How I’m Revising My Novel

My fantasy novel is nearly done. But I have a mammoth revision ahead of me first. Here’s my revision plan.

Mallika Kamat
May 28, 2020 · 8 min read
Photo by hannah grace on Unsplash

My novel’s been resting for a month now and it’s finally time to get the revision show on the road. I spent most of the last month dutifully reading fiction (since I don’t tend to read fiction while I’m writing), watching some spectacular movies and generally topping up my creative well. Now I have enough creative mojo to tackle the mammoth project.

If you have an old manuscript lying around, tucked away in a drawer somewhere, now’s as good a time as any to dust it off and start working on it. This is a great way to pick up where you left off if you participated in Camp NaNoWriMo or NaNoWriMo and have no idea what do with the first draft you just wrote.

Step 1: Assess the current state of affairs

Step 1 doesn’t require actual reading of the full manuscript. If you try reading the manuscript before putting some structure in place, you’ll get lost in a sea of problems that need fixing and end up getting discouraged.

Even if it’s been a while since you last wrote or read your manuscript, it’s helpful to go through step 1 and develop a framework first.

In step 1, we’re putting some sort of structure in place before you dive into the manuscript.

How’s the Plot? And the Character, Setting, and Conflict?

I think it’s most helpful to look at revision from the lenses of these four interconnected concepts. Brandon Sanderson envisions Character, Setting, and Plot as interconnected by Conflict. You can find his explanation here.

Like any good tool, I’m using concepts that have worked for others, to see if they work for me. Just because a famous writer uses one methodology over another, doesn’t make it gospel.

The current word count of my finished novel is 75,818. That’s a little low, given that my genre is fantasy but I skimped on descriptions, while writing this draft. I wanted to get the emotional beats of the story right and most importantly, check if I can give my story a satisfying finale.

I did. But I need to refine it.

So the end’s correct and the plot’s good. I just need to make the plot flow a little more smoothly. Since I skimped on a few details here and there, I confused my beta reader in some places.

I read Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody in May last year and it’s definitely helped me understand a story’s beats better. Again, I don’t recommend it as a formula to follow, but it’s most helpful if you tend to get lost in Act II, as I did.

Save the Cat! has also helped me better understand stories, even when they don’t follow the 15 beat plot structure perfectly. Here’s a simple illustration of the 15 beat plot structure in action. As Brandon Sanderson loves to say, how much you use any plotting method or system is up to you.

The midpoint of my novel isn’t as poignant as I’d like it to be and I really need to fix that.

Make lists

Now we’re going to make a bunch of lists about everything that needs to be done, before we start the revision process.

  • Plot problems list: Make a list of things that you need to improve the plot, from memory. This list will grow and become more specific as you start reading your manuscript. We’re just listing the major and minor problems, we’re going to go about solving them later. Also, note which subplots didn’t work or need to be scrapped completely. If you have beta-reader feedback add it here.
  • Settings: Improve settings by making them more concrete and improving prose. Place descriptions need to be able to ground the reader in the narrative.
  • Characters and characterisation: List problems with character descriptions, motives, or backstory. Some of my characters only have a short cameo before they go off the stage. My beta-reader specifically requested some sort of chart to keep track of all the characters involved and their relationships with each other, especially familial ties. I’ll have to think about providing a chart, but better and faster characterisation should alleviate some of the problems. I also forgot to describe some of my characters’ physical traits. Oops!
  • Conflict: Your conflicts need to be connected to the plot, characters, and setting. Conflicts decide the pacing of the book and ultimately whether the reader continues reading or puts the book down. Pay attention to the conflict, or lack of it, in every scene and decide on where you’ll give a pay-off for a scene. Build suspense but not so much that you frustrate a reader.
  • Naming convention: Develop a naming convention, if you’re making up names and places. Some of my side characters conspicuously have missing surnames and family associations. I have to settle on names of characters, clans, families, and places like the schools, provinces, and houses. It’s a good idea to identify any motifs if you intend to use them since they can affect your naming.
  • Prose Editing checklist: It’s good to develop one (or get mine here) and have it on hand, especially when your objective is to produce a polished draft. Be wary of your bad habits (adverbs are mine) and words you use repetitively. Here’s a great video tutorial on writing better prose. This is a great video on the dreaded Show, Don’t Tell writing advice.
  • Fantasy, Magic, and Worldbuilding: If you’re writing fantasy, Sanderson’s Four Laws are worth a peek. Take care to not get lost in worldbuilding, especially if you’re just starting out.
  • Dialogue: This is the best resource I’ve found for how to think of dialogue.

