We’ve been talking writing process for a bit. To review, we’ve gone over researching genre, preparation, and writing the first draft. Today we’re diving back into the story and talking revisions.
The revision stage is the longest part of the process. Now that your story has had time to settle, go back and re-read it from beginning to end. I like to print my manuscript so I can make notes right on the document. Now go back and start again, only this time, begin implementing changes. This is my favourite part. You’re shaping the story, working in detail, finessing it and giving it life. Bookmark Thesaurus.com and spend some time on those words you highlighted in the draft. If you chose to outline, look at your outline again. Did you veer off of it as you were going? See how you can get your story back on track, or maybe you’ve gone in a direction you like better. I also use a beat sheet at this point. This is a tool that tracks your story plot points (or beats) so you have a rough estimate of where in the story each plot point should occur based on your word count. It is a pacing game changer. If you’re a pantser, this idea may terrify you, but you don’t have to obsess over it. It’ll just give you some direction. Using a beat sheet will help you find gaps in your story where you might be able to work in those new ideas or scenes that you saved in your notebook, or help you identify places where you’ve lost your pacing. There are lots of beat sheet templates available online. Some are in Excel format and others are more like a pdf worksheet. It’s kind of a personal preference, how basic or detailed you want to get. One of the more popular beat sheets is Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, and this is an excellent post that explains how it works.
You can also try searching beat sheets specific to your chosen genre. My personal favourite is Jamie Gold’s downloadable excel beat sheets because they do the math for you, breaking down roughly where each major plot point should occur based on your estimated word count. She has a romance-specific one, but also a generic beat sheet you can use for any genre:
Break your story down scene by scene and look at each scene to determine its purpose. If it serves no purpose or does not push the story forward in some way, CUT. This post is helpful for learning how to structure a scene.
TIP: Keep your cut scenes in a separate document in case you ever think of something you can use elsewhere, or if you decide there’s something you want to work back in. These are your precious words, so even though they might not be serving a purpose at this moment, don’t just toss them! I’ve used pieces of cut scenes in a totally different book!
Make sure you’re showing vs. telling. This one is huge. It could be a blog post all on it’s own, but for the sake of this post, I’ll keep it basic. Are you simply telling the reader what’s going on in the story and what your character is feeling or are you showing them, be it in the form of physical reactions, body language internal monologues, moving the camera around, etc. This is a skill that requires practice. I’d say it’s one of the things writers struggle with most. There are many posts that dive into showing vs. telling in a lot more detail, but this one is excellent.
Go a couple of more rounds self-editing until you are fairly happy with how your story has developed. Tired of it yet? I hope not, because you still have work to do. You’re going to go through it again, but not with the storyline as your main focus this time. Get cozy with Spell Check and the Find / Replace function. Search your document for crutch words. What are crutch words, you ask? These are words you automatically add that have no purpose in the sentence and put distance between the reader and the mind of the character, pulling you out of the story. Eliminating these words will result in tighter sentences. A couple of my most frequent crutch words are ‘just’ and ‘that’. This is a couple of good posts about crutch words:
Just for fun, use the find function in Word to search a few of these crutch words in your Work in Progress. The results might alarm you! Read each sentence the word appears in and determine if the word is actually needed for the sentence to still make sense. A lot of times you can cut it without even affecting anything else. I’ve heard some writers say they cut thousands of words from their word count by removing some of their crutch words.
Now. Are you satisfied with your manuscript? If you are, or even if you’re not, but don’t know how to fix it, it’s time to swap with those other writers you’ve been meeting online (or locally). I like to share my work with no more than 2 or 3 people. One person isn’t enough—you only get one opinion. Two or three sets of eyes works best because you can compare their comments. If they all point out something, you should seriously consider that advice. If only one of them points out something, it might just be personal preference. You don’t have to implement every single suggestion made. Do what feels right for you.
Make those changes. Read it again. Polish, like you’ve never polished in your life. The next step is Querying, which we’ll talk about soon.