About a month after I finish a novel’s first draft, I’m ready to start the revision process. This generally consists of several passes, each with a different purpose and a different focus.
The first thing I do is give a general read-through, without analyzing it, without trying to “fix” anything, just to get a feeling for the general story flow. This let’s me focus on each phase of the revision to follow without getting distracted by the story itself. Yeah, I admit it… my writing entertains me.
This is important because even though I’m an obsessive planner, a story will often mutate along the way, and I may not have written what I set out to write. A fresh re-read lets me reacquaint myself with the themes, sub-themes, character arcs based not on my intent, but on the finished product.
Writing the Scene List
After that I go through again, making a note of each scene, evaluating it to see whether or not it works. While I’m reading the manuscript off of my screen, I’m taking notes in a notebook dedicated to the process.
They’re pretty cheap, and I buy them in bulk – each will contain the revision notes and occasional brainstorming for a single novel.
I go through, scene by scene, and decide whether or not what I’ve written deserves to stay in the book. Does it address the theme, contain conflict, develop the characters, and move the story forward? Is the structure sound?
If not, can I add elements to fix it, or should the scene be cut entirely?
Sometimes it’s the characters.
I may have to cut some characters entirely or incorporate them with other similar figures. I may add new elements and note where to seed them beforehand, or cut elements and note where traces need to be purged.
What I don’t do, not yet, is try to improve the prose. I don’t worry about rewriting yet. This is only an evaluation and a road-map.
The rewriting comes in the next pass.
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