Monday, February 20, 2017

Are You Ready to Revise? Prepping for a Revision

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Not every first draft is ready to revise. Some need a bit more fleshing out to fill plot hole or fix issue you skipped over until you had more time to focus on them. 

This was originally written for my March Revision At-Home Workshop, but it applies to anyone who isn't sure if their draft is ready to revise or not. 

Before any revision, you want to fill whatever holes might still exist in your manuscripts. This is all about finishing a not-quite-done-yet-draft—some of this prep work won’t even be in the manuscript itself, just information you might need to tighten and polish it later.

Prep work includes:

Finish (or write) those scenes you’ve been putting off

There are always one or two scenes I know I need to write, but never do write until I absolutely have to. The reasons for my reluctance vary from book to book, but it usually feels like “too much work” in some way. The first drafts of those scenes are nothing more than a few lines at the start, then a paragraph or two summarizing what I want them to do, then maybe a transition if I know how they end. I always tell myself, “I’ll fix it during revisions.” Well, revisions are here, so no more putting it off.

If you have any scenes like this, put your butt in the chair and write them. Even if they’re clunky and messy, at least they’ll be down on paper where you can fix them. And if they really, really fight you, maybe that’s a red flag you don’t need them after all (wouldn’t that be a relief?).

Finish the scenes or sections that require research

My first drafts have a lot of (notes) in them—I know I need to spend an hour or a day researching and I just haven't done it yet. Maybe it’s the setting, a bit of history, career details for my characters, or even the proper way to summon a demon. Whatever it is, the scene has missing information in various spots. It isn’t necessary for the plot, but it will make the scene richer and more plausible to have that information there.

Sound familiar? If so, time to buckle down and do that research. Try picking a day when you can focus—start at the first missing detail and take them one at a time until they’re done. At the very least, get the information you need written down in another file so you can easily add it in March.

(Here's more on making research easier)

Finalize your characters’ backstories

Since I’m a plot first, character second, first-draft writer, there’s always a lot about my characters I don’t know when I start a book. I like to figure out who they are as I write them, which means their histories often change, or I’ll make them up out of whole cloth as needed. This can create holes and shallow characters who need some work during the second draft.

If you also have sketchy character backstories, go to your character files and flesh out any missing histories and defining moments for your characters. Now that the first draft is done, you should know who matters and who needs more oomph to refine their personalities or personal stories. You’ll also know what areas or details will add depth to the existing story and character arcs.

(Here's more on making backstory work for you)

Fix the parts you know are your personal trouble spots

Everyone has a problematic area in their writing. For me, I always rush the ending on a first draft because I’m ready to be done with the book. I don’t think I’ve ever written a novel that didn’t require a serious overhaul of the ending—it’s just part of my process. Since I know this is going to be one spot that will take more time during revisions, it’ll be helpful to deal with it now and get it into decent shape when I’m not facing a deadline (even if it is a self-imposed deadline).

If you have a known trouble spot, set aside a little time in the next week to get it in line with the rest of the draft.

Decide on the final details or names

My critique partners laugh at me for my “creative” naming procedures. I’ve had Old Guy, Bad Dude, City, (Term)—just placeholders for people, places, and things I need to finalize. While some of this falls under research, I think names are more their own thing. Sometimes we need to live with them a while before we can decide if they’re working or not. For example, in my current work, I’m worried the two male lead names might be too similar (Daniel and Nathan). I’ll most likely change Nathan to something that’s more visually different, as I think all those Ns make it hard to tell these two names apart.

If you have names you’re not sure about, now is a good time to change them so you can A) get used to the new ones, and B) change them again if you still don’t like them.

(Here's more on naming characters)

Do what you know needs doing

You know your own process and novel, so if there’s anything you feel is going to take additional time or effort, go ahead and do some work on it ahead of time. Maybe you know you’re not happy about the setting, or you wanted to add more symbolism, or you feel it needs a subplot—whatever is nagging at you, give in and do it.

A lot of holes can be filled in a week, especially when you have the freedom to just fill and not worry about how messy the thing looks. As one of my favorite authors once said, “Don’t get it right, get it written.” We’ll focus on getting it right next month.

What holes will you be filling this month?

Need help revising? Get all three Fixing Your Revision Problems books in one omnibus!

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With clear and easy-to-understand examples, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft Omnibus offers eleven self-guided workshops that target the common issues that make readers stop reading. It will help you:
  • Flesh out weak characters and build strong character arcs
  • Find the right amount of backstory to enhance, not bog down, your story
  • Create unpredictable plots that keep readers guessing
  • Develop compelling hooks to build tension in every scene
  • Determine the right way to include information without infodumping
  • Fix awkward stage direction and unclear character actions
Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft Omnibus starts every workshop with an analysis and offers multiple revision options in each area. You choose the options that best fit your writing process. This easy-to-follow guide will help you revise your manuscript and craft a strong finished draft that will keep readers hooked. 

Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The ShifterBlue 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.

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

When she's not writing novels, she's teaching other writers how to improve their craft. She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing.
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  1. Well, I know I need to look at my overall plot. I need to see if the right things are happening by about the right point. This takes some serious time consuming work. I am also looking at my dramatic question. What even is my dramatic question? Revision help next month is much needed!

  2. Janice, I'm totally geared up for March! I just finished draft 3 today. I'll work through these issues before we begin. Can't wait!

  3. I've got some new scenes to iron out and add in, and a major change in POV through the book (changing one major POV to three). It'll take a lot of rewriting of existing material. Not sure I'm going to get all that done in three weeks, but we'll see what we can manage. :) At least this pushes me a bit to get it done...

  4. I JUST FINISHED MY FIRST FIRST DRAFT EVER!!!!!!(did i mention its 12:30am. I really wanted to get it over with) anyway. I can't wait to start the 30 day workshop. I haven't read through most of it since i'm one of those people who are dying to edit and revise, and this was supost to be my big reward. The only frustraiting thing is that i should wait a few weeks so i can "forget about what happened" and look at my manuscrip in a new light.
    This is gonna be be a hard thing for me to do.
    Anyway, I can't wait to try out this workshop! It may take me a bit longer to complete it since i'll also be starting freshman year in highschool, but i have no doubt it'll be awesome. Until then, i mainly have to work out my characters and their backstories.
    This is amazing and i can't wait to try it. Huge thanks to you. (And all your other posts that helped me get through 60,000 words of pain and frustration)


    1. GRATS! If you really want to dive in, dive in :) It's only a suggestion and it's your book. Good luck on your revisions!