Friday, February 5, 2010

Stop or Go: When Do You Go Back and Revise?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Sometimes amazing ideas just happen as you write. Your characters say or do something you weren't expecting, and you get that happy little buzz of excitement when all kinds of minor details converge into awesomeness.

Until you realize that there's absolutely no groundwork for that amazing idea.

Do you go back and put in the groundwork for this scene to have its full impact, or keep going and worry about it during revisions?

Consider these things:

1. Is this critical to the core plot?
If knowing how this event unfolds will affect how the story unfolds going forward, it might be worth going back and editing. Especially if this event is going to motivate your protagonist to act later. If the event is more cosmetic, or will deepen something that's already there, make notes where it should go and move on.

2. Do I know how the characters got to here?
If the scene/moment is a great way to use what you already wrote and just needs a tweak to make it fit better, then make notes and move on. But if you're not sure how the characters reached this point, but know it happened "somewhere" between X and Y, then maybe go back and figure it out.

3. Do I even know what happened?
Perhaps you've discovered an idea but have no clue how it works with the book. It's great, but it's going to take some serious thinking and major layering to get it to fit in with what's already there. These are often world building epiphanies or backstory ideas. Going back is a good idea here, because these types of ideas almost always require a lot of work and surgical editing to add them in. Too much changes to move forward.

4. Will this kill my momentum?
When you're on a roll, you're on a roll. If stopping is going to make you stare at the screen when your fingers were ready to type another three hours, keep moving. Make a few quick notes so you don't forget, then get back and let the muse work. Once done, decide if you need to go back or not.

Moments of genius can rev up your excitement about a project, so don't let the thought of "all that work" get your down. There's nothing that says you have to stop and fix it at that moment. As long as you make a note of it somewhere, you'll be good to go.

Do you stop or keep moving? What types of edits will make you change your normal routine?


  1. Excellent tips! Thanks!!! Good Luck going back and setting it all up!

  2. Knowing how thoroughly you structure your novels, this is a great post for those who worry that making an outline will stifle creativity. With or without an outline, "epiphanies" and "moments of genius" never stop.