14. Decode the notes you’ve gotten
Don’t pay much attention to the fixes they suggested. Instead, figure out what underlying problem caused them to desire that change. You’ll want to identify three things: the plot holes (wherever the story doesn’t make sense), the motivation holes (wherever the characters act in unbelievable ways), and the sympathy holes (wherever the readers are getting fed up with or disinterested in your characters). Your friends usually won’t mention the sympathy holes, so you have to push them to identify places where they felt alienated from the hero.
15. Turn the Treatment Back into a Beatsheet
Select your text and click the “numbering” button in Microsoft Word to re-create your beatsheet so that you can start re-arranging, deleting and adding scenes in order to fill all three types of holes. Each problem may seem like it has an easy fix, but you’ll find that you can’t fill one hole without opening up another. For instance, if you add an arbitrary ticking clock, that may fill a motivation hole, but open up a plot hole. If you try to justify that ticking clock by giving your hero an additional neurosis, that might fill the plot hole but open up a new sympathy hole… It’s tricky.
16. Brainstorm Answers to the Problems
List all the problems. Brainstorm five possible solutions to each problem. Try to find a path that snakes through every possible solution and gets you all the way to the end without opening any more holes. This is really hard, but extremely rewarding when it all finally snaps into place.
17. Write the Final Treatment
Open up a new document and retype your story from scratch. Once again, these are about seven single-spaced pages long for me. As you do this, you should finally be able to…
18. Identify the Theme
Only at this point, once everything makes sense, is it safe to identify what the theme of your story is. This is important to know as you write. Go ahead and have someone state the theme on page three (Maybe as an unanswered question). Write the theme on a post-it and stick it to your computer. It will guide you through the next step…