I’m so excited to be presenting my Revision Checklist as part of Write-On Con.
The revision checklist originally aired on YA Muses on December 10, 2010, and a revised vision appeared on YA Muses blog on April 25, 2012, but like all works in progress- I’ve revised it yet again to include some additional thoughts on each of the steps.
My process works from big picture to small details, and really the whole thing can be repeated multiple times, or gone through once, depending on the quality of the draft. Not all steps will work for all people, but hopefully, you will find something here that you can incorporate into your own revision process.
1.The Outline (Seeing the Big Picture): I always start here after completing a first draft. I don’t always use an outline when writing the first draft, but I always do one immediately after. Instead of reading through the entire first draft, I do a skim-through, creating a separate document that will become my roadmap for big picture plotting revisions. I create a table in Word, with a row for each scene, a column describing (in 1-2 short sentences) the major plot points in the chapter, and a column for notes of things that I already know are problematic from a plot standpoint, such as missing scenes or details that need to be included in order for later scenes to make sense. Sometimes I’ll add a column to list characters or settings, so I can see how balanced the book is, or isn’t with respect to character face time and use of certain settings and set pieces.
2. The Big Picture Revision (Rearranging Cutting and Adding Scenes within the Outline): Now that the outline is done, I read through the scene descriptions in order, to see how the story flows from a plotting standpoint. Does the story build to a climax? Are the major plot points resolved? What about subplots? Do they carry through the entire novel? Do major characters disappear for long stretches? Are there chapters or scenes that aren’t moving the story forward? The outline takes up less than two pages and it’s much less intimidating than a 300 page book. I’m also a visual learner, and the outline really helps me visualize the plot trajectory of the book. At this stage I look for scenes that need to be cut or rewritten, and also look for scenes that are missing or need to be added. I then add rows for new chapters or scenes and describe them in bold, so I know I still need to write them. I strike out scenes that aren’t working with strike-throughs and add new suggested scenes within the outline, until I have a plot that I’m happy with. This is all done is broad strokes, within the two page outline, and saves me having to actually cut, revise or write new scenes until I’m satisfied with how the change will fit within the big picture.
I also look at where the plot is at the 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 of the way points, to see if I am hitting turning points and act climaxes at about the right time. This is a great way to analyze pacing in terms of your overall plot. At the 1/4 point, I should be through the first act turning point, and the character should set off on the journey that will take them to the climactic scenes at the end. At 1/2, the main character should have an emotional turning point of some kind, or make a discovery that is unexpected. At 3/4, the character faces the darkest hour, and must regroup for the climactic scenes in the last 1/4 of the book. These are rough points that don’t necessarily have to hit exactly, but they should be close.
You may also want to include midpoint climaxes- or mini turning points, revelations or twists that punctuate the changes between each of the four acts.
At this stage, depending on how complex the story is, I may also create a separate sub-chart for each major character, which includes only the scenes those characters appear in. This helps me evaluate each character’s relationship arc with the main character, and lets me see if I have a good balance of scenes based on the secondary’s character’s role in the story. For example, I want the main love interest to have more scenes than the secondary love interest or a more minor character, and when the love interest is on the page, the relationship arc should move forward, with some setbacks along the way, as opposed to repeating the same kinds of scenes over and over.
3. Plot Revision-Back to the Manuscript: Now that I’ve decided what needs to happen with the plot from a big picture standpoint, I go back into the manuscript and make the revisions I’ve noted in the outline. I’ve already done the hard part in the outline. And honestly, it’s easier to make those big cuts when I’m not staring at my precious words as I make the big picture decisions. Now, that I am staring at them, I lessen the blow by saving the cut scenes in a different document, so they’re not really “gone.” Maybe a scene will make it into a deleted scenes post someday. Maybe I will cannibalize that great snippet of dialogue in otherwise pointless scene for another scene in the book. Maybe the subplot that’s getting cut will become a major plot in a sequel. Nothing is really lost here. I also add scenes in the places I’ve noted. I’ve noticed that when I add scenes at this stage, they tend to start off much more polished than my first draft scenes. I think it’s because I already know how the scene fits within the overall structure of the book, and I have better insight into the characters. Regardless, I find these added scenes fun to write.
