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Monday, January 7, 2013

How To Revise Your Novel (An Overview)

Before we start this post, I'm going to make one thing very clear: revision and editing are not the same thing.  They are not interchangeable.

Revisions refers to the overall process of turning a first draft into a final draft.  Editing is the act of going through a draft line by line and fixing typos, passive voice, etc.  Again, revision does not equal editing.  And now we may begin.

"Writing uses a lot of paper, a lot of toner, and a lot of time and patience." -Holly Lisle

I once read an article online that said that revising your novel will take five times as long as you think it will take.  Through the process of revising my first full-length novel, I have found this to be very, very true.  Sometimes, with revising, the hardest part is knowing where to start.  In this post, I'll share how I edit, step-by-step.  Because, let's face it: your first draft needs to be revised.  It is not perfect.

Keep in mind that every writer has their own method of revising.  Some people go through 5-10 or more drafts when revising.  And then some people use Holly Lisle's single draft revision method (actually, I disagree with some of what she says, but it's still good revision advice).  I'm not a fan of either of these.  Too many drafts just gets tedious, but when revising in only one draft leaves too much opportunity to miss a problem, in my opinion. 

From start to finish, here is the Annie Revision Method:
  1. You've finished your novel?  Great.  Now leave it alone for a month.  Okay, so technically, there's a step 0.5 in here.  Right after I finish my first draft, I read through the entire novel (I borrowed my brother's e-reader for this), and celebrating my accomplishment.  I didn't go through and think about what I did wrong.  I just read it and savored the glory of having finished it.  Then I put it away for a month and did my best to forget about it.  If you start revision right after finishing the draft, you won't be able to look at it with fresh eyes.  You're still too involved in the story to be as objective as you need to be.  It's best to let your novel sit in a drawer for awhile and let your brain mull over other things.  You might even start a new novel.  (There's also a good chance that during this time, your subconscious will think of something cool that could be added to your first draft.)
  2. After you've let the novel sit for awhile, do a readthrough, with a pencil and a notebook.  Again, I did this on my brother's e-reader, but you could also just do this on your computer screen.  I read my way completely through the novel, this time looking for problems.  Don't bother with typos or passive voice or anything like that.  Just note the big stuff.  Look at the overall plot, and look at things on a chapter level and/or a scene level.  How is your pacing?  Are your chapters all the same length?  Does your plot continually build to the  climax?  Do your characters develop?  That sort of thing.  In your notebook, make note of where you find problems and how to fix them.  Also, note continuity errors.  For example, do you describe your main character as having blue eyes in chapter one, but five chapters later, he has green eyes?  Watch for those errors as well.
  3. Large-scale revision (or "substance revision").  I have a passionate hatred for this part.  It took me forever and it's difficult to measure progress.  Still, it's a key aspect.  Now is the time to go and fix the large-scale problems you noted in your notebook.  Again, don't look at line-by-line issues yet.  Some writers will say that you need to do this step with a physical, printed copy of your manuscript.  I say don't.  Do this on a computer.  It'll be so much faster.  You'll need to rearrange scenes, delete large chunks of text, add chapters, etc.  This will be so much harder than it needs to be if you do it on a printed copy.  Keep in mind: you will need to cut things from your novel at this point.  Scenes, or even whole chapters, might need to go.  It's hard, but you have to make yourself do it.  It's a good idea to start a "deleted scenes" file, to store all the things you deleted.  Maybe it'll come in handy later.  Or it'll just make you feel better, because technically you're still saving the writing, even though it's not in the story anymore.  Once you feel that your story is good on a large scale, it's time to move to step four.
  4. Line edits.  Oh joy.  This is actually my favorite part.  Now, you need to print out your book.  There is no other way to do this.  You NEED to have a physical copy, preferably (at least) double spaced, with wide margins.  Yes, it's going to take a lot of paper.  Yes, it's worth it.  Now is the time to look for typos, to edit for passive voice.  Go at it with a red pen.  Check for misspellings, paragraphs that should be combined, etc.  At some point, you'll need to type this all into the computer.  This gives you the benefit of looking over your edits once before the final draft.
  5. Celebrate.  You are done.  (Unless you get an agent and he/she wants you to revise more.  But for now...)
Again, there are multiple ways to edit, but this is my process.  And it gets done in only two drafts! 

Some day, I might post a revision checklist, of all the things you have to think about before you can call your book "done".  For now, I'll link to another checklist you might want to use.

Any writer will tell you that revision is hard.  Harder than doing the first draft?  Debatable.  But it is doable, and you'll have a much better novel to show for it.

Always keep in mind that the point of revision is to turn the book you wrote into the book you wanted to write.

How do you revise?  What's your favorite part?  Least favorite?
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