Revision Advice: The first draft is complete…Now what?
This one is going to be a long one, so feel free to simply go to the section you need.
- Keep notes of things to
fix while you’re writing the first draft. Leave them for revision and just keep
writing that first draft. (Post about that here)
- Revising is about plot
and characterization. Editing is fixing grammar, spelling, word choice, etc.
Focus big picture when revising.
- It’s probably going to
take a couple drafts to get it just right.
- Even when I delete
scenes/paragraphs, I like to keep them in a separate document. Sometimes the deleted scene/paragraph was simply misplaced and can be rewritten and added somewhere else.
- Think about other stories
in your genre (and even outside your genre) that you’ve read. Why did those
work? What did you like about them?
- Take your time to think
about the story you’ve written and different possibilities regarding areas you find
troubling or feel could use more help. I like mindless tasks to help me do this
(i.e. walking, showering, sweeping, coloring, listening to music…).
- You’ll probably here
every writer say this, including me: Revision is really where the story comes
alive. It’s where things start to smooth out. Of course the first draft is
essential, but revision is where you refine and hone it. It’s where you can add
little “Easter Eggs”.
- Also, can I just say,
revisions are the worst and best things ever. After working so hard to finish
writing, you then have to tear it apart. But trust me, it’ll be better for it.
Save copies of your various drafts and keep pushing forward.
If you need help figuring out what to revise:
it through—out loud. Not much to say here. But reading it out
loud does help.
a break from it: Honestly, sometimes the best thing you
can do is let yourself forget about it for a while. Then come back and reread. It simulates having another person read it (which is, of course, also a
good idea), without actually having to give it over (which is also incredibly difficult).
planning: I have post already about this, but I want to add a few
things that relate specifically to revisions
- Write the story out exactly as it is, in really broad strokes. One sentence (or two) to describe each chapter. When you’re finished, read it over. Does the plot make sense? Is there another way to think about it? Are there too much “opening” chapters before the conflict gets going (the general rule is that it shouldn’t take more than three)?
- Now, add the characterization the broad plot outline. How does the character change (or not) through the book, in relation to the plot? Balancing the characterization and plot progression is difficult. I know for me, I am either solid at one or the other, depending on the book. If you feel like the characterization is on point, but the plot is weak, focus on the plot. Same goes vice versa.
- See Plot Changes or Character Changes for more advice about revisions regarding those subjects
- This is difficult to talk about generally, but here we go…
- Pacing: Basically, the pacing is about the number of scenes and how quickly they play out. This may seem obvious, but if the pacing feels fast than you might need to add more detail to a scene or else add another scene or two between big, major story-line scenes. There should be a bit of filler but not too much. If the pacing is slow, then perhaps you can pare down a scene or two, or even remove one.
- Plot Arcs: Of course you have your main arc that is moving the story forward. But there should also be the smaller but related arcs that are usually more character related.
- Large and small arcs should all tie together or be related in some capacity, otherwise it won’t feel cohesive.
- Look at both small and large when reviewing the plot.
- You can leave some arcs hanging. Usually the smaller arcs—which can even turn into large arcs in future books!
- For large arcs, people typically know to add the major climax and resolution. But sometimes the climax can feel a bit weak. One way to make it feel more dramatic is to have a sort of “false climax”. Basically, this is where the reader thinks it’s going to be the climax and the scene resembles the actual climax later, but it somehow goes wrong or falls short.
- Example: the main hero goes to battle the villain and….loses. Hero goes away, regroups/re-plans, and tries again. Maybe even loses a second time. On the third attempt—Hero wins (for the most part…you can make this dramatic as you want as well. It doesn’t have to be a perfect win, after all).
- That is a very, very weak example but I hope that makes sense. If you have a lot of rising action up to one, single battle in which the hero wins, it’s probably going to feel less dramatic.
- How can and does the plot affect the character’s life, thoughts, and beliefs? Do they overcome their fears? Do they create fears?
- How do the other characters—including and especially the villain—change the character?
- I guess my main piece of advice here is think of your characters as actual people. Everyone is flawed. No one is going to do the right thing all the time. Really take the time to think about your character and who they are. You can even make lists about their hopes, dreams, fears, favorite flavor of ice cream, hobbies, etc. Every little thing helps.
If you know what to change:
- Make big changes first: delete those extra sections, write the new scenes, add in the extra dialogue or description, etc. Save smaller changes (like a name or place change or even going through and changing/tightening a paragraph) for the next read through and revision.
- The reason to do the big stuff first is because things might change. For instance, if you go through and edit a paragraph or even combine two paragraphs, it might change if you’re planning to make some series plot overhaul. And all that hard work might be wasted.
- If you’re writing a story with any type of mystery, make sure you planted enough large and small hints.
- Continuing make any other major story altercations as needed…
- Focus on the “medium changes”. Mostly, I like to think of this as the paragraph by paragraph revising. Combining, adding, revising, and cutting paragraphs. Make the writing and storytelling smooth and tight as you can. If you are questioning whether you want to keep something or not, you probably don’t. Or else, there’s a simpler way to say something. I’m definitely of the mind that less is more.
- Cut any repetitive statements/areas. I have the habit of repeating myself a LOT. Basically saying the same thing twice. I mean, I say it in two different sections and in different ways, but usually you don’t need to do that. Often times it bogs it down. I blame my high school writing word count minimums for this one…Get rid of the filler!
- Not everything has to be said. Not everything has to be described. If a scene seems off in some way, play around with switching some dialogue to description and vice versa. I already have a post about dialogue/description balance . If you know that post or have read it, this is honestly a good place to think about those changes.
Hope this helped…Happy writing everyone.