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Amy LeTourneur

Amy LeTourneur

Revising Your NaNoWriMo Novel

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Typing “The End” on the first draft of a new novel is an indescribable feeling. If you’ve reached this milestone, then give yourself a round of applause (and enjoy a piece of dark chocolate on me). But those words mark the beginning of a new—and just as lengthy—phase in the writing process. Because now that your first draft is finished, it’s time to start revising your novel.

Revising vs. Editing

Many writers use the terms “revising” and “editing” interchangeably, but they’re actually two distinct parts of the novel-writing process. Revising your novel deals with the story as a whole, while editing focuses on one sentence at a time.

Editing sentences that may not even make it into your final draft is a waste of your valuable time and effort.

The revision phase should always come before the editing phase. Editing sentences that may not even make it into your final draft is a waste of your valuable time and effort. So, for now, focus on revising your novel and leave the editing for later.

The Seven Rounds of Revision

While you’re revising your novel, you’ll read through your entire manuscript, oh, about a dozen times (or even more). If your first draft is immaculate or you have a mind like a steel trap, then you may not need this many read-throughs. But for most of us, it will take many readings to catch every issue that needs to be fixed.

tortoise and hare - Work in Progress blog by Amy LeTourneurBut there’s no right or wrong here. Revising your novel will take as long as it takes, and every read-through will strengthen your story. So be the tortoise, not the hare. If you rush through the process, it will show in your final product.

I’ve broken the revisions phase down into seven rounds, which are listed below in (mostly) logical order. During each round, focus on just one element so nothing slips through the cracks. However, if you’re in the middle of the plot round, for instance, and see a transition that needs work, then make a note of it so you can fix it when you get to the transitions round.  

Round One: Plot

When you’re revising your novel, the first element to address is your plot. The plot is the foundation of your entire story. If your foundation isn’t solid, then there’s no point fixing anything else. In this round, focus your attention on making sure your story contains all the necessary plot points and that they hit at the right times.

It can be helpful to follow a beat sheet or other guide during this round. I created the spreadsheet below based on the beats from Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody. Click the image to download a free copy for yourself.  

Excel spreadsheet by Amy LeTourneur - based on Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody

If you prefer more detailed, step-by-step guidance, then I highly recommend Structuring Your Novel and its companion workbook, both by K.M. Weiland.

Round Two: Timeline

sticky notes for timeline - Work in Progress blog by Amy LeTourneurYour story’s overall timeline—and the timing of each element within it—must make sense and be clear to the reader. If your timeline is off or you’ve left out any clues as to when events are happening, then fix these issues now.

I use Aeon Timeline {not an affiliate link} to help with this step. Having a visual (digital) representation of my entire novel makes it easier for me to see gaps or glitches in the timeline and make corrections when necessary. 

But if you prefer a more old-school method, then you can create your own timeline on a blank wall. Write each event in your story on a separate index card or post-it note and tack it in the appropriate place on the timeline. You can even color-code notes by act, POV, setting, etc.

Round Three: Purpose

delete button - Work in Progress blog by Amy LeTourneurEvery element in your novel should serve a purpose and move your story forward in some way. If it doesn’t, then it’s just wasting space. This round can lead to some painful cuts, but readers have no patience for meaningless characters and pointless conversations. So be ruthless, my friend.

During this round of revising your novel, fix your attention on:  

  • Characters – Does every character have a role to play? Is your cast of characters so large readers may find it confusing? If so, could two (or more) minor characters be combined into one and still fill both roles?
  • Scenes – Does every scene either develop the characters or move the plot forward in some way? Could any scenes be combined to tighten your story?
  • Settings – Have you included a large number of settings (which can confuse readers)? Are all settings logical or meaningful? Could any of them be eliminated without affecting the story?
  • Conversations – Does every conversation serve a purpose?  (providing backstory, developing character relationships, introducing a character, etc.)?

Round Four: Chapter Breaks & Transitions

Some writers (like me) write their first drafts scene by scene. If you fall into this camp, then this round is the ideal time to arrange your scenes into chapters. If your first draft is already divided into chapters, then turn a critical eye on your chapter breaks and adjust any that need tweaking.

Chapters that end with a nice, neat resolution can be very satisfying to a writer. To a reader, however, this often feels like a great place to close the book (which is no bueno). So try to end every chapter with a hook—such as a cliffhanger or unanswered question—to compel readers to keep reading.

