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Thread: Which types of revision do you do first?

  1. #1
    figuring it all out
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    Which types of revision do you do first?

    Hi, writers. Around mid-October I finished my first draft of my first novel. I let it sit for the requisite month and now it's time to start revising! I'd like to know what kinds of problems I should tackle first. Should I read the whole thing and take notes on plot/structure/etc? Should I go Holly Lisle-style and do as much as I can in one go? Or should I start with line-by-line edits, polishing my prose so when I read it cover to cover like a novel, I won't get distracted by the little things?

    I've combed the forums and I've seen people touch on this subject, but any further advice you all have would be much appreciated. Thanks!

  2. #2
    permanently suctioned to Buz's leg Putputt's Avatar
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    Congrats on finishing your first draft!

    Quote Originally Posted by sincerely_anna View Post
    Should I read the whole thing and take notes on plot/structure/etc?
    That is what I would do first, personally. I found that I ended up making so many changes to the plot and structure after the first draft that any line-by-line changes before the structure was sound would have been a waste of time. Would be interested to see what other more experienced writers have to say about this though...
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    DenturePunk writer bearilou's Avatar
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    Anne Lyle uses a variation on Holly's revision technique.

    Nathan Bransford's Revision Checklist

    AW's Perks has this to say about non-linear editing.

    Also, what I find personally useful is to change the font. Something about reading it in a different font than what I wrote in helps me to spot errors.
    Quote Originally Posted by Phaeal View Post
    The first draft is a huge pile of clay that you've laboriously heaped on your table, patting it into a rough shape as you go along. From the second draft onward, you'll cut away chunks, add bits, pat and punch and pinch, until you finally have a gorgeous figure of, oh, Marcus Aurelius. Or a duck. But a damn fine duck.
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    Dorothy A. Winsor dawinsor's Avatar
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    I do the big stuff first. No sense polishing sentences I might decide not to use.

  5. #5
    The Crazy Man in the Sun. Feel me. WillSauger's Avatar
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    I'm for the story itself. Balance that out, try to find how to sneak things in. For all of my first drafts, the story drastically changed as I write it, no matter what.

    Then I sift through and find spots that I had problems with, fixing those.

    Then I do a total rewrite. And another, sometimes.

    Then I edit through.
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  6. #6
    Super Procrastinator Kallithrix's Avatar
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    I'm a polish as I go sorta gal, so line edits don't really avail me in the second pass. If I do that I just tend to get so deep into sentence structure that I can't dig myself back out again.

    What really helped me figure out the overall shape of the novel was to write out a short description of every scene, chapter by chapter. Then I bolded character names and colour coded the plot threads - blue for main plot, red for subplot 1, etc. This helped me see how much face time/story weighting I was giving individual characters and plot threads. If the blue doesn't virtually equal all the others put together, it's sub-plot culling time
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  7. #7
    Writing Anarchist DeleyanLee's Avatar
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    Congrats on finishing your first book! It's a big accomplishment.

    When I sit down to do a revision, the first thing I do is to figure out what story it was I thought I was telling. I get that firm in my mind and then I read what I wrote.

    As I read, I made notes where what's on the page fails to be the story I wanted to tell. Whether it's a big thing or a little thing, I note it. I don't try to figure out how to fix it at that moment, mind you. I just make a note.

    Then I put that error out of my mind and continue reading until the next place I failed.

    Once I finished reading, then I go through and then try to figure out how to fix what didn't work for the entire story to make sure it all hangs together as one story. Once that's done, I go through and start the rewriting.

    With that done, I hand it to betas, who read for story, continuity, and such. I make any adjustments after hearing their commentary.

    Then I read it aloud. The entire book. Aloud. This allows me to catch nearly all the typos, bad grammar, dialogue problems, etc, to polish it up.

    Quote Originally Posted by sincerely_anna View Post
    Should I go Holly Lisle-style and do as much as I can in one go?
    Remember that Holly's revision method presumes a lot of things. 1) That you know what story you're telling. 2) That you know what the various parts of the book are, how to construct them, and what writing techniques work best to do what you wanted to do. 3) That you know how to recognize it when something doesn't work. 4) That you know how to figure out what is exactly not working. 5) That you know how to fix what's not working. 6) That your first draft isn't so grammatically challenged that you can see what is what to start with.

    As multi-published professional, Holly knows all that stuff. She already has the support group around her to help her with anything she, herself, can't do.

    As a first-time novelist, the odds are that you don't have all these skills. I've met several first novelists that have none, and have to learn it all from scratch.

