One of the sessions of last year’s writers’ summits covered revision planning with Troy Lambert. At Daniel David Wallace’s Revising and Editing Workshop, Lambert presented a solid and concise approach to revising a novel.
Author and writing coach Lambert set out a tried and tested approach to revision that I’ve described here before.
Set it aside for a while, so you can gain some objective distance from the manuscript you just finished. After a break, you’ll return more like a reader than an author, the better to see what you’re working with.
- Reverse outlining without concern for plot structure
- Read the draft
- Deconstruct each scene
- Do no editing!
From this viewpoint, a scene should read like a whole mini story with a beginning, middle and end. If it doesn’t, the scene structure itself needs work.
In fast-paced fiction, you might have only one scene per chapter. More expansive fiction might contain several scenes per chapter. The end of a scene is usually marked by a change of action, time, location, or dialogue. Characters enter or exit at a change of scene, even when the ‘action’ appears continuous.
What we’re aiming for is an objective reading and summary of what happened in the scene, with no edits and no commentary. Just the facts.
Annotate with story structure:
- Evaluate the genre of the story
- Look at the story length
- Compare your scenes, chapters, and sections to a plot structure to see howit aligns with recognised story-telling structures.
You might choose the Hero/Heroine’s Journey, Save the Cat, Seven-point, Seventeen-point, Three or Four Act story arc. The important thing is to identify rising and falling action and some turning points and plot points. These are present in literary classics from Pride and Prejudice (collect a sticker) to The Remains of the Day. Good fiction does not follow a flat-line narrative.
This step will:
- Reveal pacing issues
- Fill plot holes
- Resolve story lines
You can map your scenes and chapters to story beats or scene cards.
By understanding each plot point, you can put the puzzle pieces in place. Scenes will ‘best-fit’ to a solid structure. Don’t be surprised to find that may not be the current order or structure in the draft. Some of those puzzle pieces may need to move in order to land the plot points in the most satisfying way.
BUT: at this stage we compile an edit list, we don’t edit. Get the whole story mapped to a satisfying structure first.
Edit time; align your scenes and chapters to the structure you mapped.
This may well impact continuity of action, setting and most importantly, character. Moving scenes earlier or later may demand rewrites to re-link them in the new order they appear. It will also affect when and how the characters react and respond to events in this new sequence. Reactions, revelations and deferred resolutions will impact the character arcs, bringing some changes forward, pushing other back.
And don’t forget each is a scene mini-story. They have to include:
Goals: a tangible character want or need on the surface. Underneath that will lie your author goals for the scene; how to advance the plot events and character arcs.
Motivation: why to the characters want what they want? How does their scene motive relate to their needs or wants and to the relate to their overall motive?
Conflict: what is the central conflict in each scene? How does it block or propel the characters toward their overall goal?
Verb: What should the reader feel during and at the end of the scene? What reader response are we looking for and does the scene try to achieve it?
At the end of each round of editing, Lambert suggests:
- Read it again
- Read it backwards, scene by scene (or chapter by chapter). This is another technique for creating objective distance from very familiar work.
- Read it aloud. The act of reading aloud brings a very physical presence to the words on the page. It also reveals awkward, difficult or unclear language.
- If it helps, put the text through a text-speech reader and listen back. Hearing it through a voice other than your own will highlight further issues.
There’s way more detail in Lambert’s revision plan, but this is the summarised and highly effective version.