Revising-The Basics

Revising-The Basics

Main Points
• Give your book some space initially.
• Look for strengths you can emphasize and weaknesses you can improve on.
• Get other eyes to look at it (beta readers, writers’ group, etc.).
• Divide the book into important segments. Work on just revising those, one by one.
• Use playlists.
• Experiment and learn about different revising techniques. Learn what works for you.

I’m more of a discovery writer, which means I have to do a whole lot of revision AND I HATE REVISION!

The book seems magical enough in my own head because I know where I want it to be, but that’s not necessarily where it is. Revising is simply the process of getting your book there. A lot of authors have different techniques, and what works for them might not work for you, so I’d recommend trying out a bunch of different ways to see what fits. Here’s what works for me.

Analyzing it Yourself
The first step is just writing the novel. That gives me a good idea of what I’m trying to do with my book. My second step is to give it space. I set aside my novel for a while so I can come back to it with fresh eyes. Some authors recommend putting it on the shelf for 6 months. That’s way too long for me so I generally shelve it for a few weeks and do on other projects in the meantime.

When I reread it, I just want to know what’s working and what needs fixing. Before I give it to other readers, I want to fix as many of the problems as possible so I can the best feedback possible. Emotions play a HUGE role during this reading. I’ve had downer days where I think my writing is junk, then have a great day and reread that same section only to find I’m enjoying it much more.

I write down the outline of the story so I can see it at a glance (100K words is too big to keep in my head at once). I do some character bios, refine the magic/cultural systems, the locations, the names, etc. so when I go back through to polish, I know what I’m doing. I make another outline detailing exactly what I’ll be doing.

When revising, I cut the book into smaller chunks that aren’t as intimidating as the whole book and work on just fixing those parts. This also brings focus to what each segment is trying to accomplish (setting up the novel, starting the journey, finale, etc.) In general, I have 3-5 main segments that might look something like this: [The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring is given as a simplified example in brackets]:

Segment 1: Opening. Main characters being proactive about something. Get to the story’s catalyst where something kicks off the main plot. [Bilbo’s birthday party. Some talk of the ring. Big catalyst is the Ring Wraiths’ attack and Frodo’s escape]
Segment 2: The initial journey begins. The characters get to the second big place. New characters added. Set up for the main journey. [Journey to Rivendell. Pick up Strider and other companions. Ends with getting to Rivendell, starting the fellowship, and knowing they will be taking the ring to Mordor]
Segment 3: Fighting back against the main bad guy. False starts. Large setback. [False start at the mountain pass. Fighting in the Mines of Moria and losing Gandalf. Ends with reaching Lothlorien and the elves.]
Segment 4: Heroes regroup and find a way to fight the main bad guy.
[They begin the journey again, have a big final battle/corruption of Boromir. Fellowship splits, set up for Book II with separated parties heading in different directions.]

It’s much easier to revise a segment than the whole book. I reread the segment I’m working on and dive in, using my notes from before, adding chapters, taking them out, etc. Once a segment feels like it’s working, I move onto the next segment.

Use Playlists
I’ll write more thoroughly about playlists later {click here}, but in essence, they’re a list of certain ‘plays’ you can use while writing. Is your book boring? A playlist of possible ideas can help. Have someone rush into the room with a gun. Have a wild animal attack and severely injure someone. Have someone get captured or kill off a character. Does your book feel too serious? Put your character in a situation where he/she is a neophyte. Introduce a character who’s a jokester. The romance isn’t working? Force the characters to do a task together that’s non-romantic. Make one character have to take care of the other one. Have someone else fall in love with that character and force the main love interest to watch.

Give it to Other Eyes Beta Readers & Writers’ Groups
After working on it myself, the next step for me is to give it to others who can see things I’m often blind to because I’m too close to my work.

I did this with my first novel and put up a post on Facebook asking for people to help review my novel. My post specified what type of feedback I wanted (pacing, characters, plot, overall interest instead of grammar and spelling) and asked people to share my post with anyone who might be interested. Initially, I had 18 people, 10 who gave me final comments.

Getting readers like this can help parse out what feedback is important. I had one person raise a concern that no one else mentioned. Because it was only one person out of ten, I could safely chalk it up to personal tastes. However, when almost everyone mentioned another concern, I knew I had to take it seriously.

The same thing happens in my writers’ group. If one member brings up an issue that no one else has a problem with, it might not be important. If everyone brings up the same issue though, I really need to consider it.

Strengths and Weaknesses
When you’re getting feedback, ask for what people are liking as well as what they dislike. It’ll highlight the strengths you can emphasize, and the weaknesses you can work on. For instance, if everyone loves your action scenes then consider including more of them where readers feel your book is weak. List out what your strengths are, and figure out how you can leverage those to your advantage.

Once you know what your weaknesses are, start trying to mitigate them. Sometimes, this requires heavy research. For example, all my beta readers said my romance was weak, so I had to learn how to write better romance. I read, listened to, and analyzed romance novels, read articles on writing better romance, and got feedback on my practice scenes. I might not be the best romance writer now, but I’ve certainly improved from where I used to be, and that’s significantly helped my novels.

Finding Your Own Way
I’ve tried various other revising tips–writing out plots on index cards, doing scene by scene analysis, making different passes through the book with a focus in mind such as character/dialogue/personality, and many types of outlines–but these didn’t do much for me. The previous tips are what’s really helped me the most. The process does change slightly with each book as I’m continually learning and each project is different. The important thing to keep in mind is that what’s helped me might not help you. Your own path might be vastly different than me. Regardless, I’d love to hear your comments about what’s helped you with revising (techniques, motivations, etc.). Leave a comment below!

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