Revision Strategies (So You Don’t Go Insane) by Tara Sim



Photo credit: Jess Pac on Flickr

The time has come. Your edit letter or critique partner’s comments has arrived. You wander the house in a daze, wondering how on earth you’re going to incorporate all that information into your manuscript. At this point you probably just want to set the thing on fire.

Tip: Do not set it on fire.

Instead, figure out what sort of revision strategy is going to work best for you. There are a lot out there, and I’m sure there’s one that’s going to work especially well for your style/book. To get started, here are a few examples:

  1. Print out the MS

    This may seem like a waste of paper, but trust me, it’s not. When you have a big revision ahead of you, especially one that involves tinkering with structure, print out the whole book and stick it in a binder. Then read through it with highlighters and a red pen to make corrections and comments as you go. Highlighters can be used for characterization, plot, etc. Once you’re done, return to the document with your notes and go through it all, making the changes as you go.

  1. Reverse outline

    This method helps especially if you’re a pantser or you need to figure out the best formatting for your novel. Skim through the book and make an outline of what’s already there. For example:

    Chapter 1

    Scene 1: Wendy goes to the park, meets a stranger who tells her the world will end in two days.

    Scene 2: Wendy Googles “end of the world in two days” and discovers a cult living in her neighborhood.

    Scene 3: Wendy tries to convince her parents to move.

    And so on. With the outline in front of you, write notes beneath each scene—what needs to be added and/or clarified—or strikeout scenes that should be taken away. You can also move them around to find the right order of events.

  1. Note cards

    Similar to a reverse outline, but a physical version. Write down each scene on an index card (write the chapter and scene number at the top so you don’t get confused) and make sure they’re all in order. You can write what needs to be changed in this scene on the back of the card, and flip it back over when you’re done. You can also spread out the cards and rearrange them to help find the best progression of story events.

  1. Spreadsheet

    On an Excel spreadsheet, make different pages for different story aspects such as characterization, plot, worldbuilding, and themes. Then use the top cells to categorize each character, plot element, subplot, etc. In each cell below it, write what needs to change. Highlight each cell in different colors to delineate importance (i.e. red cells for the things that are a priority) and then strike them out or change the color when you’ve incorporated that specific thing (i.e. turning the red cell green).

Revisions can be scary to tackle, but both you and your novel will be stronger for it. Find which style best suits you and get to work!

Tara Sim is a YA author found in the wilds of the Bay Area, California. When she’s not writing about magic, clocks, and boys, she drinks tea, wrangles cats, and sings opera.  To find out more about her and her books, check out her website: Follow her on Twitter: @EachStarAWorld.


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