Great! Now that you have a framework in place through which to view the different aspects of your writing, it’s time to grab that manuscript and start combing through it.

Step 2: Read your Manuscript and make notes

Take as long as you need with this step. For a revision to be successful, you need to catch as many of the missteps you previously made.

Can this get overwhelming? Yes, definitely.

When reading your manuscript, stay curious about all the ways in which you could improve your story.

At this stage, write down all your options. You probably won’t make every change that you could. Ultimately, your book should be about what you want to make it.

You can’t write a book someone else would have written. It has to be all you. That’s the only way you’ll ever find the holy grail of writing: your authentic voice.

I’ve allotted myself a full week to go through this step.

After you’ve gone through the manuscript, go through your beta-reader feedback. Check if your beta-reader identified the same or different sticking points as you.

If you don’t have beta-readers yet, consider asking friends and family, who can be trusted to provide feedback kindly and whose creative taste you understand.

Do not hand over your fledgling manuscript to a mean person, especially if you’re in the early stages of drafting or if you’re a pantser aka discovery writer. If you’re a discovery writer, you may not even know where your story’s going initially. Most people are a mix of plotters and discovery writers.

I’m a discovery writer when it comes to characters; I let them be the person they want to be on the page. But, I’m a plotter when it comes to plot.

I’ve tried plotting too early and it didn’t work. I needed to discovery write. It was only after I’d found my characters that I could use the framework of plotting to get the pacing right, especially in Act II.

Workshopping scenes or chapters is another way of getting feedback, as long as it’s descriptive, not prescriptive.

Step 3: Make a Plan

So now that you know how much work you have to do, it’s time to pull out your calendar and set a few deadlines for yourself. I find deadlines incredibly motivating since without them I’ll procrastinate for days and even weeks over a difficult scene.

My bullet journal setup has been instrumental in keeping me consistent. Consistency for me doesn’t mean that I’ll write every day. Since the coronavirus pandemic started and my writing routine went out the window, consistency has been writing a certain number of words every week.

When I was struggling to finish Act III, tallying my word counts in my weekly helped me stay motivated about the progress I was making.

I think of a bullet journal as a place to set goals, keep myself accountable, and also reflect on factors influencing my progress.

Your bullet journal is also the place to contingency plan and move things around, as life inevitably throws you a curve ball.

I don’t think I could have finished the last draft of my novel without the accountability that comes with setting goals and monitoring progress.

Even if you choose to not use a bullet journal, use something or even someone to help you stay on track.

Bonus step: Make it a challenge!

I tend to rise to meet a challenge. A challenge also gives me the motivation to keep going; this is going to be a pretty comprehensive revision for me. It encourages me to make a little progress every day.

Do I think everything will go according to plan? Hell no. I expect absurd things to happen, including me procrastinating far too long.

But I’m also committed to doing the best for my novel.

So what about you? Do you have a novel you need to finish or rework?

Here’s my Prose Editing checklist if you need it!

If you enjoyed this article, chances are you’ll enjoy my other pieces. I’m a newbie writer hoping to write and publish my debut novel. I also take my finances seriously (or try to when I’m not pondering ways to raise the stakes for my protagonists). Sign up here to get articles like this, and other content that I don’t share anywhere else, straight into your inbox. Cheers!

Related:

Ascent Publication

Strive for happier.

Mallika Kamat

Written by

Computer Engineer. On a wild adventure to become a published author. Love my writing? Get the newsletter here: http://bit.ly/2VXC3KU

Ascent Publication

Strive for happier. Join a community of storytellers documenting the climb to happiness and fulfillment.

Mallika Kamat

Written by

Computer Engineer. On a wild adventure to become a published author. Love my writing? Get the newsletter here: http://bit.ly/2VXC3KU

Ascent Publication

Strive for happier. Join a community of storytellers documenting the climb to happiness and fulfillment.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store