Beginning the Revision Process

When you type “the end” on your novel’s first draft, you’ve reached a special place. Sometimes I wonder if “firsties” realize how many novels are abandoned by their writers. So if you make it this far, you’re in a small group of diehards. But now the revision process stares you in the face.
Writing Tip for Today: The sage advice for the next step is to put your draft away and work on something new or in progress. I think a month is a fair enough chunk of time to help you gain objectivity. It’ll still be your baby, but you’ll be more open to changes by then. When time for gestation or cooling off is finished, try these things for “Big Picture” elements of story, character and theme:

  • Print out your manuscript. Don’t try to make major decisions without a complete read-through, and it’s more difficult when you’re staring at the screen. Trust me. And have a cheap spiral notebook handy so you can make notes as you read.
  • First, look for scenes. As you read through be aware of whether you’re reading mostly scenes or mostly narrative. This is where the show, don’t tell advice will reveal itself. If you aren’t reading your story via scenes, chances are you’ve got a great outline for a story but it needs to be acted out so that the reader can “live” it. If you aren’t sure what a scene is, look for dialogue. This is the easiest way to separate a scene from the narration.
  • Second, look for story. Jot down the plot points as you read through your draft. A plot point is a scene where something major happens that reveals more about the character’s goal, obstacles or fighting those obstacles. Look at those notes and see if there is rising action all the way to the climax scene. No fair having two climaxes of equal weight.
  • Third, chart the character’s changes and/or growth over the course of the story. If you’ve storyboarded or otherwise charted your story arc or character arc, you can be on the alert for holes in the plot, logic problems (how DID that character get from here to here?) or places which feel static or redundant, those “marching in place” scenes. I know, this all sounds daunting, but trust your intuition a bit. You can do it.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

4 comments on “Beginning the Revision Process

  1. I like your process. I found something similar in Holly Lisle’s website years ago.
    I still follow the basic steps but have found that I can do the first pass without printing the whole manuscript. I use an outline and scrivener for windows (beta) to break the story into separate scenes. Then I make notes on the file electronically.
    It still works really well as a process. I feel like I have traction as I move through the various steps.


  2. Thanks! If you have the set-up to break your doc into scenes, then that’s a great idea, PA. I just find it’s pretty easy to get sucked into my story on screen and suddenly it all looks overwhelming. Do whatever works.
    🙂 ~Linda

  3. Becky–I do wish you good luck. It is sometimes a long process, so try to revise in layers. You can’t do everything at once. A good resource is Sol Stein’s Stein on Writing. Good luck! Keep Writing, Linda

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