Thursday, September 27, 2007

I Finished the Book, Now What Do I Do?

I'm teaching a fantasy novels class and the discussion last week led me to put this together for my students. I thought it might be of some interest here, and I'd love to hear other suggestions.

Revision: What do you change? How? Why? These are big questions and tough to answer.
This is also where you're going to start getting really sick of reading and rereading your novel. I'm going to list a bunch of techniques for identifying problem spots. This isn't a sequence and I'm not going to give them to you in any particular order. These are just methods you can use.

1 Read the book aloud. You want to try to get through this in as small a number of reading sessions as possible . Whenever you hit something that bugs you, highlight it. Don't stop, don't note exactly what it is that bothers you. Just highlight it. If you get a brilliant idea for the story right it down on a separate sheet of paper, but in as brief a note as possible. At the end of the session write down any ideas you've had for changes.

2.Read the book silently and follow the procedure in one.

3. Read the book as you would read a book from the store. As close to straight through as possible without making any notes. When you're done, right down what did and didn't work for you.

4. Build a chart or spreadsheet. Read the book, making notes on the spreadsheet of every scene and chapter. What does the scene do? What should it do? Plot. Character. World. Mood. Theme. Why did you write the scene? What can you do to it to make it serve more than one purpose.

5. Create a duplicate document of your novel. Open it. Read through and smooth out the prose, but don't do any major reworking. When you hit something that needs work, make a note of what and why, but don't actually do any of that.

6. Build a revision plan, or list of things that need changing. You will probably need to use some of the techniques above to create the plan. Make it into a set of bullet points. Think about how each of those changes will echo forward and back through the book in terms of consequences and needed foreshadowing. Add those to the plan. plunge in.

7. Open it up and just change everything you don't like. This one can be dangerous and should be approached with caution.

8. Get another set of eyes, preferably several.* A couple of writers and a reader or two who doesn't write is ideal. Listen to what they have to say about the book. Decide where they're right, where the things they note point out stuff you should have put in that you didn't. Where the suggestions diverge from what you want the book to be.

Revision resources:

Wyrdsmiths Index at category: Revision and Multiple Drafts. Linked from Writers' Resources on the top right.

Miss Snark Index at category: Revisions. Linked from Writers' Resources on the top right.

Making Light comment thread at

David Louis Edelman on line edits:

Thoughts, comments, suggestions?
*Important note: always remember it's your book and you ultimately are responsible for it. Don't make changes that don't work for you. Be certain it's your sense of the story that's telling you they don't work and not your ego.


Anonymous said...

Kelly, I wish I'd had this blog post two, three years ago, as I was wrapping up Midnight! I was talking with a writerly pal of mine earlier this week (while we were out of town together) about how far the both of us have come the last small handful of years. It's amazing. :)

Anonymous said...

Get another set of eyes, preferably several.* A couple of writers and a reader or two who doesn't write is ideal.

I meant to touch on this and didn't. But yes! Readers are very important. I didn't have readers when I finished Midnight, and to me it shows.

Lather, rinse, repeat!

Kelly Swails said...

Non-writer readers going over the manuscript is crucial. They'll give you insights that writers won't necessarily see. I swear by my non-writer readers.

Kelly McCullough said...

Glad to be of service. The hardest thing about this was unchunking. If you ask me how I revise, the basic answer is: I read the book and fix all the bits that don't work...after making sure to address comments from the wyrdsmiths and other readers. Coming up strategies to address how to find the bits that don't work was surprisingly hard.

Anonymous said...

I just finished my first novel after a decade of trying -- and I'd really like people to critique it and be that extra set of eyes -- and unfortunately, I don't have a lot of literary people in my immediate circle. If anyone out there is interested, I'm posting it here one chapter at a time:

I heard about you from Erik Buchanan on, he says you've all taught him a lot.

nomananisland :)