Mentoring Moments: Pam’s Top Ten Tips For Revising Your Novel
In Episode 13, during Mentoring Moments, Kel and Pam tackled that often difficult beast: revision. Here, Pam details how she goes about revising her novels and gives 5 top tips to keep you sane during the process.
Let It Rest
You need to try and be as objective as you can when reading through your first draft – to read it like a reader rather than as the writer. Complete objectivity is impossible of course. This is your writing and your story and it can be tricky to separate what’s in your head from what’s on the page. But leaving the draft to sit for a while will help you gain at least some degree of objectivity. How long you leave it depends on whether or not you have a deadline with an agent or publisher. If you don’t I would suggest leaving it for a month or two (some people leave it for 6) and then come back to it with fresh eyes.
Read the draft straight through.
Sure, have a notebook and pen handy to jot down any obvious plot holes or glitches but don’t get bogged down in the line by line errors. On this read through you’re looking at the big picture. The overall plot. The structure. The character arc.
- Is there the bones of a story that has a beginning, middle and end?
- Are there definitive turning points where the character has to make tough decisions and changes course?
- Is there rising tension that builds to some sort of climax and then resolves?
- Is the main character different at the end to the beginning?
- Does the pov change erratically?
- Is the tense consistent/
There are other questions that will arise for you, but the main thing is to read it through fairly quickly to get a feel for how it works as a story. I’m in the midst of revision and this time I wrote down any changes I wanted to make on index cards, one card per change. As I revise I’m going back over the index cards and making sure I’ve covered them all. It will be a great pleasure to recycle them all when I’m done.
Plot comes from character in conflict – the problems the character faces, the situations she finds herself in, the choices she makes, the internal and external conflicts she experiences.Now is the time to put flesh on the bones of your character. You want the reader to see her as a real person not a cardboard cut out. There are some important things to consider:
- What is her wound? This is the event or series of events that occurred when she was younger that changed her in some way – made her more guarded, changed her world view, put up barriers between her and others.
- What does she want? What is her goal in the story? This works on a couple of different levels – what she wants on the surface (or what she thinks she wants) and what she wants underneath (which may be a subconscious desire, one that she’s not even aware of). For example in Close To Home, my third novel, the main character Charlie wanted to do her job and avoid any issues with her family (in the small town she returned to work in as a vet) but underneath what she really wanted was a sense of belonging, family and love. You can see how these two goals are in conflict with each other and that provides plenty of opportunity for tension in the plot and in the character.
- Are there things about your character you don’t know? If so now is the time to work them out. You can do a character bio, charting all her likes, dislikes, food preferences etc but you can also go deeper and work out how she feels about different people and events in her life, and why she feels that way. One option is to write a letter to your character asking her some questions and then write the reply from her pov. It can be quite revealing!
One thing I do at this point is a plot graph. This allows me to see how the plot unravels, how the tension rises and falls and also where the major turning points are. I generally use Michael Hague’s Story structure template as a model. This isn’t for everyone and your story may not fit this model but if you’re struggling with structure it’s a good place to start. The first pic below is the one I did for Close To Home and the second is from The Crossroads. This one had three main characters and multiple viewpoints so I did a graph for each character and worked out where the storylines intersected. I also do other notes on character developments and turning points. there are loads of great templates for this at onestopforwriters.com
- Start by writing a dot point list of your scenes. If you are working in scrivener this should be fairly easy
- List the events on the bottom axis and the level of tension on the vertical (blahhhh – maths terminology, my apologies)
- See if you have turning points at the 10%, 20-25%, 50%, 75-80% and 90% points of your story. For a 100,000 word novel this would be at 10,000 words (set up), 25,000 words (plans change), 50,000 words (mirror moment where the character realizes there is no turning back or charts a new course), 75,000 words (black moment, a major setback) and then at 90-99% the climax. Followed by the wrap up or resolution. Again this is a guideline only and not set in stone.
