Drafting and revision demand very different states of mind, so different that it’s tempting to want to hand the whole revision process over to someone else.
Anyone with unlimited resources would surely do that. But a team of one has no such luxury available. Instead it’s necessary for that team of one to appear to be somebody else – to make a mental change that allows an objective distance from the work that has just been drafted.
One way to do this is to put the manuscript aside for a while then come back to it with a fresh mind. Take as long as you can before picking it up again.
The other way to get some objective distance is to use a planned revision process that breaks the story down and analyses it before rebuilding it.
Whichever method you employ, it’s important to dwell for just a moment on the successful conclusion of the drafting stage. Producing a first draft, no matter how imperfect, is a crucial milestone. You can’t begin the revision process without something to revise.
A planned revision process has to include the following elements:
Review the story concept
After reading and rereading the draft, take a blank sheet of paper and write the following synopses:
- Write in 100 words or less what your story is about. Start with the sentence: [Title] is about [simple noun phrase describing your main character] who wants to [describe their goal].
- On completion of the 100 word summary, write a longer synopsis of 350 to 450 words describing the story in greater detail. Write is as you would if you were pitching the story to a publisher.
Now read through the draft and think about the following:
- The hero and their motivation. Consider the story’s protagonist. What is their motivation? Is that motivation sufficiently clear? Is it within their power to achieve it? Is the hero likable enough for the reader to engage with and have sufficient empathy with for the duration of the story?
- Is the story interesting enough for the reader to remain engaged with it? Does it have enough drama, tension, conflict?
- Finally, do you as the author like the story and the main character/s enough to stay with it until the manuscript is finished? If not, why not? Are any problems fixable? Or, is it better to make the break now?
What theme emerges from the existing draft. Is this what you intended? If not, what can you do to strengthen it?
For each of the main characters in the story, describe their role, motivation (both inner and outer), whether they have qualities that help the reader to engage or empathize with them.
For the remaining minor characters, determine their function in the story and whether they are necessary to support the plot.
Do the characters show any signs at this stage of being able to deliver the story? It’s really all about characters. Are they believable? Are they rounded? Do they develop as the story progresses? Do you like them enough to be around them long enough to hear their story?
Point of view
Is the point of view applied consistently throughout the story? Is it the best solution for the story? If you’ve written the draft in first person, or limited third person, think about whether this has placed unnecessary constraints on the story.
Break the story into its three acts: beginning, middle and end. Then break it down further looking for the turning points and whether they happen in the right place.
Then break the plot down further still, looking at each chapter scene by scene. Consider whether each scene adds anything to the story, our understanding of the characters, or the exposition of the theme. If the answer is no, then it has to go.
Finally, it’s important to view the change from drafting to revision as a cutover from one stage of writing to another. And in all controlled cutover processes, the boundary between each phase is the right time to ask yourself if there are sufficient pluses in favour of proceeding to the next stage.
There’s nothing wrong with deciding not to proceed – you can still learn valuable lessons from what you’ve done already. But an even better outcome is deciding that it’s worth going ahead. So, let’s hope the answer is yes.