Since my novels usually involve twists and turns, readers often ask me if I think all those plot points in advance. The answer is: I wish. What usually happens is that, despite my carefully plotted outlines, new ideas come to me once I really get into the writing. Sometimes it feels as though the characters are shaking the boat. Sometimes it’s Diane, the writer, doing the shaking. The outcome is the same: I get to chapter five or twenty-seven or forty-two and something happens in the story that I wasn’t expecting. That twist to the story, more often than not, requires me to make changes to previous chapters. Thus, the creation of my backtrack list.
With every draft of the book (I usually write between four and six drafts), I maintain such a list. It will have many small things on it. For example, the list to the left, which I’m now maintaining as I write a late draft of my work-in-progress, has a few items such as “plant chicken” and “Becca.” I decided late in the game to give some of my characters a chicken coop, which means I need to go back and show the chickens from time to time. And Becca? My character, Maya, started calling her sister, Rebecca, “Becca” around chapter twenty of this draft (don’t ask me why! I’m only the author), and I liked it, so I will have to go back and make sure Maya calls her Becca in the chapters I’ve already written. There are many other, larger, examples on this list that I won’t share with you, because they’ll give away too much of the story.
I love my backtrack list. It helps me keep order in an otherwise disorderly process. It allows me to move forward, knowing I can give my characters and myself free reign, because I can always amend what I’ve already set in place. Think about that when you encounter twists and turns in the next novel you read. You can bet the author had his or her own version of a backtrack list.