Revision (part one of ??)

There have been a lot of posts covering the revision process, but since every writer is different—and every book is different—there’s always room for anther revision post. The request for this post came with a mention of revising a Nano project, so I’ll start with sorting out the most basic first draft a person can write. Like, it’s just a collection of words on paper. Things happen. To people. Maybe it makes sense. Maybe it doesn’t.

1. Start with the macro.

That is, make sure the structure of the book is solid. There’s no point in moving furniture around a house that doesn’t have a stable foundation, or has missing walls. I mean, you can’t even put a window in when you don’t have a wall.

So first, identify the things that are important to you. Those will be what you come back to in order to ensure you’re staying true to the story you want to tell. What is the story you want to tell? What’s the most important aspect? What’s the thing that drew you to the story in the first place?

Once you know all that, you can work toward bringing what you have closer to your vision.

What are these macro things you need in place? (Since you’re writing a book, not building a house.)

a) Character and motivations.

Make sure you know your characters. When they take action—or react to something—make it consistent with what you’ve already set up. Or if someone acts out of character, be sure the reader understands why they’re doing that.

Deciding a few things early on might help. “Gabrielle never runs from a fight,” or “Alexia chooses sneakiness over directness every time,” or “Sarah always sees the good in people.” If you can figure out some basic, character-defining statements early on (just for yourself, not to state in the book), then you’re going to have a much easier time building (or reinforcing) the foundations of your character.

As you go through the draft, make sure that every decision your characters make is true to what you’ve laid out. If every single one of your character is doing this, then you’re more likely to have a solid foundation for the story, with fewer “but wait, I thought–”

b) Worldbuilding.

Speaking of “but wait, I thought—”, make sure your worldbuilding is in order. If you haven’t done so already, lay out your rules. Check them for logic. I don’t care if you’re writing space opera, steampunk, or contemporary: your world has rules and you need to know what they are.

If you’re writing something set in the real world (or real world with a twist), make sure you know all there is to know about the locations where your story is set. (Laws—written and unwritten—history, driving distances, etc.) Research is your friend for making the reader feel like they are living in your world along with your characters.

If you’re adding an element of magic to the real world, make sure your new rules are logical and consistent.

And if you’re building a whole new world…same thing, but you’ll have to go through and invent not just the laws and elements of magic, but the geography and cultures and even the stars in the sky. Get your macro worldbuilding solid so the micro makes sense.

c) Major conflicts, goals, and stakes.

Pull out the biggest problems for your characters. Is it getting a date to Prom? Is it saving the world? Something in between?

Make sure you’ve identified the main issues. Often you’ll find a few main plots—a couple external and an internal. (Obviously there can be more plots than that, but we’re talking main plots/basic structures.) Do your characters work toward their goals? Are the goals and conflicts connected?

A quick way to weed out useless scenes is to figure out whether or not the scene drives the plot. If a scene doesn’t get the characters closer to—or farther from—their goals, chances are you can cut it. (Or find a way to make it work.)

Sooooo…this is a lot of just identifying what you have on the page, and I’m already at a fairly good-sized post. I guess that means I’m breaking this topic up into parts. How many parts? I don’t know.

Anyway, I hope this is helpful for getting some of the big-picture items in order! Anyone have anything to add?

8 Responses to Revision (part one of ??)

  1. Kim Graff Feb 4 2015 at 8:28 am #

    Revision is my favorite part, and these are all really great tips to figuring out what’s going on with your novel to get ready to revise it.

  2. Pat Feb 4 2015 at 9:50 am #

    Great post and lots of valuable info!!

  3. kaitlynsage Feb 4 2015 at 9:54 am #

    Perfectly timed, Jodi. I just wrote my second novel’s final scene and am gearing up for a big macro revision before I send it to my betas. This is a great guide to getting started. Yay!

  4. Mawa Mahima Feb 4 2015 at 1:07 pm #

    This is SO helpful (and I’m glad it’s part of a series!) thanks for this! Sometimes revising a novel seems so daunting so it’s nice to know what to focus on after the big finish. 🙂

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