There’s nothing like the excitement of starting a new work or the infatuation you might have with having written it. But professional writers are really made by the serious way they approach the revision process.
It’s important to take time with your revisions and not to rush through them just because you want to be done. Most professional writers would not dream of submitting a manuscript until it had gone through four comprehensive revisions – and sometimes more.
STEP #1 – STEP BACK
It’s good to gain some objectivity for your writing by stepping away from the work for a time – a month if you can manage it, a week if you can’t. Letting the work lie fallow for a bit will help you see its flaws more clearly.
STEP #2 – SEE THE FOREST
Read the entire manuscript for sense. Your manuscript needs to be a comprehensive whole before you can start honing in on the details. Look for the following issues, remembering that the reader isn’t in your head and doesn’t necessarily know what you know:
- Are there any gaps in the plot? As you reread your story, is there any place where your reader might grow confused regarding how you got from point A to point B?
- Are there any holes in context? You’ve invented an entire world with your manuscript, and it needs to live and die by your internal rules. And often also by the rules of the world around you. I once read a story that had a man on the West Coast calling a woman on the East Coast to wish her a Happy New Year, and magically, bells were tolling on both coasts simultaneously. Such minor holes in context can hurt your credibility and interrupt our acceptance of the world you’re trying to immerse us in.
- Are there any major character flaws that you need to address? Your characters need to grow, of course, but they must do so within reasonable bounds for the character you’ve worked so hard to develop. A timid character will leap into the lion’s den because her much loved child is in danger – but not because she suddenly has an unexplained burst of bravery.
- Do you need more or less description? Have you given your reader enough to be “grounded” but not so much that it is drowning the story? There is nothing like evocative description to give your reader a sense of “being there” – but it can’t overwhelm the plot. There’s a delicate balance that you need to achieve.
This stage of revision can be a challenge for writers who generally can’t see the forest for the trees at this point. You may need to cultivate an “early reader” or two, who has an eye for the arc of a story and its characters, who will tell you honestly where you are going wrong – and who will praise you when you deserve it!