The Writing Process: Revisions

Jan 20, 2011

Well, I think the What's Your Process blogfest was quite a success! Thanks so much to all who participated-- I learned so much from everyone. It was fascinating to see the differences and similarities between everyone's writing processes.

And now, here's the last from me in this series on the writing process: revisions. I've been steeped in revisions for Devolutionaries for the last four months, and I've discovered a lot of new ways to make it work.

My first step after finishing the first draft is to let the story sit for AT LEAST a week-- longer if I can make myself. Then I read it from beginning to end with the eye of an editor. I look for inconsistencies, plot holes, pacing issues, character problems, setting issues, etc. I try to focus on the three "biggies"-- plot, character, and setting. I note all problems I find using the Comments feature in Word.

Then, I take those scene headings I write in the first draft and put them into a new Freemind document. I use the same basic outline form I mentioned in the first draft post. Looking at my story unfold that way, I can see where the big plot and pacing problems are. I start dragging and dropping scenes around, and even add some or make note of scenes to delete or extensively re-write.

Then I save a new version of my actual story draft (I like to keep each draft so I can go back if I need to), and start making all those big plot changes I noted in both my read-through and my new outline. This can take weeks/months, and gets complicated, but it is SO worth the trouble to get the story flowing smoothly.

Once I'm done with that, I go back to my character sketches. I tweak them so they better reflect the character they have become, and I make sure to fill out the 3-2-5 section that is often blank up until this point. I look at places in the story where my character needs to be more unique or strong, or take a different action, or where his relationship with another character changes. I often tweak a lot of dialogue here, too. Setting changes typically go along with this part of the revision-- I try to make sure the setting is well set, and that it is a stronger part of the story.

Then I go back to Freemind. I list out each plot and subplot, and then list every single event that happens in each one. With each one mapped out individually, I can see where one might drop off for a while, or where one might be weak for a few chapters. I go back in and add/edit/delete to make each subplot work.

Then I pull each scene AT RANDOM out of the larger document and paste it into another document, and check it for story flow. I figure out if it starts and ends in the right place, and if it functions as a sort of story-within-a-story (character wants, pacing, dialogue, all that jazz). I tweak it and paste it with changes back into the larger document.

After I've done all my big changes, I let the story sit again. With Devs, I sent it out to my crit group for a Full Novel Review (we all read each other's books, got together on a Saturday, and critiqued the entire thing). After getting their feedback, I've been once again entrenched in rewrites-- smaller, more specific changes this time. I listed the changes out on a 3x5 card and am going through the story from beginning to end to make those changes.

I'm still in those revisions, and once they're done, I'll be doing another plotting sequence to make sure every plotline flows properly-- in more detail this time, chapter by chapter like this. Then I'll do another read-through, out loud this time, to trim, tighten, and otherwise make my prose flow better. And then it's off to beta readers, then a few more tweaks, and then I'll start to query!

So, for what it's worth, there's my revisions process. It's long, complicated, and very apt to change, but so far, it's worked for me.

So, my friends, how do you do your revisions? Do you plan it out, or just dive in and tear the whole thing to pieces immediately? Do you simply scrap the first draft and rewrite the whole thing? If you're doing rewrites and revisions now, how's it going?


Emy Shin said...

Thank you for sharing your revisions process with us! It's fascinating, and there are so many cool tidbits. I think listing out every single event that happens with each plot and subplot is a great idea!

J.L. Campbell said...

From your editing process, it seems you're someone blessed with the virtue of patience. Your systematic approach is such that reading through, I think there's no danger of missing anything critical.

I read through some of the processes posted yesterday by fellow writers, and found it very interesting. Congrats on hosting a great blogfest!

Janet Johnson said...

Wow. I'm in awe. Sounds like you are very thorough. Listing out the plots and subplots does sound helpful though.

Best of luck with your revisions!

Tatum Flynn said...

Wow, just reading your revisions process makes me tired :) You're so thorough! Lots of great ideas in there, thank you.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Gotta love all those rewrites ;) it's worth it though, to get it right :) Thanks again for hosting such a great blogfest.

Jolene Perry said...

Leave it alone.
Remember how much I love my people.
Jump back in.
With music... and snacks...

David P. King said...

I have certainly never tried anything like that before, but now I'm tempted. My method sways sometimes. More often then not, I revise as I go. If I feel like my story isn't working and I can't figure out what to do next, I'll look back at what I've already done and find a problem, make it better, and in turn, helps me continue. I also let my finished MS sit while others read it and await feedback.

Your process is great, Shallee!

Sonia said...

I think this time I'll have the plot list before I edit. ;) Nice to see how Rowling does it.

Abby Minard said...

Ooh, love your process. I'm in revisions right now, and it's like pulling teeth! Very slow going, but I think its worth it. Thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...

This is a very good method. Am sure to print the entire series about your writing process once I'm home, and keep it handy when I do my novel.

M Pax said...

I find it needs to sit at least a month. Otherwise there's still stuff I'm not seeing.

I work at focusing first. Then making it pretty. Then I get petty - word usage, pacing, sentence variation, length, eliminating as many wases and thats as possible, etc ... and -ly words.

Angela Scott said...

I dive in head first. I do let my MS sit for awhile, but I like to get right at it. I reread it, try to make sure everything still fits, no plot holes. But the one thing I rely on the most is my critique group (who do hard edits for me) and then my beta readers. From their comments, I reedit everything again. Thanks for your post. You gave me some valuable information to use in the future.

Trisha said...

I like your idea of choosing a scene at random to edit. I've found doing that with my print-out of my novel quite interesting. Because you aren't caught up in the story, so you're less likely to overlook things that really stand out when you're not immersed/seeing what you're expecting to see. That's been my experience so far anyway.

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