I was talking with a writer bud once about something very nice my editor had said about me in an interview. This let to general talk about revisions and why I found it easy to revise, even when those revisions were a pain in the butt. I kept thinking about it, because I know from talking to other writers that revisions are rough on a lot of people.
But they don't have to be. Revisions are just the next step in the writing process.
Here are a few things to remember the next time you're faced with revisions:
1. Don't be afraid of the delete key
Words are not set in stone. We can change them however we want, and that's okay because we're still writing. I'll delete chapters without a thought if they need to go. Favorite lines have been trashed because the scene changed and they no longer worked.
Sure, I wanted to keep them, but I learned long ago that trying to work in that great line or scene makes that line or scene feel forced and it ends up not working anyway. And often, they can be used somewhere else. I keep one file for scenes and writing I delete that I might want to use again, and another for great lines. I also save each manuscript version before I start revising so I can always go back and pull text from it if needed. But in my working draft, if something is not working, it goes.
2. Remember it's the story that matters
This makes it easier to accept any big changes we might need to do. Plots change all the time, but the heart of the story usually stays the same. Don't be afraid to re-plot or make drastic changes if it will make the story better. Plot is just the events, and there are tons of options to get to the same place. If your protagonist needs to save the girl by chapter nine, let her do that, but how can be any number of ways, and thus any number of plots.
One thing to think about here though: If you find yourself changing the story as well as the plot, you might have a bigger issue than just revising the plot. You could have a core conflict issue or story premise problem. But that's okay, too, because you can tweak the story and then work out from there. It only becomes problematic if you're changing the plot and story so much, every revision is like a whole new book. You're basically trying to write and revise the draft at the same time, which is bound to cause frustration. Nail down the story you want to tell first, then go back and create that story.
3. First drafts are just for ideas
First drafts don't have to be perfect, or even the exact book we expected. Stories can evolve, plots can change. I might try several different plots in a first draft if I think it'll make the overall story better. Feel free to move around when and where major events happen just to see how they play out. In my novel, Darkfall, my big revision breakthrough came when I realized one event had to happen in the first act of the book, not the last act. Once I moved that, everything else clicked into place. Problems that needed a lot of work to fix before now only needed a little.
4. Making the story better is always a good idea, no matter the work involved
"But that'll be so much work" is a common reason not to make a change, but it's a bad one. You've already put a ton of work into the book, why not make it the best it can be and give it the best chance to sell? That change I mentioned in #3 caused major rewrites in my novel, but a lot of what I had already written still worked. I just needed to tweak a few things and add a few new chapters to better weave the plot lines together. Embrace the work, because it's all still writing. It's not like the only "writing" is done during the first draft. Some of my best writing came after several drafts when I could see how all the pieces worked together.
5. Think macro until you're happy with the story and plot as a whole
It's the big stuff that determines whether or not a story will work. The core conflicts, the character goals, the stakes, the premise. If these aren't working, no matter how much you polish the scenes or the writing, the story will feel bleh. My father-in-law has this very colorful saying: "You can't polish a turd." Major inherent story flaws need to be fixed before the book as a whole can work.
6. Trust your gut
If you think something needs fixing, odds are it does. And I'm talking about the larger issues, not the line by line edits. Minor word tweaks we can fiddle with forever and still not be happy (that's just being a writer)--but the plot stuff? The story? If it nags at you that a certain character does a certain thing, go fix it. If that big reveal doesn't have the impact you think it should, change it. If anything bugs you, trust your writer's compass.
We'll delete and rewrite a sentence or even a paragraph numerous times until we're happy with it. So why not take that same approach with the whole novel?
How do you prepare for revisions?
Looking for tips on revising your novel? Check out my book Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, a series of self-guided workshops that help you revise your manuscript into a finished novel. Still working on your idea? Then try my just-released Planning Your Novel Workbook.
A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.
Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and the upcoming Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).
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