Revision: “The End” is just the beginning

This post is inspired by another of Holly Lisle’s courses about how to revise your novel. The full course walks you through a 12 week process where you read through your manuscript ad nauseam to focus on different parts of the whole each time: plotting, character, conflict, etc.

The first step is to set the draft aside for a little while after typing “The End” to come back to it with fresh eyes. Anywhere from 2 weeks to a month, depending on the timeline for revision.

The next step, before you get to the part where you start the first of many (many, many, many…) read-throughs of your manuscript is to think back to what inspired you when you began writing the first words of the draft that now sits in front of you in all its typographic-error and plot-hole filled glory.

Write down at least three of those things.

Recalling what made you want to write the book in the first place gives you a foundation for when your characters take a sweeping detour lasting several thousand words and you need to figure out if you can work it in or not. It reminds you that there was a spark, some essence that made you want to create this story. Cling to that even when every word feels like it’s the literary equivalent of a dog who tracked mud in onto your clean floor.

Now remember how the book you wanted to write changed as you wrote it (they almost always do). Write down three things that you decided you wanted to do differently from the original spark. Use this as your litmus for when your characters go on those detours to decide if it’s the beginning, the middle, or the end you have to fix to make it work.

Revision gets messy; you can realize you have too many characters and have to collapse some down into one person. Plot threads get dropped and you have to decide whether to make them full subplots or give them the axe. Items that seem so important in act one have lost their luster by act three. All three of these things happened to me when doing my first revision of Inkwoven, and I cut 40,000 words from 93,600 in the original draft.

If you have a couple of grounding principles when you walk into your revision—where you came from and where you wanted to go—you can keep an eye on the important plot elements even when purple aliens show up in chapter eleven.

That’s All She Wrote! See you next time.