Yeah, you! So you've finished your first draft and now you're wondering how to attack that stack of pages in front of you? Join the club! I'm by no means an expert, but I want to share with you some of my best practices when it comes to revising a novel that you've poured your heart and soul into.
Throw That Book Under Your Bed
Sometimes it’s okay to take a break. Close your laptop, put down the pen and give yourself some space from your newly finished novel. When I finished my NaNo novel this year, I felt a little lost. I wanted to jump right back into revising but made myself take a break. I didn’t start editing right away. Instead, I made myself read a couple of books and focused on something else. It helped my mind to come back fresh and when I finally went back to it, I had a different perspective. I could see the holes and where the stitching needed to be tightened up.
BIG PICTURE VS. the little picture
There are two ways that I come at revisions:
Looking at the overall story AND focusing on the smaller more finite details like sentence structure and formatting.
I like to attack the big picture first and look at the ways to strengthen my story. In my recent revision of This Dead World, I saw the need to delete a character! I know! A whole character, gone. But it strengthened my story to get rid of her. And I saw some spots where I could add more action and create some more chaos that helped my character development.
It’s also important to make sure that the events throughout your book work with the character's development. I had a character who was introduced as kind of weak and not able to take care of herself, but her character was a catalyst for a lot of things and I felt it important to make her stronger. Once I changed some very minor things about how she spoke and reacted in a stressful situation, it made her seem more real.
It's Opposite Day
How’s that ending? Does the ending fit with the build-up and the proceeding 300 pages? Does it fall flat compared to the build up? Does the journey your hero went on make sense with the ending?
Sometimes it can be helpful to look at your ending first when you're revising to see if it fits in with everything else. You don’t want your reader to be confused or lost when you hit that climax. Surprised, yes! Reading with their mouth open, duh! But not scratching their head and flipping back through pages trying to figure out what in the hell is going on.
HEY, YOU WANNA READ MY BOOK? KTHANKSBYE
Oh, the joys of Beta Readers. "I love it when people read my book," said no anxious author ever. I mean, I do. I appreciate it and I love the feedback. But I try to be intentional with the kind of feedback I’m looking for. I don’t need you to edit my commas, but I need you to tell me if my story or my characters have problems. I know they have problems, because why else would there be a story? I mean like serious issues, like none of this makes sense and it's terrible!
My Murder Board & Other Chicken Scratch
I'm a pantser and I wouldn't want it any other way but it's helpful for me to write down important moments and themes when I'm going through my novel. I like to keep track of major clues or secondary story lines because it can be helpful to see it all written down together instead of threaded through the 300 pages.
Also, I can't resist the need to get out my red yarn and string together clues like I'm really solving a murder when I'm editing. I have to make sure that my mystery makes sense, right? And it doesn't hurt that I can pretend to be a detective while I'm making sure there aren't any holes in my story.
SORRY Trees, Gotta Print 300 Pages
This one is merely my preference but it really helps to hold my words in my hands. I like to see my words printed on paper, isn’t that the end goal anyway? But I also really like to be able to write notes, comments, changes on the paper and that way none of my thoughts get jumbled or out of order.
We Hate Them But We Need Them - Deadlines
It's helpful to give yourself an end date, a goal to be finished by! NaNoWriMo has shown me that I can write way more than I ever thought I could. So with this last revision of This Dead World, I gave myself three weeks to get through the big picture revisions. Now, keep in mind that this isn't the first edit but regardless, the deadline helped me keep myself motivated. Pick a timeline that takes into account the length of your novel and everything else that's going on in your life. You don't want to push yourself too hard but remember that you are capable of heading forward, full speed ahead!
Wait, What? Why’s That There?
Consistency. Consistency. Consistency. It important to note how you're describing a character, do they have the same hair color throughout the story!? HA! I found a character whose name I had apparently changed halfway through my novel - oops! This is where my murder board really becomes handy because I can keep track of how I'm describing characters or small clues or even my characters last names!
But it's also a good time to look at the importance of scenes and ask yourself, "Is this helping my plot move forward?" If the answer is, "NO!" Then why is it still there? Get rid of it! You want to make sure that your scenes are helping to move your characters and your plot forward. If it doesn't need to be there - say goodbye. Hit that delete button, baby!
Now, this is by no means an exhaustive list. It's a place to get you started if you're drowning and have no idea what to do next. I've been there and I remember that feeling. BUT you can do this. You wrote that first draft and you are more than capable of molding it into something even better.
But you need to actually start editing...
You should probably leave now.