Revision Tips

As I write (and revise), I keep a running list of issues and/or things I want to fix or add later. I’m a list maker and Post-it note addict. Right now, I have dozens of sticky notes and lists and lists on sticky notes floating around my desk. When I’m ready to revise, I’ll compile them into one big list and tackle them one at a time. But before I jump into this project-specific list, I look at the big picture issues. And, guess what, I made a list of them.
  1. Character arcs. Look at the growth of your characters throughout the story. How does each start? What does he/she want? What epiphany do they reach? How do they end up? You may have done this before you started writing, but the arc might have changed as you wrote.

  2. Structure. Outline what happens in each chapter. Jot down just the gist of each. (If you outline before you write, do this anyway. It’s a good exercise, and often, if you’re like me, the original outline bears no resemblance to the final chapter.) You don’t need more than sentence or two. Think of it as the logline for each chapter. This helps me see the structure of the book. (And if you’re really industrious, you can map items 1 and 3 against this outline.) Then look at:
    • Does the order make sense?
    • What’s the purpose of each chapter? How does it advance the plot?
    • What does each character want in the chapter? (Kurt Vonnegut said that every character had to want something, even if it was just a glass of water.)
    • Who narrates? (This is for those of you, like me, who write in multiple POVs.) Is his or hers the best viewpoint to tell this part of the story?
    • Do you have any gaps—in terms of plot or character arc or whatever?
  3. Timeline. Put the events of the story on a timeline or calendar. (You can do this as your outlining the chapters.) Particularly, if your plot happens over a few days or weeks, this is helpful to make sure you don’t have too many things happening on one day or don’t have two Saturdays in the week.
  4. Voice. Make a list of distinctive words that each character uses. Since I do write in multiple voices, this helps me keep them straight. (Actually, my editor is better at this than I am.)

There are probably a few other big picture things I look at before diving into the project-specific list, but I can’t think of them at the moment. I’m sure my editor will remind me!

What revisions tips do you guys have?


Joshua David Bellin said...

Really good advice about timelines. I also like to create maps to help me figure out where all the action is taking place and keep the physical movements of characters consistent.

Angie Smibert said...

That's another good tip, Josh.