What does “x-ray” have to do with writing craft? I didn’t choose it just because I needed an “X” word for the #AtoZChallenge, or because I already used “x-rated” for last year’s post (X-Rated: Should YA Books Have a Rating System?), but because all writers need to be able to check the spine of their story. Hence, we need to x-ray our novels to see the bones.
Stories are about transformation, a journey that changes the hero. In screenwriting, “checking the spine” means making sure every scene in the story informs and affects this change. I do this at the outline stage when I have all my scenes laid out and summarized into paragraphs. If you don’t outline, you can make a scene list based on your draft, writing one line for each scene.
3 Tips for X-Raying Your Story
Check for spine scoliosis. Is there a bend in your story’s spine? A place where you went off track and lost sight of the hero’s journey? Straighten it up by making sure every scene contributes to the journey.
Look for slipped discs. This is a scene that, though it began as a crucial point in the plot, now (after many revisions) has slipped out of the main plot and is hurting your story. Either bring it back to where it used to be or cut it out.
Assess bone density. Is every scene solid and dense and packed with intrigue regarding the hero’s journey? Look for weaknesses, like scenes without active goals or conflict or stakes. If just one of these is missing, it weakens the entire story spine.
2 Examples of Straight Story Spines
These are supposed to be short posts, so I’m not going to break down an entire novel for you and show you how every single scene informs and affects the hero’s journey, but take my word for it that THE HUNGER GAMES and THE FAULT IN OUR STARS both do this extremely well.
1 Link for more help
I talk in more detail about how every scene needs conflict, stakes and change in this post: 3 Things that Keep Your Story on the Road (not the Goat Path).
Well that’s it for me in this Blogging A-Z Challenge! Robin has the last two letters! Coming up:
It’s been a blast! 😉
19 thoughts on “X is for X-Ray”
This is going to be a problem when I’m editing, I’m pretty sure. Oh well… Sounds like a problem for Future Hannah!
It’s a problem for most writers! But that’s why we edit. 😉
I wait until I’m done with the rough draft, and then I create a color coded flow chart and track all the plot threads, chapter by chapter, to make sure they all run through the story to the conclusion and there are no dangling threads that go nowhere.
Ha! Zymugy! I did Zeugma last year.
Zymurgy was my idea. Sometimes you need to get creative with the hard challenge letters.
It may not sound like a good writing tips word, but trust me, I make it work. : )
Heather, this is a wonderful analogy! Thanks so much for bringing a new perspective on this for me. I’ll be catching up on your posts in May. A to Z was crazy busy for me, and I just couldn’t keep up.
I ended up writing about X-ray as well, just in a different context. 🙂
Congrats on finishing your posts!
Thanks so much, Sue! I hear you re: being too busy writing A-Z posts to keep up with reading them. I’ll also be playing catch up in May. Oh, and I see from reading your blog that I spelled X-ray properly! Huzzah! Though sometimes I used a small “x”.
Great analogies! Very creative.
Thanks, Yvonne! One needs to use a bit of creativity when working with X. 😉
Great tips and nice use of the letter.
~Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
Member of C. Lee’s Muffin Commando Squad
Patricia Lynne, Indie Author
Thanks, Patricia! I dreaded this letter so much that I procrastinated for 5 days on this post! Finally, the day before, I had to write something. One great thing about the A to Z Challenge is how it forces me to write blog posts fast. I’m going to try to continue that into May.
I like the books you chose for your examples. Great post.
Thanks, Sarah! They’re two of my favourite books for completely different reasons 😉
Cool use of the term and good advice too. @jeancogdell at Jean’s Writing
Thanks, Jean! I worried it was a bit of a stretch for an X post, but my other two ideas didn’t pan out so I had to run with this one!
Great tips as always. I really appreciate them. As a budding novelist any help is welcome and your blog is most helpful and enlightening. Keep up the great work.
Aw, thanks for that, Shawn! So glad you find the blog helpful!
Hi Heather – I’m a reviewer and have been wondering about how some authors seem to bring up material in their novels which seem to have no effect in the main storyline whatsoever. This is in regard to “making sure every scene contributes to the journey.” I’ve read a few books like this lately. 🙂
FictionZeal – Impartial, Straighforward Fiction Book Reviews
Well, there are two explanations… First, it could be that there’s a thematic link and though the scene may not advance the main plot, it helps the hero grow and change. Subplots fall into this category. The second explanation is that the novel might not be very well crafted.