Checklist for Revising a Novel

© 2008 Simon Kisner CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Recently, I joked on my personal blog about how (not) to revise your novel, a trying process involving sweat, tears, and numerous trips to the office supply store. And all just so that you can see, in black and white, how crappy a writer you really are.

But seriously, revising a novel is a lot of hard work. And in your first draft, you probably did do a crappy job, because that’s what revision is for, to un-crap-ify it. You’re basically trying to fix everything you goofed on while you were writing your first draft. Melding all those multiple character personalities into one; pruning all those lost plot threads that go nowhere; unifying the story’s theme.

For From the Ashes of Courage, I used Holly Lisle’s one-pass manuscript revision process, exactly as she describes it. I’ve always used a variation of this process, going from first to final draft in one pass (more or less), but this is the first time I’ve done everything she recommends, exactly as she recommends it. I found it workable, and even enjoyable. In particular, her advice to write down the main theme and sub-themes of the story, before you start revising, I found that to be invaluable.

Even though it was fun to work on paper, I don’t think it was really necessary—for me—to print out the manuscript, as she recommends, because I didn’t really make any changes that wouldn’t have been easier right on the computer. This may have something to do with how I write. Unlike Holly, for example, I do not tend to throw in new plot ideas while I’m writing my first draft. I would more likely do that while I’m writing my zero-draft. And because the first draft is a rewrite of the zero-draft, the plot holes that result usually don’t make it into the first draft. Likewise, I didn’t have many scenes that I had to throw away. (There was exactly one, and I know how it got in there in the first place, and it’s now less likely that a similar scene would make it into a future first draft.) Yes, there were lots of plot points, scenes, partial scenes, and so forth that I moved around, recast, and threw away, but they were all in the zero-draft, and I made those changes while I was writing the first draft. That probably made the revision process much less intense than it otherwise would have been.

Even so, I ended up—and I should have done this a long time ago—compiling a revision checklist, all the things that I was checking for. In software-development terms, these are my acceptance tests. These are how I know I’ve done my job correctly, or how I know what’s wrong with my story. If any of these tests fail, it indicates that I need to fix something wrong in the manuscript.

I will no doubt add to this list in the future. For now, here’s my revision checklist:







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