Welcome back, fellow literary people!
This week, Jennifer presents a step-by-step guide on revising your first draft.
There isn’t any real way to teach revision in a simple or concise way. But, for a 4 minute video, this step-by-step guide on revising your first draft didn’t turn out too bad!
Pre-Revision Step 1: Celebrate the achievement of writing an entire narrative!
Rent a private plane ride, go to a carnival and ride a rollercoaster, or bake yourself a cake! You have truly earned something special.
Pre-Revision Step 2: Take a break from your work
Yes, this is mandatory; you need to let the work rest while you distance yourself and refresh. Get inspired by reading or doing other hobbies. Give it at least 1-4 weeks. Boo, I know. Do it anyway, it’s good for your brain.
Pre-Revision Step 3: Research and Practice Revision Techniques
If you don’t learn how to revise, you will continue to modify mistakes into more mistakes over and over and over again.
- Gotham Writers’ Workshop: A writing school founded in NYC offers online creative writing classes, free workshops and events, writing coaches, and more (www.writingclasses.com).
- Writers Market paid services: Writer’s Digest Books has been printing the annual “Bible for writers” since the early 1920s. They offer thousands of listings for the writing market, including literary agencies, publishers, and submission guidelines. Besides this great book, Writers Market paid services offer conferences, education programs, and publishing services, and more (www.writersmarket.com/PaidServices).
- Scribophile (FAQ ->Critiquing): Scribophile is an online writing group that works on a credit (or karma) system. This means you earn credits by offering critiques that allow you to post your own work and receive critiques. I personally enjoy the incentive to interact with members and practice how to provide constructive critiques. On their FAQ: Critiquing page, Scrib offers several articles and how-to’s for learning how to write constructive critiques (www.scribophile.com/help/faq.php#firstcritique).
It’s been a few weeks, you’re feeling creative, and you have learned a thing or two about revision techniques — you’re now ready to begin your revision!
Revision Step 1: DO NOT MAKE CHANGES TO YOUR DRAFT.
Our first order of business is to get a clean sheet of paper (or print out the manuscript) for note taking. We don’t want to be hasty and change something that actually doesn’t need to be changed, right?
Many literary pros differ between starting with small details or larger-picture details. For this lesson, we will start with small details.
Small Details Revision
Character Continuity: Have you ever read about a shy character who suddenly joins the cheer-leading squad? Drastic changes in appearance or character aren’t realistic.
Here are a few examples of poor character continuity from the tv show Boy Meets World. For one, there are three different ways Cory and Topanga first meet. Also, Cory is two different ages when Topanga first kisses him. Alan first claims to have worked in Navy, but later claims it was the Coast Guard. Depending on which episode you’re watching, Amy works in an art museum, in real estate, or is a stay-at-home mom.
All in all, people, plot, objects, and places need to be consistent.
Character Development: It’s a fact of life that great and terrible things happen to people. But, when we write a story about it, our characters need to evolve. Readers root for characters to overcome their hurdles. If you want your shy character to join the cheer-leading squad, we need a good reason. How did he/she transition from shy to outgoing?
Supporting Details: It’s easy to literally write: “Jane went from shy to outgoing, so therefore she is a changed person.” It’s also weak and boring. That old saying show, don’t tell is great advice. Use details to convince the reader that our character was shy but is now outgoing. Supporting details can range from certain body gestures, phrases used in dialogue, or even nick-names.
Larger-Picture Details Revision
3-Act Structure: Do you remember The Writing Process: Three-Act Structure, and the 8-Point Arc (Ep. 12)? Not just your narrative as a whole benefits from the 3-act structure and 8-point arc. You want to create a rising action, climax, and resolution for each chapter, idea, scene, action, and dialogue.
Take a scene, for example. The 3-point structure might be establishing a goal (what the character wants in the beginning of the scene), a conflict (tension that challenges your character in his/her journey toward the goal), and then a disaster (your character is unable to reach his/her goal). Or, the 3-point structure might establish a reaction (your character’s reaction to the disaster), a dilemma (your character is faced with uneasy choices), and the decision (the choice your character makes that moves everything forward).
In order to structure chapters, ideas, scenes, actions, and dialogue, you will have to:
- Delete or revise red herrings. These are details that arise in your story but are never resolved.
- Write down suggestions about story evolution. As you add more structure to your work, a number of ideas present themselves to you. You may realize your character needs more development toward the end, or that certain dialogue can pack a bigger punch if moved to the beginning of the interaction.
- As your narrative changes, you will find that some scenes (or even entire chapters) add more oomph if moved, or deleted completely.
After you finish reading your manuscript and have taken great notes, it is time to study them and finally REVISE! Make sure to save your first draft, copy the content to a new document, and save your revision as a new file.
When you have a complete and polished new draft, check out online writing communities for Beta readers and critique partners. Scribophile is my personal favorite for finding enthusiastic and serious writers and editors. You can also ask a trusted family member or friend to take a look, but no matter what route you choose, choose someone you feel comfortable with and trust.
New episodes are periodically posted on Mondays.