I haven’t done one of these in awhile, (WordPress says two years? Yikes.) but it’s time for the next installment of The Road to Self Publishing, the series where I pretend to know what I’m talking about while going on my own journey to being a (hopefully selling) self-published author. If you haven’t read the previous entry, First Draft Done, Now What?, you can find it here, or you can find the master post here. As I said before, the master post will contain links to all other Road to Self Publishing posts, so if you’re not reading this one close to the post date, I’d check out that one.
Now that all the introductions are out of the way, it’s time to answer the question that burns in many amateur authors’ minds: how do you revision? It’s a question that I’ve been grappling with since the last post two years ago (longer, if I’m being honest). I think I’ve finally found the answer. Quick disclaimer before we move on: this article, like all Road to Self Publishing articles, is about my personal experience. It may not apply to you. If it does, great, but I wouldn’t expect it to. This series is mostly about me documenting what I’ve done. It helps me. I hope it helps you too.
So, what is the answer I’ve found? Since the first draft of my current work was done in the mad-dash of writing that is NaNoWriMo, it was a complete and total rewrite. As outlined in the previous installment, I read my first draft and identified problems. I also had some alpha-readers identify problems they had with it. The problems I looked for here tended to be continuity-focused. Do the events make sense? Are they in the correct order? Does the ending feel like it belongs? Do the characters react in ways that make sense with their established personalities and experiences? In other words; I looked for big stuff. Reading it made me realize I needed to completely re-do the whole thing. A couple characters needed to be reworked, events changed for a whole new ending and an entire antagonist needed to be removed.
So, how do you rewrite a book that had that many major problems without the second draft still being hot garbage? You want a hint on the answer? Planning! How well do you plan novels? Me? I’m more of a pantser. The most successful NaNoWriMos have been the ones where I had barely anything to go on, an overarching idea and a couple characters, maybe. The result of this was that I didn’t have the full picture of my story. Sure, I had an idea of the full story, but obviously not the full picture, since there were the continuity issues and all. So, I had to get that full picture. I built a much more detailed timeline and newly detailed character sheets. This way, I could see the whole story in one shot.
Here I should note that even if you are the biggest planner in the history of writing, extra planning is definitely useful here. No matter how much planning you do, the story ends up changing in the course of writing, doesn’t it? Taking new notes will help to reconcile your planning with how your story actually turned out.
How to do this? Read it again! Unlike in the review process, it’s best to read it in the original form. You need something that you can skip back and forth easily. A PDF is fine for that, but a Word document or Scrivener file is better. While reading it, take down every single event that happens in it. If your story has a good sense of time to it, take down times and dates as well. Mine didn’t have a good sense of time, so my timeline ended up being just a list of events in the order they happen. Label it “current timeline”.
Timeline done, it’s time to reconcile that with the notes you took during the first article. I did this by generating a new timeline with the same level of detail as the one I just did. I include whatever events worked, in whatever order they need to be in alongside any new events that needed to be added to make it make sense. This resulted in a snapshot of what I hoped would be a fixed second draft. The other result of this was that, by virtue of making a completed timeline, I accidentally mapped out the reactions my characters should have. This made it easy to generate the new character sheets of the ones I needed to change.
So, I’ve got my new timeline and my new character sheets, all that’s left is to rewrite the thing. Enter NaNoWriMo! This year, my NaNo project was ASH, the second draft of a previous NaNo. I treated it exactly like every other NaNoWriMo, just one where I was more prepared. It was actually the easiest NaNoWriMo I had ever done. I had a fully detailed outline plus example scenes of the ones I was keeping. While I didn’t copy any scenes in their entirety, they did provide a good example for what I needed to do, and in some cases, what I needed not to do.
I’m much happier with this version of the book. I feel, using this method, that I ended up with a story with a much more consistent voice and far fewer plotholes than I would have otherwise. We’ll see over the next read-through. Next: Adventures in editing!
See you then. Happy writing! (And revisions)