BTS011, How to Revise a Novel in a Month
I’ve been thinking about the upcoming revision stage of the writing process for my thriller novella. My inner writing-nerd wants to write something new while my inner coach is pointing toward my writing-related goals for the year and as a result highlighting how far away I am from achieving those goals. As you can probably tell by the super spoiler title of this show, I will be revising my thriller novella, Missing over a thirty-one-day period. And, in this episode, I’m going to break down my plans to revise in a month, and the exact steps I plan to take during this revision period.
So, why thirty-one days?
Well, I’m a bit of a flake, and it’s become clear to me that I cannot create without a looming deadline. The second reason for the short timeframe is, my novella Missing was written to an extensive outline which was revised. As a result of my pre-writing habits, the novella will not need three months of revision, because some of that revision has already taken place. I also believe the longer you revise something, the easier it will be to lose sight of the original objectives for writing the story and give into perfectionism. And, perfectionism is a real problem for me, along with putting things off and then obsessing over the tiniest of details. I need to move forward and overcome these bad writing habits because they are no longer serving me.
BTS011, How to Revise A Novel in a Month
From Insecurity to A Revision Plan
Since episode nine of the podcast, I’ve been struggling with writer’s insecurity concerning the level of realism in my thriller novella. The protagonist in the series of thrillers that I’m writing is a journalist. Where I’m struggling is a journalist doesn’t solve crimes for, or with the police, they don’t handle evidence, and this is precisely what my protagonist does in the earlier draft of Missing. Journalist’s do not help the police solve crimes in real life. However, they do solve crimes as a part of a story investigation. While I do explain the friendship between my protagonist James and the police, I don’t believe it’s realistic. And, if I don’t believe it, then my readers will not.
My insecurity with the level of realism with my story led to research and eventually posing a question about journalists solving crimes to a fellow thriller writer and former BBC radio journalist, Paul Teague. Paul’s answer led me to brainstorm bigger and better ideas for a few of the scenes in Missing, which in turn prompted my decision to start making plans to revise the novella.
How to Revise a Novel in a Month
Before I dive into how I plan to revise a novel in a month, I think it’s worth mentioning my process and experience while writing my thriller novella, Missing. As I wrote the first draft for Missing, I experimented with sharing an earlier draft as I wrote. This decision led to editing and writing at the same time. I would write a new scene and edited the earlier scenes in the story, then share the revised scenes on my blog. This process led me to become aware of the issues and pitfalls of my work. Even though I have an extensive outlining process, there were still mistakes. But, that should be of no surprise.
Every writer needs to revise, no matter how extensive your outlining process is, it’s a reality that’s true for everyone. Editing and writing at the same time led me to experience a significant amount of writers insecurity around my work. It caused me to fixate on issues instead of continuing to finish the first draft. This struggle led to huge gaps between writing sessions. So in theory, I was already aware of the failings of my story because I’ve read through the story many times, during this first draft process.
Read-through The Manuscript
If you want to revise a novel in a month, then you need two things, distance from your work and to know where your story falls short. Distance from your narrative allows you to obtain objectivity about what is working and what is not. I’ve heard of writer’s putting a manuscript in a drawer for six months. To me, that’s a bit extreme. Instead, I recommend leaving your story for at least a week. Because I chose to use an alpha reader between the first draft and the revision phase, I’ve had to out this off a bit until January. So, that’s an eight-week break from my manuscript. You need to do what works for you. I’m saying a week then drive straight into revisions because you don’t want to get into the habit of putting something off. Don’t look, read, or even think about it during this time.
Use A Different Format
After this short sabbatical, read-through your story in a different format than you’re used to reading it. I’m not a huge fan of printing out a manuscript because, I’m not too fond of paper, but I do love paperback and hardback books. But, that’s a side issue. From my perspective, it’s a waste, and I tend to through paper away in the recycling because I don’t like keeping things longer than necessary. But, you do what works for you.
I like to read my manuscript in the Scrivener app on my iPad. The Scrivener app for iPad visually looks different, and it’s enough for me to see the story differently. Depending on my mood sometimes, I let my computer read-back the scenes to me, and I take notes as I listen. The only thing with the computer reading is it picks up all of the grammatical and spelling errors, and it’s hard to look past these once you’ve become aware. As you read through the manuscript, pay attention to the larger story issues that jump out at you, and start to create a list of things you need to change.
How To Revise Effectively
Revision is more than correcting grammar and spelling issues. To revise effectively, you need to take a macro point of view then scale down to the micro view. In short, you need to focus on the framework of your story first before anything else. So, what do I mean by story framework?
I’m referring to story structure. For example, three-act structure, the hero’s journey, story grid, and save the cat method are all forms of story framework or structure. As you read through your story, you need to ensure the key scenes in your story framework are performing as expected. Are your key scenes (the ordinary world, inciting incident, etc.) moving the story forward? Fix these key moments first before you pay attention to everything else, including point of view issues, white room syndrome, and character arcs.
My Revision Plan
After the moment of panic that I referred to earlier in this episode, I brainstormed ideas to change specific issues and created a list of scenes that needed to be rewritten. I then planned out a strategic approach for these rewrites. Establishing a sense of realism in my thriller novella isn’t the only issue I’m facing with my next draft. I also know my novella has a host of other problems.
