February 10, 2011

revising a manuscript – honing in

Originally, I was going to write about line-edits after macro-edits, but I feel like there is an important stage between them. This is the subtle stage of revisions that has a lot of impact on the final result.

Let’s draw up another outline. This time, we’ll analyze the project as a whole, and then each chapter individually. We’re still not worried about spelling or word usage here. This is all about theme, character development, and plot. So, tweak the outline you made for the macro-edits; adjust the projected outline to fit the actual story. Hopefully, there wasn’t much change, but if there was, that’s okay too.

Now hone into to each chapter. Create an outline of scenes for each chapter. Note the plot development for each scene, the emotional arc for the characters, and any possible themes that might have arisen.

For a scene to work, something has to change. This could be the introduction of new information, the changing of a particular character’s viewpoint, an increase in stakes, the introduction of new conflict, or new character development. It can be subtle. Find these changes and be sure to mention them in your chapter-by-chapter outline.

For scenes that appear to have no change, see if you can introduce change without losing the essence of the scene. If you can, great! If you can’t, it’s highly possible that the scene doesn’t forward the motion of the story, and it may need to go. That’s just part of it. You have to kill your darlings after all.

Once you have your insanely detailed outline, again look at the present themes, symbolism, and motifs. I used to be adamantly opposed to symbolism and such. I thought there was no place for it in fiction. That was for poetry and literary nonsense. What with plot and character development, there was no room for themes. I was wrong. I’ll admit that. Symbols, themes, and motifs add depth to a story. Sure, a fantastic plot and fantastic cast of characters makes for a fantastic book, but add subtle symbolism and themes, and the story turns into something much more. See where you might be able to add another layer to the story. The more subtle, the better.

For the reader that finds those symbols, the addition is a great reward, and it warrants the notion that you, the writer, planned it all along. You’re a genius. A deep, literary genius who writes excellent fiction. I don’t know about you, but I like the title “deep, literary genius” over “that one writer”.

Make notes on your outline of where you might need to add characterization, lather on some symbolism, and make changes to certain scenes. As always, go with your gut feeling on these things. Don’t change for the necessity of change. Change because it’s necessary in order for the book to reach its potential.

Now, take your precious outline, and dive into another draft. Add the symbolism, deepen the characters’ motives, adjust the focus of the plot, and weave in those subtle themes. Again, don’t spend an hour on a single line because you just know that if you look at it long enough, you’ll figure out what’s wrong with it. That’s not what this stage is for. We haven’t made it to that level yet. Get the ideas on the page, and keep the focus on the novel as a whole.

If you write near perfect first drafts, you might skip the macro-editing stage and immediately hone right in. I don’t write perfect first drafts. I don’t write perfect fifth drafts.

Next week, we’ll find our way to line-edits. Happy revising!


  1. Awesome posts on revision! You are way more organized than I am :) My revisions mainly consist of multicolored pens (pink, purple, light blue, green--no dark blue or red--vital detail) and lots and lots of scrawling on the page. For some reason, this actually makes sense to me...LOL!

  2. Would you believe that this is all new for me? I'm realizing what works for me as I continually do things that obviously don't work. Just sharing the love, you know? I'm leaving my pantsing days behind me.

    I'm a lover of organization, yet for some reason, I always avoided it like the plague in my writing. Lesson learned. I've been converted.

    Glad the posts are helping!! :D

  3. I tend to spend too much time on one sentence and then run out of time for the overall picture. I am still writing out my first draft - I need to get it out of my system. Once I do, and once I stop micro-editing as I write, macro-editing is definitely on my most important thing to do.