Monday, November 25, 2013

Tips for Surviving Revisions

It’s the last week of NaNoWriMo and thousands of writers will be finishing up their manuscripts. After the frenzy of the first draft comes the next step – revising that mess!

Whether you winged it or followed an outline, that manuscript will need some work. You’ll be facing edits, revisions, and possibly a complete overhaul. Don’t be overwhelmed! And don’t threaten to burn that manuscript. We have some tips on how to handle it without losing your sanity or taking hostages.

Here are some suggestions –

Let the manuscript sit for a few weeks. Get some distance.

Work from a hardcopy – it’s easier on the eyes and mistakes are more apparent. You can also make notes in the margins.

Read through the entire manuscript once. Familiarize yourself with the story as a whole.

During the first read through, note what needs more research, but don’t stop to research right at that moment. Get to the end first.

Write a short letter or note to yourself – what do you want to achieve with the next draft?

If you didn’t do one initially, make an outline. Write down what is happening in each chapter. Note where characters come and go.

One the next pass, either focus on one chapter at a time or one issue at a time.

Read dialogue out loud. Use the character’s voices and facial expressions. (Try not to do this in front of your family or they’ll have you committed!)

Is the story told from the right point of view?

Individual issues and items:

Punctuations and spelling
Sentence length and variation
Plot holes and inconsistencies
Description – too much or not enough
Unnecessary characters
Character voice and consistency
Spots that drag or become boring
Consistency with people, descriptions, details, and storyline
Length of chapters
Proper amount of world building
Proper pacing and tension
Word count acceptable for genre
Repeated words and phrases
Use of active and forceful verbs
Timeline for events is accurate and believable
Unnecessary or overwhelming subplots
Show versus tell
Character actions and body movement

That may seem like a lot, but when you know specifically what you are looking for, it’s easier to spot and fix it.

And of course, once you have been through your manuscript many times, pass it off to a critique partner. (Or two or three…) Let them know where you need help or if something isn’t working. Trust me, they will find those rough spots! Just keep an open mind to suggestions.

I’m sure that list is just a drop in the bucket. If you have other tips or suggestions, please leave them in the comments.

Ready to revise? You can do it!!


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great tips, Alex! I'll schedule this post to tweet tonight...helpful stuff.

Tonja said...

I agree, great tips. No wonder I'm overwhelmed with revisions. :)

Luanne G. Smith said...

I've never used the color coded tabs for keeping track of changes on a hard copy, but I know it works for some. So much to keep in mind when revising. It can get overwhelming.

Pat Hatt said...

Revisions can sure be a pain, all of those need to be done though.

H. R. Sinclair said...

Thanks for the tips Alex. Note to self, do not burn work... got it.

J.L. Campbell said...

Good set of tips, Alex. So much to do in writing a book, but it all gets done with a little patience and a lot of time.

Karen Lange said...

Wonderful list! Good to know, whether or not you did NaNo. Thanks for sharing, Alex!

Michelle Wallace said...

This is really helpful. Thanks Alex.
It makes the "yet-to-be-realized" revision process appear more manageable.

Bish Denham said...

Wow! Excellent advice, Alex! Simple and to the point.

M. R. Buttars said...

I'm actually on the revision stage for something I wrote earlier this year. Great bit of advice to keep me sane. Thanks!

Crystal Collier said...

I make a climactic graph/chart as well when editing, to identify where the story is emotionally heightened and make sure it builds rather than sagging or diminishing in strategic points.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Elizabeth, I really appreciate that!

LG, I haven't either.

Bish, I like simple.

Crystal, good tip!

SK Anthony said...

Fantastic tips, Alex! And to the point ;)

Best of all is towards the end, an open mind is indeed necessary to make the rest of it work. For me, anyway.

Robin said...

The further in I get, I wish that I had noted specific thing via an outline form for each chapter. Names of people, restaurants, etc.

Notes Along the Way with Mary Montague Sikes said...

Good tips, Alex!

Mary Montague Sikes

M Pax said...

In the early days, I'd do passes and look for different things in each pass. Then things became more ingrained. I seem to be the harshest on myself when it comes back from my editor. I don't know why that is... probably because I'm close to publication.

And we must give up the fear to erase. It may sound pretty, but if it doesn't work, it has to go.

Christine Rains said...

Great tips! Revising is one of my least favorite things to do, but I'm getting much better at making thorough lists for it.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Excellent advice! I learned by experience that I can't do the research until after the book is done...or I totally over-do it and the story reads like an encyclopedia. I love research...the smell of libraries. Yeah, I'm a nerd.

I have let stories set for over a year until I don't even recognize them anymore!

Patrick Stahl said...

Wow, you covered pretty much all of the big ones I've heard.

If something sounds strange when you read it, it should probably be changed to something that doesn't sound strange (unless you're doing it on purpose).

It may help to note your revisions in brackets and red font (or however you prefer) first, then perform the revisions to be sure you're not screwing something up for later parts of the story by changing things at the beginning.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

It will be revision fun time for lots of writers. I like to let the manuscript sit for a while too.

Tess Julia said...

This is really good advice for any revision, anytime. I'm bookmarking this page for sure!

Julie Musil said...

Excellent tips!

It's interesting when I read it back for the first time. Some stuff is better than expected. Most is bad and needs a lot of work.

I like to keep a running list of issues I want to tackle. Makes it easier the next pass!

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Excellent tips, Alex. I don't know why you insist on saying you aren't any good at writing tips. You are more talented than you realise :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

SK, a closed mind won't get far...

Mary, you're right - it has to go.

Elizabeth, I don't recognize them the day after I finish...

Patrick, good tips. Yeah, if it sounds strange to you, it will sound even stranger to the reader.

Julie, good plan.

Thanks, Lynda. Still not an expert.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I really liked the idea of writing a note to myself about what I want to accomplish in the next draft.

I pretty much winged NaNo this year - unusual for me! - but I really enjoyed it. I'm hoping the revision process will work out that way, too. :)

Tina said...

I'm going to need to bookmark this for when I do...if I do...finish my novel. You brought up stuff I hadn't even considered. Thanks Ninja Captain!
Tina @ Life is Good

Unknown said...

These sound like great tips for NaNo-ers. Their manuscripts are sometimes left in such a convoluted mess at the end of NaNo, they need all the help and support they can get. Great post! :-)

Unknown said...

Great tips not only for NaNo'ers, but all of us. The technical / grammar part is easy-peasy for me. It's the next several drafts, hunting plot holes and the good novel-creation stuff that usually kicks my butt. Hence the reason I still have two drafted novels sitting in the drawer. But this year, my N.Ys. resolution is to get at least one of those two out of the drawer, and get 'er done.

Thanks, Alex!

Anonymous said...

They'll have you committed. Lol.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic tips. I do many of these and you gave me some new ideas.

MunirGhiasuddin said...

Thanks for the tips. I shall forward these to the loved ones who are writing.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Liz Blocker said...

Great advice, and well-timed :) Although my NaNo results are a little slim... and therefore my revising is going to happen a wee bit later. I'm bookmarking this one for then - you know I love my lists!

Toi Thomas said...

I love these tips. Some of them seem so obvious, but I could totally see myself not doing some of them. Good Stuff.

Philip Verghese 'Ariel' said...

Hi Alex, I am sorry, I missed this post on revision, great and valuable tips to follow. Thanks for the share .
The next IWSG is fast approaching!!!
Keep Inform
I am not getting notification in my inbox.
Have a Blessed Weekend