X is for X-Ray

BLAST_XWhat 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:

Y is for Young Adult

Z is for Zymurgy

It’s been a blast! 😉


Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a freelance screenwriter, game writer, and novelist based in Toronto. For more, visit her website at heatherjacksonwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

19 thoughts on “X is for X-Ray”

  1. 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.

    1. Hi Gene’O
      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. : )

  2. 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!

    1. 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”.

    1. 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.

  3. 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. 🙂
    @dino0726 from 
    FictionZeal – Impartial, Straighforward Fiction Book Reviews

    1. 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.

We love comments and questions.

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