Revising, Part 1

I spent the last couple of months revising the sequel to Deadtown. Now that I’ve handed in that manuscript, I’ve got a little distance on my revision process and will do a series of posts here about turning a rough draft into a finished manuscript. (By “finished” I mean “something I’m not totally embarrassed to show my editor.” There will be more rounds of revising before the current manuscript becomes a book.)

I tend to write a manuscript in three drafts:

  • The first draft gets the story down.
  • The second draft both shapes and fleshes out that story.
  • The third draft is for polishing.

Even though the manuscript goes through three drafts, each scene goes through many more drafts than that. I like to comb through a scene many times, getting it into pretty good shape (or the best shape I can for right now) before I move on to the next one. So I revise any given scene anywhere from three to a couple dozen times.

Let me get more specific about what happens in each draft:

First draft. I work from a very loose outline that hits the main supports of the plot: the inciting incident that gets the story moving, a couple of plot points, midpoint, and the climax. In the first draft, I use the outline to write toward each of these goals, one scene at a time. Because I love the surprise of discovering my story along the way, I’m not wedded to the outline. If the story veers off in an interesting direction, I revise the outline.

Between drafts one and two. I read through my manuscript and write revision notes. I might tinker a bit here and there, but my focus is on listing things that need fixing or developing in the next draft. One thing I look for in this read-through is any subplots that I can bring out more fully in the next draft.

Second draft. During this draft, I constantly refer to my revision notes. I cut scenes that don’t advance the story or that point somewhere other than where the story actually went. I develop subplots. I tinker with secondary characters. I write transitions between scenes. And I look for scenes that need fleshing out. In the first draft, I tend to start a new scene with dialogue, which means I often have to give that conversation more of a context in the second draft.

Between drafts two and three. If I have time, I’ll do another readthrough and make another set of revision notes.

Third draft. In this draft, I polish. I hunt for inconsistencies, check the timeline, and tighten the writing in each scene.

I do all my drafts on the computer, switching between my desktop and my laptop. (I worked for several years as a freelance copyeditor, so I’m used to doing everything onscreen.) When it’s time for a new draft, I create a new folder and save the most recent version of the manuscript there. Then I open it and get to work.

Next time, I’ll show how I revised a scene, taking it from an early sketch to a finished scene.


About nancyholzner

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