Revising after NaNoWriMo: Part II-Revising Your Novel
Check out Part I of this series: Evaluating Your Draft.
Revision gets a bad rap, but it is the heart and soul of your writing process. It sounds complex and terrifying, and we’ve grown used to the image of a writer hunched over their desk, grinding away at a protracted and convoluted revision process. Really though, revising your novel is quite simple: you’re giving your work another look. Revising your novel really just comes down to five main categories:
- Restructuring and Rewriting
- Characters and Dialogue
- Consistency Check
Pro Tip: Many confuse rewriting, revision, and editing. Technically, rewriting is one part of the overall revision process. Rewriting is the first step and usually involves big chunks of text, such as adding a connecting scene or even a whole chapter. Editing comes later and involves the finer points of revision—more concentration on word choice and flow, for example. It’s also the stage where we collect outside feedback.
Restructuring and Rewriting Your Novel
Before you work on the smaller stuff, start with big picture items. This includes plot structure, point of view, theme, and pacing. These are the building blocks for your story. Its foundation.
One of the first steps in revising your novel is making sure your sequence of events makes sense.
- Do your plot points make sense? Are the stakes heightening as you go?
- Does your protagonist have a clear mission or purpose? What compelling challenges must they overcome to reach their goal?
Feeling overwhelmed? Write a novel summary. This should help you get a better grasp on your novel’s five W’s: Who? What? Where? When? Why? If you can’t succinctly answer who or what your novel’s about, then your reader probably won’t be able to either.
The bare bones approach to the novel summary helps you get clarity on what exactly you’re trying to say and what you really want to focus on. The revision process can sometimes take a tangential twist as you plop your characters in new situations. Having a clear reminder of what you’re really writing about can help you regain your novel’s reins and recenter.
Explore subplots. Subplots are often overlooked when drafting because we’re so focused on developing our main plot. But subplots are just as important. They help to reinforce your theme, increase complications and challenges for your protagonist, and give you the space to shape your characters through their actions and decisions. Plus, subplot afford you an added opportunity for supporting characters, who fill out your cast and afford you the opportunity for one-off, but very telling, interactions.
A novel’s pacing needs to be balanced. I’m completely guilty of rushing to (and through) my novel’s most climatic moments. What can I say? I’m excited to get there. When rewriting though, I always make sure my story’s taking the right amount of time to get to those moments with the most impact. I also double-check that my story doesn’t drift aimlessly or send my story into an unjustified emotional tailspin.
Point of View
While the finer points of point of view are covered under editing, the larger points should be addressed earlier on. What point of view are you currently using? Decide whether or not there’s a better point of view to tell the story.
While changing the tense or going from third to first-person can be a total hassle, when really needed, the change can dramatically improve the way the reader connects with your character or the story. Consider why you selected the current POV and make a pros/cons list for alternative points of view.
What is the larger idea you’re looking to comment on? Themes are the central, universal message of your story. Themes are what’s boiling under the surface of the story’s tension and plot. They’re rarely stated straight-out. They theme is reinforced through your revision decisions.
When you have a theme to wrap your story around, you can make decisions easier and also be more conscious of opportunities to reinforce that. Color schemes. The mood. Your descriptions and details. Symbols and motifs. All of these elements can blend in with the theme.
A theme should only be a few simple words or phrases. Examples are: Young love. Death and grief. Lust for power. Industrialization and the conformity of man. Heroism and conflicting values.
Character and Dialogue
Time to flesh out your characters. Make them feel real and three dimensional. Give them unique mannerisms and a manner of speaking. Do they have an accent? Do they lack confidence, so they’re prone to mumbling or stuttering? Use all the senses. What are the physical and emotional characteristics that make them special and interesting to the reader? Remember, each character (major and supporting) should have a purpose—small or big. Maybe they make an otherwise simple task complex for your protagonist.
Dialogue is important on its own, but it’s also a great way to imply specific character traits and attitude without directly stating it. Every conversation needs to have a point. It should reveal something new about the characters or their situation. Dialogue can also help move the plot along by introducing a new pain point for one of the main characters.
To make the best revisions to dialogue, first determine the point. Why does this conversation need to happen and what is the result? After all, how can you know what needs reworking if you don’t know what it’s supposed to be accomplishing? Second, read your conversation out loud. Does it sound like something that character would say? If not, sharpen your pencil and rework it.
Checking for Plausibility and Consistency
At this point, it’s worth giving your current draft a read through to see where you stand now. You’ve probably made quite a few substantial changes. Before you get caught up in the minutia of things like word choice and grammar, go back over your work and make sure everything’s in its place.
Does your story progress in a sequence that makes sense? Look for loose ends, sloppy transitions, and any remaining gaps in your plot. Does your POV waver? Do you have clear reasons or justifications for your characters’ actions? Does the resolution make sense?
Clarify and Smooth Your Writing
This is the nitty gritty stuff. The polish. When we talk about voice, style, passive language, and word choice and description, this is what we’re talking about. It’s this part that helps really bring your story to life, makes your characters feel three-dimensional, and shapes your story’s language into something distinctly you.
This is when things get a bit boring. Writing mechanics and grammar are an important step of the writing process. Fixing common problems like there, their, and they’re confusions or proper comma usage help clarify your writing and increase readability. As you start to dole out drafts for peer review and workshop, you’ll want to make sure you have the polished draft possible.
Up Next: Part III-Collecting Feedback (Coming Soon)