Once your chapter breaks are set, go through your manuscript once more to check your transitions. These should be logical and keep your story flowing smoothly from one scene (or chapter) into the next. Choppy breaks or boring transitions can turn readers off, so pay special attention to this step. If you need to strengthen your transition game, then reread a few of your favorite books and pay attention to how their authors handled transitions.

Round Five: Character Arcs

In order for your story to matter in a reader’s mind, your main character (at the very least) must follow a character arc. In her awesome book, Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development, K.M. Weiland explains character arc in a nutshell:

KM Weiland character arc quote - Work in Progress Blog by Amy LeTourneur

There are three types of character arcs—positive change, flat, and negative change. To learn all about them and how to build a solid character arc for your characters, I highly recommend Katie’s book.

Round Six: Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is a series of clues offering readers a hint of what’s to come later in the story. Like a trail of breadcrumbs, foreshadowing keeps readers hiking merrily down the path you’ve blazed for them.

But, unless your book is part of a series, readers will expect all of your clues to lead to answers in the end. If you find foreshadowing that isn’t resolved by the end of the book, then either remove it or add more to your story to bring it full circle.

Round Seven: Exposition

Exposition includes descriptions (of both settings and characters), backstory, historical information, etc.—and it can be a beast to write. While exposition is necessary (to a point), it doesn’t often involve action, so it can be difficult to add to your story without putting your readers to sleep.

It’s okay to provide some exposition in the narrative, but try to limit this to one or two short paragraphs. Any more than that and you’ll run the risk of boring your readers to tears. Whenever possible, relay this type of information in more creative ways, such as in-story media (newspapers, TV, online sources, etc.), inner monologue, or dialogue. For more on this topic, check out this recent post. Oh, and this one, too! 

Bonus Round: Word Count

word count table - Work in Progress blog by Amy LeTourneurIf you were careful (or very lucky) in the drafting stage, then your word count may be right where it should be. But if you struggle with overwriting (like me) or underwriting, then you’ll need to go through a final round of read-throughs to bring your word count down (or up) to where it should be.

It can be disheartening to spend weeks (months, years) of your life polishing your novel to perfection…only to realize it’s still ten thousand words over the limit for your genre. And it’s tempting to ignore the word count range and submit your manuscript, anyway. But if you hope to be published traditionally, then consider these guidelines sacrosanct (at least until you’re an established author). word count table - Work in Progress blog by Amy LeTourneurPublishers care as much about how good your story is as they do how much it will cost them to publish it. More pages = higher costs, so submissions longer than a publisher’s guidelines tend to end up on the slush pile.

If you’re self-publishing, then you have full control over your final word count. However, keep in mind that the longer a book is, the more it’s going to cost you to print it, which will eat into your profits. And readers are far less likely to take a chance on a 500-page book from an unknown author as they are, say, JK Rowling. So whichever publishing route you’re following—traditional or self—it’s best to keep your word count in check.

On Your Mark…

Before you begin revising your novel, you’ll need to gather a few necessities to help you on your journey. Chocolate? Yes. Books about writing? Absolutely. But also:

  • Humility to enable you to see the flaws in your beloved book baby. (And, trust me, friend, I know how hard this is!)
  • Courage because fixing those flaws can be oh-so-painful.
  • Determination because revising your novel is as much a marathon as writing it was (but with even more blood, sweat, and tears).

Armed with these three traits and all of the information above, you’ll have everything you need to begin revising your novel.

Penny for your thoughts…

What are your biggest struggles in revising your novel? And which parts are easy-peasy? Share with me in the comments below!

In my next post on December 30th, I’ll introduce you to the characters and settings in my upcoming novel, Kaleidoscope, and its prequel novella, Reflection (coming soon!). Until then, buckle up, buttercup, and let’s write!

xo,

In case you missed it: In my latest post, I shared the five steps you need to take after NaNoWriMo. If you’ve just finished writing your first draft (or you’re still working on it), then start here

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1 thought on “Revising Your NaNoWriMo Novel”

  1. PLOT is the biggest hurdle for me in the revisions phase. I do outline pretty thoroughly before I start writing, but when I start revising my first draft, I usually find that my plot is weak in spots or the pacing is off or something’s JUST NOT RIGHT and I can’t figure out what it is! Grrr!

    Also, I’m a terrible overwriter, so word count is the BANE of my existence. I had to cut over 20,000 words from Kaleidoscope to get it down to just over 90k, and it’s still a little too long for a YA novel. (But I’m self-publishing, so my publisher’s okay with it. 😉)

    xo,
    Amy

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