Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Revision Game, Part one--2nd drafts: The Big Picture

Last month Cher asked me to go into more specifics about how I revise novels. I didn't get a chance to post on the topic during the NaNo challenge, so I thought I'd delve into it now. In parts. Yes, I'm breaking it down that much.

Those of you who won NaNo last month are hopefully still racing toward those magical words "The End" (or maybe some of you have hit them already). But what do you do after you reach those words?

Personally, I close the file. Then I don't open it again for at least two weeks (if at all possible). During that down time I work on other projects, write a short story, talk to my neglected husband, read as many books as I can without my eyes rolling out of my head, whatever--the point is to let the dust settle on the story I just finished. (**Note: I highly recommend still writing something while letting a first draft sit. It takes about 3 weeks to form a habit, so if you slip out of the habit of writing, you have to force yourself to the keyboard again.)

After letting the first draft sit a while, I've found I can return to it with much more objective eyes. Once the dust has settled, I read the draft in its entirety, just to see what is on the page. I also make notes as I'm going along. Not in-line, nit-picky notes, but big picture notes. Reading a first draft can be painful, and it's sometimes hard not to jump in and start fixing stuff right away, but it is important to read through the whole book. I usually run into some scenes that make me cringe with how bad they are, but I also run into scenes that go unexpectedly well, or where I laid a foundation for a plot element I didn't even plan to work with but now I see where it could fit and make the story so much stronger.

By the time I finish reading, I typically have a lot of notes. Things like: Such-and-such character is flat or goes through an abrupt personality change in chapter X; ABC plot line totally dropped; XYZ scene lacks tension; and so on. For the most part, everything I list in my notes affects the book as a whole or at least several scenes. So, my second draft is focused on fixing the issues in my notes.

This is the big stuff. I'm not going to slow down and make sure all the dialogue and descriptions are perfect at this point. I'm just going to work on the big issues.

Mostly fixing these issues are about asking myself questions and implementing the answers. Character has a personality problem? What is their motivation through out the book? What are they thinking? What do they need/want? Plot line was dropped? How can I weave it back into the chapters? Scene not working? How else can I get from point A to point B? What is the worst possible thing that could happen at this time? Can it happen? (etc.)

If I didn't work this way, if say, I polished chapter 1 until it was 'perfect' and then I got to chapter 11 and realized 'hey this is a cool plot element, let me work it in early to set this up better' or 'huh, this character doesn't work. She hasn't been acting at all in character' I would have to go back to the beginning and I would lose a lot of the work I did. So, big stuff first. Second draft (for me) is all about making sure the story is being told.

Okay, I think I've rambled on enough for one post. Check back later for part two (3rd drafts: Scene by Scene).

Happy Hump day everyone!


Anonymous said...

on the case of just putting the book away and looking at it some time later is exactly what I have done and I am working on another projects plot!

Demon Hunter said...

Thanks for sharing, Kalayna. This is very helpful because every writer is different and I like to incorporate different things that work for me.

Excellent stuff. I'm going to try your technique to see if it works for me. ;-)

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Anonymous said...


Thank you so much for sharing this with us. It should come in helpful when I pull out my Nano mess and begin running through it.

I'm in the process now of dissecting another's book to get more insight on the process.

Actually, that was the question I had asked during Nano. You had refered to dissecting other's work and I wondered what process you used to do so.

That's okay though. This is great stuff here.

Kalayna Price said...

Good luck with the new project Kailia!

Thank Tyhitia. I hope it helps!

Ah, Cher, sorry. I misunderstood.
As far as dissecting other writer's work, I can never do it on the first run through (at least, not if the book is good.) If you are looking at a book and trying to dissect it just to do it, I recommend that you read it once for pleasure and then, while it is still fresh in your head, re-read asking yourself why, how, and when as you read. Why do I care about this character? How did the author make me care? When did I start to care? . . . Why is this action sequence thrilling? . . . Why can't I put down the book right now? . . . How does she hook me? . . . etc.

If you are looking for something in particular because you are struggling with it in your own writing, I suggest gathering a lot of books in and out of genre and reading just the parts that pertain to what you are struggling with. (You chose a lot, in several genres, because that gives you a wider base to pull from and you are looking for what worked for you as a reader, not trying to emulate one particular person's voice or style) For example, if you are trying to write an opening hook, you might pick 10 of your favorite books and read the first paragraph. Which of them catch you? Why? How did the author hook you? (recent releases are more appropriate as they reflect modern appeal. For instance, while Jane Austin is amazing, she'd have a hard time selling her books today because our culture has a shorter attention span.)

Is that answer actually addressing the real question? ^_^

Anonymous said...


Thanks for answering the question. It help.

Right now I'm wondering about structure. So, I'm breaking a book down into scene summaries.