Thursday, February 2, 2023

Dear O'Abby: What do they mean by revise?

 Dear O'Abby,

I finished the novel I started during NaNo recently, and have been trying to figure out what to do next.  I've read through a bunch of stuff about NaNo and next steps on their website and here, on Operation Awesome, and from what I understand, the next step is to revise the novel I have just finished.  

But what does that mean?  Where I come from, you revise for exams - meaning you study, or go back over what you have learned during the year.  I'm pretty sure that isn't what the word means in this context, so could you please illuminate me?  What does revise mean in the context of a novel?

Kind regards,


Dear Revisionist,

Isn't the English language fun?  It's a miracle anyone ever learns to speak it properly to be honest!

You are correct that revision in terms of a novel is not the same as revision in preparation for an exam.  I guess the idea is similar, in that in both cases you will be going over work, but in the case of a novel, you aren't trying to learn it, but to make it better.  Editing, is probably a better word for what you need to do when you have finished a novel, but somehow that term always feels like it applies to books once they are much further down the track.

Basically, what you have to do now is make that book you've written better.

When you're drafting, particularly if you're drafting fast as you do during NaNo, the story is just spilling out and there are going to be things you don't notice while you're caught up in getting the story on the page.  My first suggestion is to leave your book alone for at least three or four weeks if you've just finished it.  Start something else if you have an idea in mind, or take a break and do something else for a wee while.  Getting some space from your story is critical to the revision process.

After you've had a break, go back and read through your manuscript slowly.  Make notes as you go about anything you feel isn't quite working.  There may be plot points that don't work because they haven't had enough set up, characters who appear and disappear (or change names and/or appearance) at random.  Characters may not act or react in a consistent manner.  The pacing may also feel off, with some places dragging, and others feeling rushed.  

Make notes on these things as you read, and anything else you feel is off.  If you can think of ways to address them, jot them down too, but don't try and fix them on the fly as you read through.  Making a change in one place always has repercussions later, and you need to have done a full read-through to be able to see the full picture and begin to make a revision plan.

Once you've read through and identified where the problem areas are, you can get to work on them.  Some fixes are likely to be easier than others, so if you're feeling anxious, start with these. But sometimes there aren't any easy fixes and the only way to tackle revision is to make a copy of your entire MS and dive in, starting from chapter one and working through to the end.

And the good news?  Once you've finished, you get to go back and start the whole process over again, from letting the book rest onward.  I usually find that three rounds of revising alone works for me, then I get some other eyes on it for a different perspective.  But the beta reading stage is probably best left for another post.

I hope that helps, and best of luck with the revision!  I hope you enjoy it.  I often find it's my favourite part of writing a book, when you take that messy pile of word vomit and start to shape it into something that actually resembles a novel. 

Have fun with it.

X O'Abby

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