We’re six days away from the end of November, and many of you know what that means. The end of NaNoWriMo looms nigh, and for many, that means the end of a draft.
As writers, we all know what comes after you complete a rough draft…
TIME TO MURDER YOUR MANUSCRIPT.
The revision process is not easy. It’s fraught with terror and loathing. You’re torn between doubting whether the draft is salvageable, or whether you should set it (and possibly your computer) on fire. You alternate between various stages of “no,” “why,” and “SOMEONE BURN IT I JUST DON’T CARE” with every poke. It tends to look vaguely like this:
Before you set everything on fire, though, the first step is…
1) Basic editing. Run spellcheck, use a grammar checker like Hemingway App, and use Find and Replace for changed character names, place names, and so on. Make sure your manuscript is readable. Then…
2) Send it off to beta readers. Give them as much or as little guidance as you need. Then, while you wait…
3) Consider some big picture changes on your own:
MOOD. GOOD LORD, MOOD. Okay. So this is something that should be present even in the rough draft, but in the event that it isn’t, this is something you want to work in. Every book has a “feel” to it. What’s yours? What is the atmosphere like? How heavy or light is it? How can you tweak the mood in each scene? Description and imagery can do a lot of work for you with mood. USE IT. Check your big scenes. Dial it up. Make it intense!
SUBPLOTS. Notice how that’s in big, capital letters? Yes. There is a reason for that. Subplots tend to be messy in rough drafts. Check them. How many of them do you have? Are they neatly tied up? Or are there threads in place for future books? This is the time to examine your subplots and figure out what in the world you’re doing with them.
Are the character arcs complete? How much have your major characters changed from the beginning of the story to the end? Is there enough of a change? How have their relationships with other characters changed over the course of the story? Are there characters who need to be cut entirely or combined?
Are their motivations strong enough? Sometimes additional back story is necessary to illustrate a character’s motivations or a particular relationship. There are plenty of character worksheets out there, but this one is my favorite because it is VERY THOROUGH. Sometimes it’s smarter to fill a character worksheet out AFTER you’ve finished the rough draft, rather than before.
This is part and parcel with characterization, but…are we clued in to a character’s thoughts? No? Why? Is there a reason a narrator is holding back information? Examine whether or not that’s something you might need to expand.
Which scenes can you cut, and which scenes need to stay? This one is easy if you outline your story. Big scenes are the backbone of the entire book. Think of them as vertebrae. If there’s too much filler between one big scene and another, rethink where that scene is. Can you add another to bridge the gap? Or can you eliminate that filler entirely? Ask yourself whether each scene is necessary. If they’re not, cut ’em.
Is there enough description? My critique partners hear me whine about this all day long, but especially in big scenes. I want to know the quality of the light, whether there’s anything ominous about the air, what the character can smell and hear and taste. Pay attention to your description. Let it do double duty for characterization and mood. Description does a lot more than lay the scene if you do it right.
Symbols. Revisions are where you start to work this in. Have a particular color you want to assign to a character? Work some of that into their scenes, clothing, or overall description. Perhaps there’s a color another character associates with them for a particular reason, or something they specifically notice about that character.
On that same note, the revision stage is where you really work on foreshadowing. AMP IT UP. Make it nasty. Really punch your reader on the nose.
Voice. This is highly dependent upon the narrator. If you have one, is their voice consistent throughout? If there’s more than one narrator, are the voices distinguishable from one another? Do the separate perspectives serve a purpose? (These are questions your betas and critique partners will likely answer, but it’s something you’ll want to be thinking about as well.)
This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are a number of really good checklists out there. Marissa Meyer and Dahlia Adler have some really great things to say about the overall process that I fully recommend. And once you’ve finished revisions…
Then, my friend…THEN you’ll face the synopsis and query.
This is how I feel about those:
But you will overcome. You will not be sad Neo, rejecting everything with your cute sad puppy eyes. You will be a master of slicing and dicing and word murder, and when you are done, you will look at the revision process like this:
You’ve got this, guys.