Phase 1.5 of revisions (in other words, getting ready for Revisions Phase 2)

When I used to stalk writers before I myself became one, I rolled my eyes when they would complain about revisions. They’d talk about the painstaking, sometimes boring, but ultimately useful and necessary work of revising a novel, lamenting on how long it takes. I scoffed at this. “Psh!” I thought, “I can definitely revise in no time. ”

Well, boy was I wrong.

Revising is exactly how they described it. You have to be meticulous, it’s sometimes boring, and it’s totally necessary. In fact, just getting ready to revise is quite the process. I mean, that’s somewhat my fault because I tried to plan out my novel and then I got so friggin’ frustrated that I ended up just “pants”-ing it. (For those who are new around here, pantsing means to not plan the plot of your story and just wing it and write through to the end.)

I figured if I did all the little planning, meticulous stuff now I could get to the fun part of the revision process (they promise me there’s a fun part coming, but we’ll see). Before I continue, I’ll put in my usual disclaimer: this is a process that works for me. No two writers or two novels are exactly alike. Also, this could totally backfire or not work at all. It’s the risk I take blogging this whole experimentation process. We won’t know if these plans worked until I finish revising the novel for the second time and for some reason that seems like a long ways away.

To create this plan, I used a combination of internet sources, instinct, and help from Larry Brooks’ fun instructional story manual Story Engineering. 

Ok, enough blabbing. Here’s what I did to prep for revisions:

Made a “cheat-sheet” for my novel 

In High School we sometimes got to make “cheat-sheets,” which were essentially one page study guides we could use on the big test. They had the basic things we needed to reference—formulas, definitions, etc. I made one of these for my novel. On it I put the concept, the major themes in the story, the main characters, and a summary of the basic plot. I’m not going to post a picture because that would give everything away, and I don’t want that! Plus, my handwriting is terrible.

Purchased a huge pack of index cards and used almost all of them 

My story has three narrators, so in a sense it’s like three stories in one. I pulled out some handy dandy index cards, divided them into stacks of three, and labeled them. Each scene got one card. I would put a letter in one corner indicating the narrator, a number in the right-hand corner indicating the order the scene came in, and then filled in information in one color and added editorial comments in the other. I did it for every scene in the book. The result was three thick piles of cards with the plot and characters fresh in my head.

The index cards! You can see how they're divided up and how they are labeled and formatted.

The index cards! You can see how they’re divided up and how they are labeled and formatted.

Was it a pain to do? Yes. Did it seem tedious? Sometimes. Was it helpful? Oh God, absolutely.

Examined the characters 

Because I did this little index card thing I had a lot of fresh information ripe for picking; a perfect time to analyze the characters. Each narrator needs to go on the character journey (more about that here) and I need to know important things about them, appearance, backstory, and what Brooks calls “their inner demon.” This is important in their journey, even if they’re not Frodo Baggins embarking on some epic quest or something. They need to have an internal conflict and an external obstacle.

I made a worksheet (can you tell that my day job is being a teacher?) and I filled it in for each character. I’ll use this one, which is incomplete, to show you the template. I used this template for all six of the major characters. When there were blanks, I knew it was something I was going to have to think about and fill in. One character was mostly all blanks so I knew I needed to spend some time figuring her out (more on this in a forthcoming post).

When I had blanks, I used a sticky note to write my new idea. That way, if I analyzed the plot and decided there needed to be some changes, I could toss out this idea and write in a new one. Nothing was set in stone. Character arcs and plot are incredibly interwoven so I can’t commit to anything without figuring out the last step, which is the plot.

The character sheet with a few blanks. A good start, but more to add! (Ignore the messy bed…and yes, I'm working in bed because I'm cold!)

The character sheet with a few blanks. A good start, but more to add! (Ignore the messy bed…and yes, I’m working in bed because I’m cold!)

Conquered the plot 

This one I had help on. I relied almost entirely on Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering. I used some of the handy worksheets (you can find one online here) for the plot I had so far. Again, I filled in blanks (or in this case, answered the questions), and when I didn’t I just left it blank to patiently wait for it’s sticky note addition. 

This is where the left brain creativity part comes in. I had to start thinking of how I wanted my story to be so that it could encompass all these structure elements. Figuring out what I wanted the characters to do before tackling the plot helped immensely.

The next part is hard to describe to non-writers. It’s like I put on my writer’s hat and wove everything together. This resulted in some serious shifting and changing in the story, but it had to be done. I guess this is the ‘creative process’ and the part I have a hard time describing. Basically, I make things up and write them down. That’s all you need to know.

So there. Done.

nick miller freeze fram with arm in the air

Well, sort of.

Now I have the progress report in my hands and I’m ready for the big revision. I’ll keep you updated on how it goes. Wish me luck. Until next week, I’m out!

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