- You can also chart the development of your themes
- This time around I’m adding in the emotional changes my POV character goes through so I can make sure there’s enough emotional development happening
Revise In Scenes
Once you’ve noted down your changes go back and start revising one scene at a time.
- Each scene should reveal aspects of your main character, and any other main secondary characters, AND move the plot forward.
- Each scene is a mini-story with it’s own beginning middle and end.
- In each scene consider what your main character wants (goal) and what’s going to stop her getting it (obstacle)
- There should also be conflict in every scene, internal and external
- Aim to create tension on every page.
Focus on the micro
Once you’ve sorted out the big picture and you’re back to working through your novel one scene at a time look at the micro, the small details. Either work through your whole manuscript focusing on one of these aspects at a time or revise each scene multiple times making sure you cover each element. Make sure there is a blending of:
- internal dialogue (thought)
- body language.
Get rid of any extraneous words, phrases and repetitions. Scrivener has a useful tool under the edits button, text stats and then word frequency. You can see which words you've used multiple times and change as needed. In word you can use the find and replace function but beware of using replace all as it can lead to disasters!Tighten everything up.
Tension On Every Page
This advice come from writing guru Donald Maass. Tension is what hooks the reader in and gets them turning the page. There are numerous ways you can create tension:
- dialogue – having the characters hiding what they really think or feel, talking at cross purposes
- setting – use the setting to reflect the action or mood of the characters
- body language and non-verbal cues – what the character says and does can be in conflict.
- Leaving things unsaid
- Using backstory as breadcrumbs scattered throughout the story rather than revealing it all up front.
- Read any Donald Maass book for more info
Point Of View
There’s a whole range of points of view you can use ranging from first person (I), second person (you), third person (either close or more distant) and omniscient (all seeing, all knowing outside narrator). If you’re not clear on these make it your business to get clear and then decide which one/s you want to use and stick to them. It’s ok to use multiple POV’s as long as you know what you’re doing and why. The problem is when you jump from one to the other mid paragraph or mid scene and then confuse the reader.
Emotions and Distance
Deep POV is currently on trend. This means getting as far into the character’s skin as possible and removing most or all of the narrator intrusion. Check out a few recent novels and see how far the authors take this and then decide how deep you want to go. There’s no right or wrong here but you can use some of the deep pov techniques to improve your narrative:
- reducing the use of distancing words like felt, thought, wondered, realized etc. Just give the thought, realization or whatever it is rather then telling the reader the character thought it. This puts your reader more in the character’s skin
- using body language and nonverbal cues to show what the characters are doing, which might conflict with what they’re saying
- reducing or removing dialogue tags (said, yelled, screamed) and using actions instead. (‘Get out of my way.’ He pushed his way past and strode out the door)
- including only things the character would really think in the internal dialogue and no info dumps
- including a variety of emotions in each scene. We all have a range of emotions, often conflicting, so readers will relate to characters who do too. Remember to show the emotions not tell.
- Check out The Emotional Craft Of fiction by Donald Maass for more on this but be prepared for a complex read.
You’re going to be doing multiple revisions so be prepared.
- The more experienced you get the less time it will take but remember that in the early stages of your writing you are learning how to write.
- Pull apart books by authors you love and see how they do it. Read like a writer.
- Let one round of revision sit before you come back and do it again. Find yourself some writing buddies or beta readers but try not to give them you ms until you have revised it as much as possible. Take on board what they say but remember it’s your manuscript and your choice to change things or not. If multiple readers are giving you the same feedback it’s probably right.
- Once you’ve done all you can do, let it go.
- Don’t send it to an agent or publisher until you’re sure it’s ready. You generally only get one shot with each of them and you don’t want to blow it.
I could yabber on about this all day but I’ll leave it there. If you have any questions or comments please leave them in the comments section or you can email me: Pamela@justwrite.net.auHappy revising!