4. Pacing/Conflict Revision: Now that I’ve done a big picture plotting revision (which includes pacing of the four acts) and gotten the scenes that I want in the book, I scale back to a scene by scene revision. I start with conflict and pacing. I’ve described the process as revising for suspense here. I use the outline again, but this time, I create a new column next to each chapter where I identify the conflicts for each scene. These conflicts can include emotional conflicts, romantic conflicts, external conflicts, or internal conflicts. Now I revise the scene with those conflicts in mind and make sure that there are some setbacks and tension builds in each individual scene. The scene should end with someone in the scene winning and someone losing.
One great way to increase pacing is to start the scene later or end it earlier. I also look for long speeches or long descriptive paragraphs, and see if I can shorten them. I don’t want every scene in the book to have the same pace, some moments should be drawn out, and others should be hurried. Action scenes should be faster paced than an emotional reaction, although there should be some action in a scene with an emotional reaction, and some emotional reaction in an action scene, used sparingly of course. This is not an exact science.
5. Setting Revision: Now that the scenes are working from an overall plot and tension standpoint I go through the entire book to add sensory details in each scene. My rough drafts are usually dialogue heavy and sparse on descriptions. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you write a lot of descriptive passages, you might want to take out some setting details. Focus on two or three details that are important to the scene, character or plot. Let the reader fill in the rest. This is a great time to look for ways to use setting to emphasize themes or add tension to the scene, but using images that mirror or contrast the emotions and conflict in the scene.
6. What the MC is thinking Revision (Internal Dialogue): I write in first person, but that doesn’t mean that the reader knows what the main character is thinking in every scene. I go through each scene and look for ways to give clues to the main character’s reaction, whether it’s through emotions, actions or physical reactions. A little telling is sometimes beneficial here, if used sparingly. This is one of the last revisions I do, and I always love the book so much more after this one. It will add depth to the characters and story.
7. Line edits: Now we’re getting into minutia. I try to do line edits as I go through each scene in the prior revisions, but now is the time to use the find function on your word processor to look for overused words and descriptions, eliminate passive voice (not all-just what doesn’t need to be there) and cut back on gratuitous adverbs and adjectives. This a great time to think about first lines, dialogue and dialogue tags. This also the place for the big read through. I read the entire manuscript through from beginning to end, on paper, making edits with a pencil. Reading aloud is a great way to catch awkward phrasing or unnatural sounding dialogue.
8. Send to trusted readers: This part of the process can’t be skipped. A reader who you trust to be honest and give constructive feedback is priceless. This could be a critique partner, an agent, a family member or friend. I rely on other writers (hi Muses) because I know I will get more than a vague I liked or didn’t like something, and they will point out plot holes, pacing and voice issues that I am too close to see (or have been avoiding). Listen to the feedback, but keep it in perspective. You can’t please everyone all the time. Trust your gut and your vision, but accept what rings true.
9. Repeat: With valuable feedback in hand, the process starts again. The only exception is that I think it’s important to have a new set of trusted readers when you get back to step 8. This is especially true if you had plotting or pacing issues the first time around. You need fresh eyes that won’t be influenced by what they’ve read before.
That’s my process. Of course it’s all subject to further revision.
Talia Vance is a practicing litigation attorney living in Northern California with her real life love interest, two-point-five kids, and a needy Saint Bernard named Huckleberry. Talia blogs about writing on Wednesdays with the YA Muses. Her debut novel, Silver, will be published by Flux on September 8, 2012. Her second novel Spies and Prejudice will be published by Egmont USA in June 2013. You can visit Talia at taliavance.com.
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SILVER by Talia Vance: In eighth grade, Brianna did something so dreadful she was suspended and homeschooled. No one could explain what happened that night . . . except Brianna’s Irish grandmother, who gave her a silver charm bracelet and told her to wear it until she turned seventeen. Ever since she slipped it on, Brianna has felt like she’s invisible. People stare right past her as if she doesn’t exist. And that includes Blake Williams, the one boy she can’t resist.
But everything changes in one frozen, silver moment when Blake sees her–and recognizes what she’s been hiding. Brianna is descended from Danu, the legendary Bandia of Celtic myth. Yet before she can fully understand who or what she is, Brianna accidentally binds her soul to Blake–whose tribe has spent the last thousand years hunting Danu’s descendants to protect humanity.
Coming September 8, 2012.