I love my readers—you guys ask such fabulous questions! Thus saving me the stress of coming up with my own posts. Several of you asked about what kind of revisions I do, so today I'm going to attempt to break down my process.
Please note that during all these phases I attempt to clean the text, removing typos and such, but it's not until the end that I really dig into that. Also, there is some overlap. Oftentimes in later plot revisions I start refining characters. Sometimes in line editing I see some minor plot issue I missed and I have to tweak it. It's not an exact science.
Stage 1: Plot Revisions
If I have plot issues—which I often do—I like to tackle these first. Mostly because they are usually the Big Problems, the ones that cause cuts and moving and additions and rewriting. Really, why spend time refining prose when a whole section could go? Why spend time bringing out a character's emotional arc when the events could change? And thus their reactions to it?
The plot is your base—your story relies on this as a firm foundation. If you have weak areas, you risk readers putting down your book. Because of that, my first revisions always revolve around tightening the plot.
How do you revise your plot? Actually, it's something I learned this year, and it improved my writing so much. In my greener days, I didn't think I could change plot without changing the whole story, but that's completely untrue. In fact, I wrote a whole post about my epiphany. Basically, you have to ask yourself one thing:
Is that the best way for this story to unfold?
Other questions to determine "best":
• Is this passage repetitive?
• Is this information necessary?
• Does this passage propel the story forward?
• Is the story focused on the most compelling parts?
• Does this happen in the right order?
• Can this plot arc be drawn out? Should it be shortened?
• Is the action happening on the page? If not, how can I make that happen?
• Do all the plot arcs continually build in intensity?
• Do all the arcs climax at/or close to the same time?
• Can this information/action be folded into another area of the book?
• Does every scene work overtime? (i.e. You don't write one chapter just to explain a character's back story—there should be more than one reason for every scene.)
• Does this seem plausible? Does the action ring true? Will readers see plot holes?
• Are things overcomplicated? Not complicated enough?
• Are there actual stakes? Or does the danger feel false?
I usually go through several drafts where plot revisions are my main focus. Since Void was one of my greener attempts, I feel like I've just finally made it out of major plot revisions. And I'm on draft 8. Though with some of my newer work, like Transparent, I was able to solve my plot issues by draft 3 (though I still have some serious character development things to address).
I wish I could tell you exactly how to refine your plot, but it's extremely case sensitive. As I've improved my writing, I've been able to curb many plot issues, but they still arise. Betas are very helpful in pointing them out. Yet in the end, only the author can decide what is best for their book.
Stage 2: Character Revisions
After I feel like I have a fairly tight plot, I turn my focus to characters. Often when you mess with plot, your characters' reactions might have to change as well. Or maybe you haven't quite represented them properly.
It might be hard to "change" your characters, but I've learned it's not really changing. It's more like "representing" them more accurately. I don't know about other writers, but my relationship with my characters develop a lot like real relationships. I don't really know them at first, but I know I like them. As the story progresses, sometimes I learn something about them that I didn't know at first—something that drastically changes what I'd previously written.
I'm constantly having to line up character emotions as I get to know them, and I think that's easiest to do after the plot has settled. That's when I start focusing on questions like this:
• Is that truly how the character would react?
• Am I making their emotions clear enough? Too clear?
• Is that really what the character would say?
• Am I hedging their true emotions because I don't want readers to hate them? (I'm often guilty of this one—I don't let my chars get mad enough or rude enough or jealous enough, etc.)
• Would my character really do that? And if it's unexpected, do I properly explain it to my readers?
• Do I have too much back story? Not enough?
• Do my characters all have their own unique motivations and stories? Do I make them clear when needed?
• Is my MC compelling? The secondary characters interesting? The villain a true conflict?
• Are all my characters necessary? Are there some that can be combined or cut?
• Do my characters propel the story forward with their actions/words?
Character revisions, overall, can be tricky. They are easy to miss if you're not paying attention. They're usually very subtle things that might look like line editing. A small reaction there, and a quick change of a description there. But they make all the difference in the story—they can make your characters pop right off the page.
Stage 3: Prose Revisions
After I feel like I have a decent grasp on the plot and characters, I face the dreaded prose editing. The nitty gritty stuff—the stuff that takes your story from good to great. While plot and character revising can be overwhelming, prose revision can be just plain tedious. This is when your eyes start crossing, when you want to give up because you've looked at the book so many times you'd prefer never to see it again.
And yet, you must press on.
First comes the line edit, which is not copy editing. Line editing is essentially making sure all those plot and character changes you made are consistent. And after that, it's making sure you're using the best possible words.
Things I focus on while line editing:
• Showing not telling
• Varying description/improving it
• Ensuring my details are consistent throughout (i.e. character have same eye color as beginning, and other stuff like that)
• Smoothing out plot transitions
• Refining dialogue/reviewing tags
• Tightening chapters/making sure they break properly
• Any other other plot/character tweaks I missed
Then comes the even more nit-picky copy edit, which focuses on grammar, punctuation, repetition, paragraphing, etc:
• Correcting run-ons, fragments, and other grammatical faux-pas
• Correcting improper comma, semi-colon, and other punctuation misuse.
• Curbing overuse of punctuation such as the dash, ellipsis, semi-colon, etc. (I'm a dash-a-holic. I have a personal rule a chopping down to one a page at max.)
• Changing repetitive words/actions. (Eye rolls, sighing, and gasps don't pack a punch if they're on every page, or every other.)
• Cutting unnecessary words (i.e. personal ticks, "to be," progressive, excessive prepositions, etc.)
• Varying repetitive grammatical structures. (Sometimes I go overboard on rhetorical questions in one chapter, and then go crazy with the gerunds in the next.)
Once I've done all that, I read it aloud to see if it flows. Awkward phrases or inauthentic passages really jump out when I do that.
So that's the long version of how I take "Small Bites." As you can see, this list would be pretty impossible to swallow in one pass. Or even 2 or 3. I swear revisions constantly stews in the back of my brain. I don't think it'll end until the book is published.