    Since this is your first book, you're still discovering what you know and what you need to work on. Take your time and figure it out. Find out where your natural strengths are, what you need to work on, what kinds of stories you like to tell, how you want to tell them, etc. Give yourself some time. If you keep at it, you'll need fewer steps (like Holly, perhaps like myself), but until you're comfortable in your knowledge and skills, take revision in smaller steps and build your confidence.

    Good luck with it. I've found revision to be very interesting and revealing about myself as a storyteller. Hope you find similar cool things about yourself.
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    They've been very bad, Mr Flibble Mr Flibble's Avatar
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    In the interests of just getting the story down (and because my memory is rubbish) I make a lot of in text notes during the first draft - anything from XXthis pub could do with a nameXX to XX you need an extra scene here showing Y XX or XXHow does that work? Plot hole!XX or XXmove this scene to before he goes to the Bad DudeXX I'll also by then have a notion of theme.

    When I go to revise, I read through and each time I hit one of these I fix it there and then (I usually have a good idea how to by that point, as the story is finished). In between, I polish prose, foreshadow stuff I didn't know was coming when I wrote that part, strengthen theme etc. So I pretty much do it all in one go, leaving just a final read through to make sure my changes haven't pulled up any extra problems, checking for flow, rhythm etc.




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  9. #9
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    I edit/revise/rewrite each page as I go, so my first draft is also my final draft. BUt if I didn't do this, the Holly Lisle method is what I'd use.

  10. #10
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    Congratulations, Anna!

    For me, I prefer to give the manuscript a full read-through just to make sure it's as coherent a story as possible. I make notes as I go about things I think I need to change/cut, but I try not to do rewrites while reading it. That first read-through allows me to see if the thing makes as much sense as I thought when I was drafting it. Once I've done the read through, I start the re-writing, etc.
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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by dawinsor View Post
    I do the big stuff first. No sense polishing sentences I might decide not to use.
    That's what I mainly do, too. (Though if I'm doing big stuff and an obvious line-edit jumps out at me, I go ahead and fix it.)

    Whenever I'm tackling revisions, backups are my security blanket. I start by backing up a copy of the first draft. Then whenever I'm preparing to make significant changes, I make another backup file. That way, I can easily restore to an earlier point in the process if I decide I'm on the wrong track. I don't actually restore from them much, so maybe someday I'll decide I've outgrown 'em. Not yet, though!

  12. #12
    practical experience, FTW rwm4768's Avatar
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    Usually, when I finish my first draft, I'm already confident in the structure. I feel like I have a natural feeling for the big picture aspects of writing. So when I edit, I deal with a lot of the details. Then I'll have someone read it in case I do have problems with the structure.

    Of course, I probably do it wrong.

  13. #13
    creative genie katci13's Avatar
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    I start off by just reading through it with an editing hat on and start hacking. I look for things that don't need to be there, tense changes, consistency in plot and characters, and also expanding and shrinking scenes, whatever they need. Then I make notes based on my overall opinion of what I've read, and also feedback if I can get any, and I go through it again making specific changes.

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    It's real for us rainbowsandunicorns's Avatar
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    I did the whole all in one go thing on my first novel for the first rewrite, then the second, then the third, etc. Lol. I'd gone in thinking I was doing it all but there was always something more and since it was my first novel I had no idea what I was getting into. It was a learning process.
    The first rewrite I went through and read it without making any changes, only making notes with the comment thing in Word. I made extensive changes, cut like 10,000 words then added like 20,000. After this I made changes during the read through but made sure to keep track of the changes.
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  15. #15
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    I revise a fair amount as i go along, because if I think of stuff that needs fixed or improved, and don't do it at the time, I forget and lose track of what i was thinking. But once a project is completed, as a first draft, the first thing I do is go through with fine focus to spot and fix all the little nitpicky stuff, incorrect grammar, confusing phrasing, superfluous words, etc. I find that in doing that, I also catch larger issues of story flow and structure, etc. Then I go after those.

    But that's just the way my brain works, so I'm not proposing that as a prescription for everybody.

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    needs something clever to put here Ellielle's Avatar
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    I edit for structure and plot first. Usually, I'll end up re-writing 50-75% of the first draft, so there's no reason for me to edit for style when most of that isn't even going to make it to the final draft anyway.
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    practical experience, FTW Sunflowerrei's Avatar
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    Just as everyone's writing process is different, everyone's revision process is different, too.

    When I finished my first draft, I knew what I wanted to change, so I pretty much plunged right into the second draft. I was revising for story and clarity. When I finished the second draft, I printed it out and made notes, crossed stuff out, corrected typos.
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  18. #18
    permanently suctioned to Buz's leg Putputt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DeleyanLee View Post
    Then I read it aloud. The entire book. Aloud. This allows me to catch nearly all the typos, bad grammar, dialogue problems, etc, to polish it up.
    This is fantastic advice. For some reason, reading my book aloud helps me catch awkward sentences I wouldn't otherwise notice.
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  19. #19
    Huh. kkbe's Avatar
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    I edit constantly. My writing process is write, reread, edit.

