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Think big as you revise your manuscript with these nine steps

You say you’re revising your draft, but are you really? In the past, I’ve thought I was revising a manuscript when in fact I was really just editing it.

A revision is just that: a “re-visioning” of the story – looking at it in a whole new way. It’s easy to think you’re revising when what you’re really doing is making small edits, reworking sentences, and tightening up scenes and dialogue. Those things are important but don’t go far enough to truly create a publishable manuscript.

Instead, when you’re ready to dive into revisions, think big. Open your mind and pen to rethink every aspect of your manuscript.

To move into re-vision mode, consider these questions:

  1. Use a logline to maintain focus. A logline is one sentence (at most two) that conveys the dramatic story of your novel or screenplay boiled down in the most succinct way possible. It presents the major throughline of the narrative without details about subplots or characters.  As you begin to revise, go back to your logline or create one if you haven’t already.
  2. Whose story is it? When you analyze your story, are you really telling the story you meant to in the way you intended? When my blogging partner began writing her memoir, she thought she was writing about her mother. She soon found out that, in fact, her central focus was her relationship with her father.
  3. Look at each character. Decide if that character needs to be in the story. Is each character necessary to advance the plot? You might find you’ll need to add new ones and delete old ones. Are your characters fully developed and do they change over the course of the story?
  4. Make every scene count. Whether you’re writing a memoir or novel, every scene needs to earn its place in your manuscript. You may find you need to completely revise existing scenes, delete them, and add new ones.
  5. Review your story’s point of view. Is there another narrative approach you could take?
  6. Set up key elements of your story. For example, if you have a scene in which a character needs to be able to understand Spanish, have you established earlier in the story the fact that he speaks or understands the language?
  7. Build out themes. In my memoir, I found that water was an image that appeared throughout. So part of my revision process included seeing if there were any other places I should add more references to water to build out this symbolism.
  8. Analyze your plot and subplots. When it comes time to revise, you may find that some of the earlier subplots don’t fit now. Don’t be afraid to cut mercilessly, but save the material in another document. You may find you can take it in a whole new direction and create a brand new piece out of it.
  9. Do a “vision check.” Finally ask yourself, “Is the story really there.” The very act of writing can take you in directions you’ve never thought of. Is the story you envisioned now on the page the way you expected? Sometimes in the writing process new ideas and angles emerge. Sometimes though, the vision we had isn’t quite there. As you revise, see if you need to write out your story in more depth and detail. Some people underwrite their first draft, while others overwrite. Maybe you’ll find you need to prune your prose to a more pleasing whole. I’ve always felt we write to understand and in the act of revising, you’ll have another chance to fully understand what your story is truly about.

For more information, read these related posts:

Three posts about writing effective loglines

Original idea & logline: Use them to write a better story, part two

Four ways to revise scenes

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thank you for sharing these steps, and your blog. 🙂

    September 8, 2014
  2. The need for brutal cutting is a harsh truth, but the most important one for me at the moment. Learning to let go of anything that doesn’t move the plot and characters along, no matter how much I love it.

    I thought the point about theme was an interesting one too. Writing theme in as you go along can be tricky, so this is a good way to make sure it’s there.

    September 8, 2014
  3. Great tips. Thanks for sharing!

    September 9, 2014
  4. lynettedavis #

    Great post! I especially like #7 – build out themes. I’m working on the theme of rain in my memoir. Thank you for sharing this. Reblogged this on Memoir Notes.

    June 25, 2015
  5. andileroy #

    Perfect timing! Just finished reading latest draft of my WIP and getting ready to revise. Thanks for the tips!!

    June 26, 2015

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