Thoughts On Writing – The Revision Process

I recently finished the major revisions on Magic’s Stealing, and though I’m still in the process of making a few tweaks (trying to give the end just a bit more ‘oomph’ and trying to make sure that the antagonist has a clear motive while maintaining her mysterious persona) I thought I’d spend today’s blog post talking about my revision process.

First off, the difference between editing and revising. Honestly, I confuse the two and tend to use the terms interchangeably. But for the purpose of this post, I wanted to make sure I was talking about the right thing. So I did a quick web search, and this is what I found:

Editing is when you focus on a manuscript’s grammatical conventions. You’re looking for typos, words that like to get flip-flopped (my offenders were rein/reign and lose/loose), and grammatical issues. The story looks better when you edit.

Revising is when you focus on the big picture. You’re checking that the reader understands what you mean, that the story is clear, and the plot makes sense. The story sounds better when you revise.

Sometimes the two might clash, depending on whether you’re going for how something sounds, or how something looks. I’m fairly certain I drove one of my beta readers up the wall for my tendency to have ‘ , then ‘ in the middle of a sentence. For example: The owl sighed, best an owl could, then tapped the window with his beak. To be grammatically correct, the sentence should read: The owl sighed, best an owl could, and then tapped the window with his beak.

To be fair, I was doing this quite a bit, and I did go through and fix a number of those issues. However, as I was revising, I chose to keep certain instances because I liked how the sentence sounded, especially when compared to other sentences in the paragraph.

Here’s a breakdown of my revision process:

Step 1: Write rough draft. I don’t usually do much editing/revising at this stage. I just want to see the story completed.

Step 2: Examine rough draft. Tighten the writing, cut/add scenes as needed, now that I know how the story flows, and look for loose ends. Mostly revision.

Step 3: Polish the draft. Repeat Step 2 as necessary until I can’t find anything left to polish. I both edit and revise at this point. In some cases, this only takes one or two passes. In others… many, many more. (I really don’t want to think about how many times I’ve read through Distant Horizon. I feel like it’s fairly polished now, but it took several years to figure out this whole writing thing).

Step 4: Send polished draft to beta readers. Step away from manuscript and work on something else while waiting for a response.

Step 5: Ask beta readers questions. Once I have responses from my beta readers, I look through their comments and ask them questions to clarify anything I don’t understand. If one beta reader brings up a question that I think I should ask others, I send them those questions. For Magic’s Stealing, I did this in regards to what age they saw the characters as, as well as the readers’ theories regarding the antagonist. By doing this, I got a broader understanding of problems in the manuscript.

Step 6: Examine beta comments as a whole. Since it has been a while since I last looked at the manuscript, I read through all the comments to jog my memory.

Step 7: Apply critique to one chunk of the manuscript at a time. I examine what all the beta readers said about a particular section (in case there were conflicting opinions), and then applied the appropriate changes as necessary.

Step 8: Read the manuscript aloud. Once a couple sections were completed, I read the revised sections aloud, looking for any areas where I tripped over myself. Since I’m hoping to eventually do an audio edition of Magic’s Stealing, this is especially important. But even if you don’t plan to do an audiobook, reading aloud can help you catch errors or plot holes you wouldn’t catch if you are simply scanning the page. Plus, it’s kind of fun. (My Speech and Debate background likes to kick in here).

Step 9: Make any final adjustments that you know need to be made. For example, I know that the ending of Magic’s Stealing needs a little bit more ‘oomph,’ possibly in the form of one final confrontation with the antagonist. So I’ve been re-examining the rest of the manuscript to see if there are any loose strings there that I can use in that confrontation.

Step 10: Divide story into chapters. If you haven’t done this already, now’s the time to do it. Unfortunately, this is the part I don’t really like. Do I stick with a specific word count? Do I end at a really dramatic scene and have some really long or really short chapters? Should I cut before or after the antagonist view point? Eh… I much prefer revising.

Step 11: Read the full manuscript. If the story is truly polished, you’re only going to be making small changes or adjusting a word here or there. Nit-picking. If you see a major plot hole or flaw, you may want to go back and do further revisions. Each story is different. Like I said earlier, Distant Horizon went through a lot of revisions, and now when I look at it, I mostly nit-pick.

Step 12: Set the manuscript aside. Hand it over to any remaining proof-readers/beta readers. Read through it again after it’s been out of your thoughts for a little while. If readers say you’re good to go, proceed to the next step.

Step 13: Proceed with querying for trade publication or with self-publishing, depending on your goals. For Magic’s Stealing, I’ll be self-publishing, and I intend to print out the manuscript so I can look through it for typos. For Distant Horizon, I’ll intend to hire an editor before self-publishing, since it has been through so many changes that I’m bound to be missing something. The story is also considerably longer than Magic’s Stealing, and has a lot more room for plot holes (Distant Horizon is almost 100,000 words vs Magic’s Stealing’s 31,000 words).

There you have it: my revision process.

I hope you found this post useful. Have you had any revision techniques you found to be particularly helpful? 🙂

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