroken children. 

Claire and Logan find they share a love of books, and Claire can’t resist the nerdy uncle who is great with children, and who reads to her of pirate romance. Claire’s ailing mother needs her in Seattle. Can she break away? And if she does, can there ever be a future for Logan and her?


Annette M. Irby

Annette M. Irby has three published books and 
runs her own freelance editing business, AMI Editing
See her page here on Seriously Write for more information.