Can we talk about the fact that every time I reach a new stage in the novel writing process, Chuck Wendig writes a thorough, lengthy post about how to work through that exact thing? I’m tempted to just link to that article and call it a day.
However, I think (hope) that my experiences as a first-time novelist could be helpful to some people, too…Right? Aren’t they? And every piece of writing advice is just that: advice. You can’t follow it exactly and expect it to work for you. You’ve got to make it your own.
I’ve included relevant links at the bottom of this post to other writing bloggers and the Tumblr writing community in general that helped me formulate my own revision plan. If you have revision practices that you swear by, I’d love to hear them, so please share in the comments!
Revision Strategies: Some Options
It’s difficult to decide where to begin tackling the first draft of a novel. I, personally, just tried flailing my arms at the thing, but that’s been ineffective so far. Let’s get some outside opinions…
Think about a list headed “Renovate the House”. Do you list what needs doing room by room; do you make one list for the builder, one for the plumber, one for John Lewis; or do you make one list of things to paint when you can afford the paint, one of things to put on eBay when you’ve got the time, one of things to move from room to room when your weight-lifter sister-in-law is free to help?…
So with your monster list of the things you need to do, I’d suggest you can tackle it one of three ways:
- apply that list, item by item, to the first chapter/section/chunk. And then to the next.
- take one item from the list, and do it all the way through the novel. Then take the next item.
- sort out the list into kinds of work – say, structural work, characters, voices, plots – and tackle one category at a time, all the way through the novel.
Chuck Wendig also discusses some different strategies for approaching the monstrosity that is your novel. He suggests tackling the hard things first, tackling the easy things first, or revising from beginning to end. He also discusses the pros and cons of each approach, so if I haven’t convinced you already, let me tell you: his post is worth the read!
My Personal Revision Plan
First: I’m going to read through the entire thing. Pretty quickly. Like, in one sitting, if I can manage it; maybe this weekend, before classes officially begin. Then I’ll outline the book that I want to write, if that’s significantly different from the outline of my current draft.
I’m going to combine the “make separate lists of different kinds of work” and “tackle the big things first” strategies, at least at the beginning. No matter what I’m writing, I usually have to do some pretty extensive rewriting, so I don’t see any point in fixing anything on the line or word level that may disappear from the story altogether a week later.
Stage I: Plot
- The beginning. Does it begin as far into the narrative as possible, i.e. right when things get interesting? What happens if you cut the initial chapter? The first two? Above all, is the opening gripping enough to keep readers reading?
- Make a master list of all subplots in the novel. Does each subplot fit with the major plot, or is it random? Does each have rising action, a small(er) climax, and falling action? Are they all resolved by the end of the novel?
- What’s at stake for my main character in this story? In each scene? What’s at stake for the other characters? Is there enough at stake that a reader will worry about the characters?
- Does it matter? Ask this about every chapter, every scene. If it doesn’t matter, make it matter. Or cut it. Does each scene and chapter have its own mini plot arc? Does it drive the main plot forward?
- Is there enough conflict? Does the main character do things, or does he/she just react?
- The ending. Does it make sense? Feel conclusive? Fit with the story, yet still feel revelatory in some way?
I’ll revise this list after I do the initial read-through, but these are the biggies. Then Stage II will be all about characterization. I’m planning on writing up a revision schedule for myself, too, to stay on track.
Yay new challenges!