    Or sometimes, reread, edit, rewrite.

    Or sometimes, edit, reread.

    Once in a while, reread, then edit.


    Last edited by kkbe; 11-19-2012 at 01:41 PM. Reason: see?
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  20. #20
    Toughen up. gothicangel's Avatar
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    My method is:

    1. By a second draft, I normally know what changes I want to make [note: I'm a panster], and rewrite.

    2. With a third draft, I use the Holly Lisle method. BUT, I do it non-linearly so the chapter has to stand by itself. I find revising linearly, makes me blind to certain elements.

    3. Edits.
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  21. #21
    resident curmudgeon
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    Quote Originally Posted by DeleyanLee View Post



    Remember that Holly's revision method presumes a lot of things. 1) That you know what story you're telling. 2) That you know what the various parts of the book are, how to construct them, and what writing techniques work best to do what you wanted to do. 3) That you know how to recognize it when something doesn't work. 4) That you know how to figure out what is exactly not working. 5) That you know how to fix what's not working. 6) That your first draft isn't so grammatically challenged that you can see what is what to start with.

    As multi-published professional, Holly knows all that stuff. She already has the support group around her to help her with anything she, herself, can't do.

    As a first-time novelist, the odds are that you don't have all these skills. I've met several first novelists that have none, and have to learn it all from scratch.
    It always surprises me when writers think published pro writers are somehow different, or know more. Writers become pros because they know all these things. You can't get published first, and then learn these things later. It just doesn't work this way. A writer who doesn't know these things is in deep and serious trouble, whether published or not. Simply put, if you don't know them, no method of revising is going to work.

    Holly Lisle's method does assume writers know these things, but it has nothing to do with her being a multi-published writer. She knew them with novel number one, or she wouldn't be a multi-published writer. The things you list aren't some sort of secret info that multi-published writers learn after starting to sell, they're all basics that any writer needs right from the start.

    Nearly all the multi-published writers I've known or read about do the same things after ten books that they did with the first book. They may do it faster, but it's the same process, and requires the same knowledge.

    There seems to be a common attitude of "Well, he's a multi-published writer, so I can't do what he does, the way he does it."

    The truth is that he's a multi-published writer, so you'd better do what he does, the way he does it, if you want to get where he is.

    This assumes, of course, that you match the pro writer's methods with your own. If you outline, then follow a pro who outlines, etc. But it always means you need to know the basics, and Holly Lisle's method is as basic as you can possibly get. It's tailored specifically for new novelists, not established pros. The things you list are also as basic as you can possibly get, and not knowing them probably means the writer is going nowhere.

  22. #22
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    Thanks for all the responses, everybody! You've given me a lot to think about... and a lot to work on

  23. #23
    practical experience, FTW FCameron's Avatar
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    1. Make a backup copy.
    2. Revise the 2nd copy, leaving the 1st alone.
    3. Adjust the margins IN to shorten the width so that your lines break at a different place. Makes it easier to "see" things you can't see in the 1" margin format. I move left and right to 1.5".
    4. Read, read, read. Make revisions in story as you go
    5. After plot, characters, etc. are good, time for line edits.
    6. Make use of the "find" and look for words and punctuation used too much (really, just, adverbs, elipses, emdash, exclamation, etc.)
    7. Return your margins to 1".
    8. Repeat all steps until happy.

    Congratulations on your work. Best wishes!

  24. #24
    Soldier, Storyteller Linda Adams's Avatar
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    Major revision first, then line edits. Line edits are for a later stage of the revision, rather than in the beginning. You want to do the big stuff first, rather than line edit sentences and paragraphs that might come out later. Imagine spending a lot of time tweaking your beginning only to realize later that you started in the wrong place!
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  25. #25
    Soldier, Storyteller Linda Adams's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DeleyanLee View Post

    Remember that Holly's revision method presumes a lot of things. 1) That you know what story you're telling. 2) That you know what the various parts of the book are, how to construct them, and what writing techniques work best to do what you wanted to do. 3) That you know how to recognize it when something doesn't work. 4) That you know how to figure out what is exactly not working. 5) That you know how to fix what's not working. 6) That your first draft isn't so grammatically challenged that you can see what is what to start with.
    That's the impression that comes from the basic version of her one-pass editing. Her How to Review Your Novel class is much more extensive and goes into trouble shooting problems -- all the things she does. It's helpful as long as you don't have weird problems (I had weird problems).
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