Revising a Novel


Writing a novel is like making a fine wine, so they say. You need to give it some time to develop.

So far I’ve been following that advice, now that I’m entering the fourth year of working on Raising Fear.

It’s been a slow process, some bursts of energy and focus, then a time of letting it rest while I turn my attention to other projects.

And I’ve learned a lot along the way.

The actual writing, the creating, is a joy for me. I can crank out three or more thousand words in a day.

The final polishing, the wordsmithing and crafting of metaphor, also are richly rewarding. I can get myself lost in my love of language and nuance.

It’s the revising that is my Waterloo.

For good reason. This is where some of the truly difficult work comes in. Pacing the story. Developing the characters to the point the reader knows who is speaking without being told. Making the world the characters inhabit so believable and tangible the readers feel like they are there.

That’s the hard part. And there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to get it done.

I dug up some writing resources, and everyone seems to have their own approach. Some people make two or three revising passes over their novel; one person reported no less than nineteen.

I can’t imagine. After thirteen or so I think I’d be so sick of the project I’d want to set it on fire and roast marshmallows over it.

After some trial and error, I came up with a workable approach.

Revision Number 1: Structure and Pacing

After letting my novel sit in the proverbial drawer for a month or so, I give read it through. While I may make note of rough spots or other problems, what I’m really looking for is structure and pacing.

Are my plot points coming at the right time? Does the story arc and climax in a way to keep the reader’s attention?  Do I need to add or delete scenes to keep the story moving?

Revision Number 2: Plot Holes and Other Obvious Fixes

Here’s where I try to find problems with the plot. If I need my heroine to flee from the villain on foot, but a few scenes ago, she broke her leg, this isn’t going to work so well.

Also, if I see some obvious problem (like my red-headed hero has suddenly turned into a blond), I make sure these are corrected.

Revision Number 3: Beta Reader Comments

Here’s where I get some feedback from others. There’s a difference of opinion on the role of the beta reader. Some people see them as the last set of eyes to look at a novel before it gets published. I don’t agree. I think they are more valuable earlier the process, to give feedback on character and story, to point out plot holes I might have missed or slow spots.

The tricky thing is they often disagree with each other. After my first revision passes, I added a battle scene involving my antagonist. The idea was to show he was in danger from the powers that be as much as my protagonist.

One beta reader thought that scene needed more action and detail. Another thought it should be cut altogether.

My third pass, then, takes all the comments and incorporates the ones I think help make the story better.

Revision Number 4: World building, Setting and Weather

In this pass, I read through, one scene at a time. Carefully I think about details I can add that will help build my world or create the mood for the scene that I’m going for. I also think about how these details can help show my characters or emphasize my theme.

Revision Number 5: Character and Dialogue

This pass is mostly for dialogue. Here I’m trying to get my characters to speak in distinctive ways, whether through word choice or tone.

I also make sure I’ve got my character directory correct and up to date. The character directory lists names, ages, hair and eye color, other physical features, mannerisms, favorite expressions, and other details that make each character distinctive.

While compiling the directory, I can check to make sure I’m being consistent.

Not only does this document prevent characters’ eyes from changing color halfway through novel, but it’s a big time saver for editors and proofreaders down the road.

Revision Number 6: Language

Here’s where the fun comes in. In this pass, I look at word choices, metaphors and similes, and try to add that extra vividness to the pictures I am trying to paint with my words. While I’m at it, I try to use metaphors and similes that fit my theme.

So, there you have it. Six revision passes.

Then the happy day arrives: we’re off to the editor!

By way of an update, I’m in the final stages of Revision Number 3 of Raising Fear. I’ll finish that pass in a week or so. Before I start the fourth pass, I’m going to check my timeline to make sure I have it right. Then I’ll be able to better fill in some weather details.



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