Editing, For Writers, Writing Process

Revision Part 2: Layering

Now that I’m knee-deep in the revision trenches, I wanted to share exactly how I go about my revisions and the way that I layer what I’m looking for as I read through my manuscript.

When it comes time to revise your draft, it can seem overwhelming to look at all the words you’ve written and think about how you can possibly tackle that sort of a beast. This is why I sat down before even looking at page one and broke up my goals for revisions into four parts, which I’m describing for you below. After figuring out these four lenses (and creating a portable notecard outline of my book that you can read more about here), it became much more of an approachable task to wrap my head around and has helped me as I read through each page to focus on what is most important instead of trying to tackle it all at once.

This was especially helpful because there are often times when I would get to a passage and there would be multiple things that I wanted to fix, but didn’t know where to start or how to organize my thoughts. Implementing the layers that I selected, I knew that I could hone in on what the biggest issues were and then make notes about the more specific things that I could tackle in draft two.

Layer 1: Plot

I knew going into revisions that my manuscript had some big plot holes or extra scenes that needed to be addressed. This was the first priority in my revision reading because the plot will affect every other layer after it and there is no sense in fine-tuning the style of even world building if it will eventually change later to fix the plot.

This is where a beat sheet or outline can come in really handy.

For this layer, I read through each scene and asked myself two questions and wrote those notes in the margins, circling or noting the specific lines and details that fit:

1. What holes are created in this scene?

2. What adjustments do I need to make to this scene or other scenes in order to fill this hole?

Layer 2: Character

If I knew that the plot of the scene or chapter was where I want it to be, or that it needs minimal changes, then I dug into the characters that were in or mentioned in that scene.

Some of the things that I looked for were:

-detail consistency (eye color, age, relationships, jobs, etc.)

-uniqueness (does dialogue match personality, are they too similar to other characters, what makes this character stand out or how can I make them stand out or blend in as needed based on their character arc

-purpose (is this character needed here? Why or why not?)

Layer 3: World

If the previous two layers were okay or I couldn’t fix the issues without touching this layer, then I moved on to world. A lot of my drafting is done really quickly and so the world is vague and many things are left undefined in my first draft. This is where I start looking for:

  • How can I build it u with sensory details and info?
  • What is helpful or relevant that my reader needs to know for this scene to be effective or important?
  • What have I already included either before or after this point that I can bring back into play?

Layer 4: Style

Last but not least, when a sentence just seems “off” or a paragraph doesn’t read the way that I want it to, I examine the way I’ve written it. A few things that I look for are:

-verb tenses matching up

-word choices that I’ve made to describe things (are they too vague, too descriptive, or too repetitive)

-the golden oldie: showing or telling? A couple of buzzwords for “telling” passages are words like “feel” or “felt” or “seemed.” These words indicate that instead of showing that your character is uneasy by having him pace around the room, you are telling your reader that he feels agitated and leaving the rest to their imagination, which can make your scene seem shallow or incorrectly portrayed in the reader’s mind.

Finally, I want to reiterate that this process is based on the things that I know need to be worked on in my WIP, but your own layers may be radically different or even arranged in a different order. Either way, though, I hope that looking at the way that I layer my revisions might help you when it comes to your own.

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