Tips on Surviving Revision Hell

It's been a crazy two months for me, with CONTROL being released in December and the piles of promo yanking me in various directions. I have a promo-sprain, I think. I need some ice for that!

But I've also had to revise the sequel, CODE, all this time. Personally, I love first drafts. Adore them. Revision is a little hellish for me, but I've learned to tackle them with the help of several things.

1. Character arc sheet. My main characters must go through a transformation through the book. I make lists of what these are, and the events that herald those changes for each character. Since CODE is a sequel, I'm often referencing the arcs in the first book. They have to be different but build on what the characters have already achieved in book one.

2. Relationship arc sheet. Like the notes above, this one is specific to relationships between characters. For example, in CONTROL, there was one with Zelia+Cy, Zelia+Marka, Zelia+Dad, get the idea.

3. The Fix-It list. As I revise and re-draft, I can't get everything perfect. I'd lose a ton of time fixing every last bit with every single sentence, so I make lists of things I'll go back and fix later, so that I keep the flow of my work going forward. This is mostly about keeping certain details consistent ("make sure this all happens within a one week period" or "make map so Carus layout makes sense"). Stuff like that.

4. The Theme List. I use a lot of themes in my books, such as references to science, foreshadowing, motifs/symbols, certain books, or underlying mysteries. They need to be revisited frequently enough that they're not forgotten by the reader. I eyeball this list as I revise every chapter.

5. Major Revelations. Every chapter has to reveal something important that propels the story forward, opens up new questions, or changes the dynamics of the plot or relationships. If one of my chapters is mostly filler, it gets axed.

6. Pretty up the prose. Sometimes when I'm drafting, the prose is very simple and not elegant. I take time during a second or third pass to really work on making a turn of phrase more beautiful where it's needed, without overwriting.

7. Trim the excess. Speaking of overwriting...I'm a terrible over-writer in my first drafts! Everything seems to read nicely right after I first put the words down. But a few days/weeks/months later, I find that I've been redundant or way too purple prose-y about things. Slash and burn! It hurts, but it's also great to tidy things up.

8. Pay attention to the Acts. I've always been a fan of the three-act plot structure of storytelling. I revisit this to make sure the macro structure of my book is on target.

9. Pay attention to the highs and lows. It's important that the stakes must increase as the story progresses, and the interval lows worsen. Here's a handy graph that helps depict this. 

10. Be willing to make sacrifices. You've probably heard of the term "kill your darlings." Well, it's not just about letting go of certain characters, but certain scenes and even huge chunks of your plot that simply aren't working. Be open minded about how your story could improve if you learn to let go. Remember you can always recycle what you've lost for other stories.

11. Eat. Drink. Sleep. Exercise occasionally. Take breaks! I'm terrible at this. Remember to take care of your body or your brain won't be able to revise. It's all common sense, and yet hard for me to do.

Hope this helps! Do you have any tips that help you revise? If so, please share in the comments!


Jaime Morrow said...

This is such a great list, Lydia! I've been struggling with a WIP revisions for so long now that I've kind of become bug-eyed. I've been in need of some kind of targeted approach and I this list will be very helpful. Thanks again! :-)

Cortney Pearson said...

I love this list! It's hard to keep track of every tiny detail of a story--this really helps!

Kara said...

I definitely need to return to this post when I finish my first draft! I'm writing a script, but almost all of your tips still apply.

Anonymous said...

Great tips! I'm currently revising my NaNoWriMo novel, and it's getting kind of rough. Speaking of trimming the excess, I realized I have to cut out/down a large chunk of what I already have and it kind of pains me.