So we’ve covered all that annoying pre-revision stuff and how to revise your characters. Now, it’s time to move on to what you’ve been waiting for—starting that revision. Ready? You’ve let your manuscript sit for a few weeks minimum? Changed the font? Read it through?
Okay. Let’s get started.
Use your notes as a guide.
Remember how I told you in the first part of this series to read over your story and add some comments? This is where all that extra work pays off. When you start revising now, you’ll have a handy-dandy outline to help you along. Maybe a paragraph will be marked clunky; sounds awkward. Maybe a whole chunk will be highlighted with a big red X beside it for THIS IS ALL UNNECESSARY INFODUMP. WHAT THE HECK WERE YOU THINKING, WYATT?
Ahem. Moving on.
All those comments you left earlier will save you time because they give you an idea of what you have to do. Now, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t still pay attention to your manuscript for other things to fix, as it’s pretty likely you’ll find more stuff to make better. But having an outline for your revision or at least an idea of what’s ahead of you definitely can’t hurt.
Ask yourself questions.
Revision is basically just changing a lot of stuff, cutting a lot of stuff and playing a literary version of Jenga. But those three things can be pretty hard for writers, especially if you’re fond of your story (which you should be). It’s hard to separate yourself from something you’ve spent so much time on. So in order to be more effective at revising your manuscript, here are three questions you should keep in mind:
Does this make sense?
Does it fit, or does it just pop up out of the blue without context? Does this belong in this part of the story, or would it make sense to move it or just take it out entirely?
Why is this necessary?
Instead of asking why you should cut a scene or line from your story, ask why you should keep it. Every scene should be in your story for a purpose. Whether that be for plot, character, theme, mood, whatever—it needs to be in there for a reason. If you have a scene in there just because you like it even though it serves no purpose, think about taking it out. It’s only going to bring your story down.
What does this reveal?
Just like every scene should have a purpose, every scene should also reveal something about your story. Even the smallest of scenes can do this. Take, for example, a scene where a normally secretive character reveals something about his/her past. That contributes to character because it shows how much they’ve changed.
When you’re revising your manuscript, you can’t afford to be nice. You’ve got to make those tough calls. Sometimes, you need to kill your darlings. It’s for the good of the story, promise. But it must be done. If you do what I do and save each revision under a new file, you’ll still have a copy of it to use if you really think it benefits your story. But sometimes, you just need to let it go.
Send it off to beta readers.
Some of the best feedback you can get is from beta readers. They’re more impartial that you are, and their input can help you through even the trickiest of scenes. Be warned, though: not all betas are equal. Most of them will have a personal bias—they might get stuck on how much you swear, or on other personal literary pet peeves. Know what they like and dislike, because you’ll have to account for that.
Just like when you first finished the first draft, it’s best to let your manuscript cool for a while before you start to polish it. Wait for a little bit and give your beta readers and critique partners a chance to look it over.
Then we can start the final stage—polishing.
Part 4 of Alex’s Guide to Revision comes out next Monday. If you’d like to catch up on the previous parts of this series, you can find them here.