A Very Personal Take on Revising a Novel

Check out my guest blog about some of the problems I had to overcome while revising my completed novel, BODY COPY.

Ever wonder about how other writers revise their novels? How they solve their biggest plot problems? How they chop and replant themes and characters while doing their best not to ruin the other 100,000 words?

As the author of several novels and one biography, I’ve had quite a bit of experience with revision. My recently completed novel, BODY COPY, went through 12 drafts in six years. And today, over on the blog Dreaming Awake, you can read a very personal account about my editing process, “Laura Stanfill Discusses the Art of Revision.”

When Emerald Barnes asked me to write a guest post, I reviewed old critique group comments to put together a list of problems that plagued my early versions of BODY COPY. Then I addressed how I chose to solve those issues in my final draft.

So go check it out, and see how I dodged mean character syndrome, reworked scenes to fit a premise, fixed ungainly flashbacks and made my grieving protagonist quit moaning and get moving.

Hopefully you’ll be inspired to dig in, diagnose and fix your manuscript’s major issues. It takes patience, but revision is a lot of fun, and I’m a much better writer after those years of reworking the same pages over and over (and over) again.

Feel free to comment here or there about your own revision process. And special thanks to Emerald for featuring me today. I had a lot of fun writing my very first guest post!

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Fiction, Plot, Revision, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to A Very Personal Take on Revising a Novel

  1. Leila says:

    As my muse laughs and points fingers at me from a safe distance, I am working at the rewrite of the beginning of my manuscript. Yes, I know I’m really arguing with myself, but if I were to really take this out on a real person, I think I would end up in jail. Clearing my eyes and mind, making sure that I’m moving the story along is perhaps the more difficult part of the process.

    • You touch on such an important part of revision, Leila. Every piece of the manuscript must move the story forward in some way, whether it’s through characterization, plot or scene-setting. If a scene isn’t doing any work on those levels, then it’s time to re-evaluate. Good luck on arguing your way through the draft!

  2. I will be going to check this out. I have just begun rewrite number 80 myself (Okay, maybe rewrite number five).

  3. Hey! It must be a guest post kind of day. 🙂

  4. When I first started writing I must’ve rewritten and revised chapter one a million times before I ever wrote through to the end. Now I plunge forward to the end, well mostly, and save the re-visioning for the second draft. The last and first chapter need to reflect each other and I found it much easier to know where to start when I knew where the story ended.

    Heading over to read your post now : )

    • I’ve had a similar learning curve, Paula! I’ve definitely been plunging on this draft and setting thoughts aside in a file called “edits” for the next round. Then again, as I just wrote to Anthony, I might start revising before getting all the way to the end due to wanting to submit pages to my group this fall. We’ll see. A revision will shore up the character depth issues I’ve been having, so maybe it’s worth going that direction before writing the ending. I suppose I’ll decide in August when I’m tucked in my little cabin on the retreat!

  5. I’m going back to revise my WIP, which has been resting for almost four years. I’ve identified two problems already (one of which I knew about from the beginning — lack of a strong, individual antagonist), and I will probably do one complete pass to clean things up and try to deal with those. Then I’ll go back to my usual chapter-by-chapter method (finishing each chapter one at a time). It gets too tedious otherwise.

    I’m going to write about this on my blog later today.

    • I look forward to reading your post, Anthony! I used to work chapter by chapter, but this fluid, multiple pass strategy really worked for my last novel. It’ll be interesting to see how I revise my new novel–and when. I am thinking about going back to the beginning in August, during my weeklong writing retreat, rather than pushing forward with the story. We’ll see. My goal is to give half the manuscript to my writing group in September, which would be a good reason to begin revising soon. But then again, I have momentum and probably should keep going forward.

  6. I’m so glad we found each other. You “liked” my latest post on womenthrillerwriters.com on “Do You Have a Vision?” It is so true that most of us will spend a year, or years!, writing our novels, so the key is to know why we are writing it and if we have fulfilled our vision, we have found success. I also learned the hard way to not rewrite that first chapter fifty times before pushing through to The End. I linked to your guest post and loved the format. Thanks for being here!

    • Thanks for stopping by! Having a clear vision of why we are writing a novel is so important. I’ve also had to learn the lesson of pushing forward rather than trying to rewrite the same chapter over and over until it’s perfect–since there’s no telling what needs to be in that chapter until the book is finished.

      • I always compare writing a novel with a computer to writing a novel with a typewriter (having done it both ways). The advantages of computers are obvious. As I said once, “If you’ve ever written a novel on a typewriter, that’s reason enough to value a computer. It allows me to revise text without retyping. Everything else a computer does is gravy. Tasty gravy, in some cases, but gravy.”

        However, as always, there is a downside as well. Because computers make revision so easy, as you say, that can be a pull that keeps us from moving forward. And endless revision of one chapter (one scene, one paragraph, one sentence) won’t get us where we want to go. This may be one reason post chapters as I go; it’s a pretty solid way of saying, “This one is done, move on.”

        • I am in the midst of writing this sprawling novel that resembles 19th century books in terms of subject matter, number of characters and a rather grand, epic style. Back then, perhaps all the sprawling came about due to the writers working longhand and not editing their text enough (or at all?). There’s something to be said for the hand-to-paper act of creation, though, where you have to be fairly sure of the sentence, or the next word at the very least, before committing a word to paper, and then another. There’s a necessity of vision that isn’t needed when working on a computer draft.

          In the case of my novel, I have the luxury of writing in this sprawling manner, using a modernized version of old-fashioned language, because once I get to the end of the story, I’ll be able to cut out the excess with relative ease. Thank you, cut and paste!

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