Yesterday: Looking Back at the First Act

“Yesterday.”

A beautiful, beautiful song that easily applies to our writing process. Confused? Go with me for a minute.

It doesn’t matter if we’re a pantser, a plotter, a plotser, a puzzler, or some other mash-up of a writing process (there is no right or wrong process!). There will come a time in our first draft, or second or third, when we look back and realize we’ve missed something super important along the way…something that could not have been revealed until we had the space to look back.

That’s important. Keep that in mind as we continue.

So how does a Beatles song apply to our writing? Let’s find out.

Yesterday – The First Act

When writing the first act, we’re often in that I’m in love! phase with our book. The characters are finding their voice, the story we’ve had brimming inside is finally getting onto the page, and there’s a powerful, creative energy for this amazing story idea.

Yesterday
All my troubles seemed so far away

Sure, it’s not easy. For some of us, it may be the hardest act to write. (ahem.)

But while we’re in the first act, plot holes don’t exist, boring side characters haven’t revealed themselves yet, lack of suspense or action or romance hasn’t occurred, because we are still so early in the process.

Then, we enter act two and act three—which have their own share of problems. Even if we’ve painstakingly plotted, scenes that arrive later in the story might throw our original vision off course. And sometime in these later two acts, it can feel as if our troubles are here to stay.

Now it looks as though they’re here to stay
Oh, I believe in yesterday

A Shadow Hanging Over Me

Suddenly
I’m not half the man I used to be
There’s a shadow hanging over me
Oh, yesterday came suddenly

In the later acts, it may feel as if there’s a shadow hanging over our words. 

Something’s changed somewhere, or we feel we have missed an opportunity to deepen the story…but because the story has not been completely written, we don’t have the clarity or distance to see where we’ve gone astray. 

We all have different ways of dealing with this, from puzzling our scenes together and connecting them at the very end of our process, or sticking to our story outline no matter what…even if a scene is no longer working…or making a note in the margin and moving on, trusting ourselves to fix it later and praying we’re not writing ourselves into a corner.

But that shadow. It can really dampen the writing spirit.

Now I Long for Yesterday

Why she had to go, I don’t know
She wouldn’t say
I said something wrong
Now I long for yesterday

Hey. It happens. Hindsight is 20/20, or so they say. At the very least, hindsight lets us see the path we’ve traveled, and where we could have taken different steps to shorten our journey or saved ourselves from some hard bumps along the way.

Lucky for us, we’re writers.

We actually do get to go back and rewrite the early acts of our story.

Some editing insights happen only after we’ve written “The End”:

  • Strengthen Theme – What is the central emotion, lesson, or question that our story radiates from? Does our theme run through the entire story, or do we allude to it once and then forget about it?
  • Deepen Character – especially side characters – What is their goal? Do they reach it by the end of the story, or do they fail? How can we better set up their faults and strengths to help them reach or not reach their goals by the end?
  • Fill In Character Motivation – Sometimes we don’t understand a character’s motivation until the end (why does Snape keep protecting Harry Potter??)…and then we have to set up the beginning motivation to better support the end.

And then, there’s this little thing I like to think of as the subconscious story mind. It’s magical.

Oh, I Believe in Yesterday

Yesterday
Love was such an easy game to play
Now I need a place to hide away
Oh, I believe in yesterday

The magical Subsconscious Story Mind (SSM) is both a mindset and an editing bullet point.

Oh, I believe in yesterday is such a perfect lyric to describe the SSM. 

Our magical SSM understands more than our conscious brain does. It gets our story themes even before we do. 

You know those lightbulb moments you get as you’re reading your first draft for the first time? Somehow, you’ve made a subtle scene the impetus for a majorly important end scene…and you didn’t even plan it that way!

Looking back at our first act…after our story is written…gives us the ability to bring our subconscious genius to our conscious story. We get to utilize the full, creative magic of applying 20/20 wisdom to our ‘yesterday,’ 

Don’t miss out on this, the magic of yesterday. Not only that, but believe in yesterday. It’ll get you through the shadows that hang over your writing process. Trust your SSM.

You have left yourself clues in your story. Now, it’s time for you, author, to dig up those clues, bring them out of your story’s subconscious and closer to your story’s surface. 

These are clues our reader can stumble across and have an even more satisfying conclusion to our story. Like Snape casting a secret counter spell, use your SSM and yesterday magic to create plot twists, strengthen the story theme, and hook your readers in for not only this story, but for all your books yet to come.

Christina Delay

Resident Writing Coach

Christina is the hostess of Cruising Writers and an award-winning psychological suspense author. She also writes award-winning supernatural suspense under the name Kris Faryn. You can find Kris at: Bookbub ǀ Facebook ǀ Amazon ǀ Instagram.
Cruising Writers brings authors together with bestselling authors and industry professionals on writing retreats. Join Cruising Writers this November in the Easter Caribbean with Writers Helping Writers co-founder Angela Ackerman and New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Darynda Jones!

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This entry was posted in Characters, Motivation, Motivational, Openings, Resident Writing Coach, Revision and Editing, Story Structure, Theme, Writing Craft. Bookmark the permalink.
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[…] those who have that first draft done, Cristina Delay goes into looking back at the first act., Rochelle Melander offers tools for revision., and Florence Osmund evaluates Marlowe, A.I. for […]

Julie Glover
2 months ago

This is wonderful! I actually used this advice to smooth out a plotline. Things weren’t clicking until I realized something had been planted earlier that could be much better developed. Thank you for reminding me that the subconscious genius was there all along.

Oh, and I love the lyrics takeaways! Especially when it’s the Beatles. 🙂