In the next few sections of this podcast diary, I will highlight these issues and what I need to change within my story; so that you get an idea of the things you might need to change. And, so you know what revision is for me. The reason I want to share this was when I finished writing Immunity, I couldn’t work out what to do next. I had no idea. The advice of other writers was to read through your manuscript and look for the things that don’t work. That advice didn’t make any sense for me. So, this is why I want to spell out precisely what I’m going to do with my novella; just in case you’re experiencing the same thing I did with Immunity.
Point of View and Character Thought Inconsistencies
When I outlined Missing, I decided to write it in Third Deep Point of View. And, I know I’ve been inconsistent with how I’ve written the scenes. As I was writing the first draft of Missing, my understanding of how to write in a deeper point of view has evolved. Therefore, I know I’ve made mistakes, even though I can’t tell you exactly where these mistakes will be found.
This point of view decision also had a significant effect on how I revealed character thought in the narrative. I first started showing character thought halfway through Immunity, which was the first thriller novel I wrote. My love of character thought in narrative has filtered down into Silence and Missing. Even though I’m a much better writer in Missing than I am in the earlier novels, let’s say that I know I’ve broken a few rules and have been inconsistent with how I’ve shown the thoughts through the novella.
At one stage I was writing “he thought.” Towards the end of the novella, I blended the character thought in amongst the narrative, so you experience the scenes solely through the eyes of the point of view character. Everything is seen through the lease of how the character perceives, thinks, and feels about the world around them. It’s almost like first person point of view but written in third-person with the use of the pronouns (he, she, etc.) I sometimes feel that writing “he thought” does add distance between the character, story, and the reader. And, that is something I am interested in changing in Missing.
Issues with Setting and Dialogue
I’m also quite confident that I have a bit of white room syndrome in a few scenes. I started out writing screenplays, and as a consequence, I love writing dialogue. As a result, I’m not used to having to paint a picture of the scene in detail. So, scene setting and how it interacts with dialogue needs my attention as well.
Even though I mentioned earlier that I love to write dialogue, I’m going to pay attention to that as well. As I write, I play the scene over in my mind like a TV show or a film; then I write the scene. The dialogue is usually okay but, I want to create a sense that my characters are all individuals and I want to give them all a unique voice. But not over the top. I want the characters to seem real, unique, and not just characters on a page.
Planning for the Unknown
So those are the two issues that I’m aware of in my novella. The next step in the process is to prepare for the known — those things that I don’t yet realise that are problems. Let’s face it; this is going to happen. So, how do you plan for the known? At this point in my revision planning process, I have a list of plot issues to correct, Point of View issues, Character thought inconsistencies, white room syndrome, and dialogue all added to my revision list. The list I just read out are all the known issues in my manuscript. Now, I need to make allowances for the unknown entities that will pop up as I read through my novella throughout the thirty-one-day period so I can meet the deadline that I’ve set.
In the second novel in the James Lalonde Series, I have a significant issue with a character’s motivation which directly affects the plot. Spoiler alert, this means more rewrites ahead for me. So, I’m going to assume that I’ve made a similar mistake even though I was aware of this issue when I planned the outline for Missing. In light of this, I’ve added character arcs and motivations to this list of things to pay attention to as I revise my novella.
Because I wrote three stories out of order and one after the other, I have become a better writer over time. Upon starting each story, I’ve added new elements to my outlining process which have helped me to improve my craft. One of those things is the value shift. So, what is a value shift? At the start of every scene, the character goes into the scene in one state and leaves in another state. As I revise Missing, I need to ensure that I’ve followed through with this value shift in every scene. This value shift will help me to ensure that every scene in my story serves a purpose and there is no dead weight clogging up the reader’s experience.
How Am I Going to Tackle This Long List?
By now, I guess you’re wondering, “how are you going to tackle such a long list of revision points?” The official checklist of revision elements for Missing is as follows:
- Plot: Adding Realism, New Scenes
- Character arcs and motivation,
- Value shifts within scenes,
- Point of view, narration, and character thought,
- Setting and dialogue.
So, that’s four huge topics. I grouped the issues into topics to make it a little easier. You would’ve noticed that I’ve said nothing about grammar and spelling. I plan to perform line editing after all the other things on the list have been addressed. So, this may not happen during the thirty-one-day period.
But, back to tackling this list. The thirty-one-day period starting from 7 January to 6 February, has twenty-three working days; I’m going to plan to leave the weekends free to allow for breaks within the revision process. But, I need to be realistic, I know that I’m not good at working seven days straight, I need to give myself a mental break. So, I have four days to work on each element in my list with three extra working days.
Before I start revising an element in my list, I will read through the manuscript and make notes, then perform the revisions. In order to avoid overwhelm, I will only pay attention to the element on the list that I’m revising, and ignore everything else. As I look at this list, I do feel a little overwhelmed by the thought of revising. It seems like a daunting task. But, it isn’t, I’m merely going through the draft and improving upon what is already written.
Favourite Part of the Writing Process
I have a feeling that I’m going to be one of those writers that love the revision phase of writing instead of the first draft phase because the first draft is more of a brain dump for me. What I love is creating the story. I tend to lose interest after the outlining phase because I’ve done all of the creative work, and all that’s left if the hard work of taking the story from outline to the first draft. And, that’s why I take far too long to write the first draft. I probably need to sit down and fast-draft.
Are you nearing the end of your first-draft and not sure what to do next? If so, have you created a plan for revising your novel? Have you set a revision deadline? I want to hear from you. Let me know by coming over to the blog post and share your revision plans in the comments section.
Thank you for listening, reading, commenting and sharing with such enthusiasm.
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