On Revising: Don't Fear the Reaper
As we know from THIS POST, I was once revision-averse. I was also incredibly arrogant and felt nobody had the right to tell me how to write, but I'm happy to say I've come a long way since my high school days. And my college days. Ahem...
Now, not only do I value critique and revision, I EMBRACE IT! I SEEK IT! It's possible that revising is now my favorite part of the writing process. Never saw that coming!
Anyway, thanks to two incredible mentorship programs for writers, I've had the opportunity to connect with so many future best-sellers, and I've learned something very important from them:
They've taught me THERE IS NO ONE RIGHT WAY TO WRITE OR REVISE.
And so, I present to you, Several Different Revision Methods From Writers All Over the World
Method 1: Charts
Brought to you by: ME (@kimothywish)
It's no secret that I love charts. As a kid, I wouldn't eat my Halloween candy until I'd made a thorough bar graph of my haul. I once made a line graph of how I felt about a particular person over the course of five years. I wish I were joking...
So of course when it comes to revising, I'd do it in a chart. Obviously, this won't work for everyone, but it works for me. I've used this method on three different novels, and I think I'm finally comfortable enough with the process to explain it to other humans.
1. After you let the book sit at least a week (it sucks. I know. But you're going to see this in pretty much every suggestion in this post, so get used to it), read through it again. Make no huge changes as you read; this is for charting, not changing.
2. In a spreadsheet or word document (I use Word because I'm intimidated by the boundless emptiness of spreadsheets that extend forever), chart your chapters out as you read. I write a lot of Dual-POV, so this also helps me see how my narrators are playing off each other throughout the story.
(I shaded the first column blue as I passed through each chapter in my revision pass)
3. This step is just about taking notes. No real revising takes place here. If there is something you think you need to add, or questions that need to be addressed, add them in as comments or highlighted text.
(Here, we see a question I'm asking myself, to be answered later: "When does Max tell his parents about what he's struggling with?" Ignore the blue text for now. It doesn't actually exist at this stage)
(This chart is for a dual-POV mystery novel, so I also have columns that show "breadcrumbs," or what the characters think they've figured out, and what I secretly show in the scene)
4. So we have the whole thing charted. Now, we can go back and scan the chart, looking at how the arcs shape, grow, and connect. In a dual-POV, it's especially useful. You can also go back and start answering the questions you asked yourself in the chart.
5. I also find it's sometimes helpful to copy the whole chart into another document if you're going to be moving entire scenes around, that way you have the original to revert back to in case you accidentally delete a whole scene and forget where you had it originally (not that I've done this....more than a few times....).
6. Now you have your scenes in their new order, everything connects and seeds logically, and you can open up your manuscript. If you're going to be doing a lot of back and forth, using split screen can help at this stage (I never use it because my eyesight is terrible, but I imagine for those with young, virile eyes it works well). Anyway, as you scroll through the MS, check back with your chart to see what your goals were for this chapter. If you highlighted questions and suggestions, they should stand out easily!
7. This is where the blue text comes in: As I add/change/move from the original, I turned my changes blue, just so I can see what was there originally and what showed up in a revision. If I cut something that was originally there, I'll indicate that with strikethrough text. Because I'm obsessive. Okaaaayyyy...
8. That about covers it! Occasionally, I'll color-code things that might repeat so I can see if they're too similar in each occurrence. For example, I color-coded my anxious character's coping mechanisms green and his serious panic attacks red, that way I can make sure I'm not being redundant and I can easily spot his reactions, which in turn helps me see how his emotional state is progressing in relation to the plot.
Method 2: Charts on Charts on Charts
Brought to you by: Jenny (@writerjand700)
Adapted from Jessica (@jessica_froberg) (revising video)
So you're into charts, eh? Well, here are some more charts so you can chart while you chart. After seeing Jenny's revision spreadsheets, I'm thinking I need to step up my chart game...
Firstly, Jenny's spreadsheets (yes, plural) are all in one excel workbook, and she has FOUR sheets: Edit notes to include, Q&A from edit letter, Read through notes, and Scene level notes. The Q&A refers to questions her mentor had during her read-throughs, but you can adapt this to work with any CP feedback, if you're not in a mentoring program.
Her "Edit notes to include" sheet is a shorter-version list of everything collected from the other three sheets, so I won't screenshot that one. But here's insight into how the back-and-forth worked with her mentor (and why CPs/mentors/beta readers/writer friends are SO IMPORTANT!!!)
The first column on the left is color-coded by category (character arc, worldbuilding, magic system, relationships, the ending, and misc). You could still use this chart method even if you don't do a face-to-face/live conversation with a CP; just copy/paste their questions into the appropriate spots on the chart, and include your own answers. If you can shoot some ideas past them while brainstorming your revisions, even better!
Jenny's next chart is even more mind-blowing. This is where she takes notes as she's reading through at the scene level. It's like mine above, except with an advanced degree from a fancy college.
These two are actually connected as a long spreadsheet that I didn't want to squeeze into one picture. Note that, while my charts only cover big-picture things (character traits, relationships, importance to story...) Jenny's really diving in here to show eeevvvvverything. I'm swooning with chart envy.
Look especially at "motivation," "stakes," and "active/reactive" in this chart. These are three things that will make it or break it with an agent or editor. Nobody wants a character who just floats through the story, letting things happen to them and only responding after the fact.
Here's another reason you want to identify these elements during revision: Sometimes, the problem isn't that your character isn't active enough as a concept, but that you aren't putting what you see in your head on the page. Remember, we have the WHOLE story up here...
...Everything from birthdays/star signs, histories, memories, secrets... all kinds of things that never make it to the page but that help us understand our people better. But if it's not coming across for other readers, it might be something you need to pull in more so it appears on the page. Subtlety is great, but when it's so subtle it's not there, you can have a problem. So, before you go raging down the street because someone said your character feels flat or doesn't have clear stakes/motivation, take a breath. Can you answer these questions? If so, refer to your chart. Where can you add more active moments with the character? Where can you take scenes that were just "fun to write" but not serving much of a purpose, and add more heart to them?
In my next post, I'll cover some non-chart ways to revise. But until then...