Three Tips for Revising a Novel

For months I’ve been struggling with revising my novel. It has seemed like a monumental task, slogging through hundreds of pages, this time looking for plot holes, another adding detail.

Some writers claim only one revision pass is needed; another listed no less than eighteen. Given how slow I am at revision, it will be years before I’m done.

Maybe that might not be bad, my inner critic says. But enough of listening to inner critics. It’s time to get on with the job!

But where to turn for help? If you are getting started with a novel, there are tons of blog posts, books and advice. Editing, ditto. This middle part of the job, before I’m ready to hunt down typos or grammar mistakes doesn’t seem to get much attention.

Through a little perseverance and making lots of mistakes, I think I’m getting somewhere in coming up with a method for revision, for tackling this overwhelming at times task.

Here are three tips:

1. Find some resources on revising and read them

Put your manuscript aside and read some revision resources. This can be a little tricky, since people use the terms editing and revising interchangeably. What I mean by revision is fixing the story, rewriting and polishing. I’m reserving the word editing for the final polish, fixing typos and inconsistent spellings of character names.

I’ve found a few good ones: Self-editing for Fiction Writers, Revision and Self-Editing for Publication, and Janice Hardy’s series of posts on Fiction University.

Using resources like these can help you focus on what needs to be rewritten, and help you see weak spots you didn’t know were there.

2. Start with the big picture

Start with the story structure, using whatever model you prefer. I like Larry Brooks’ structure as outlined in Story Physics, but there are plenty out there.

Before I read his book, I would have asked, “What difference does it make?” if the structure doesn’t fit some model. Now after reading many novels that don’t have a coherent structure, I can say it makes a big difference. Novels with structure don’t seem to go anywhere. If the protagonist doesn’t know what he wants, or the antagonist is just drifting from crime to crime, I lose interest.

After structure, look at characters, conflict and tension. Work your way down to the scene level to identify what needs to be strengthened.

3. Make a scene by scene revision list

I don’t know how others do it, but identifying one sentence to fix and fixing it seems to be the hard way. When I’ve tried that in the past, it seemed like I was trying to empty a river with a teaspoon.

I’d make pass after pass, sometimes changing the same paragraph for different reasons.

I’d also have little pieces of paper and post it notes strewn all over like fallen leaves, with my ideas for changes jumbled up in a chaotic pile.

Then I got the idea to create a scene-by-scene change list.

So I’ve begun one. I’m reviewing the manuscript, working mostly on the scene level. I make one pass looking at character arcs, one looking at tension, one for plot holes. I record changes I want to make in a spreadsheet, identifying the scene.

This way, I was able to quickly work through the manuscript, finding the places I can strengthen my protagonist’s character arc. If I stopped to actually make the change, I could easily loose sight of the arc in trying to alter dialogue or emotion.

Once I get through looking at the bigger picture issues, I’ll take of few days to make the changes from the list. Then I’ll move on to other issues.

Seems like a plan to me. I’ll let you know if it actually works!

Anyone have any good revision tips or resources?

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