Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 6, 2009

Anita Nolan’s Revision Article

To keep with the whole revision thing, I thought I should let you know that I just finished Anita Nolan’s new website.  She wrote a great article that she has decided to share on her site.  Please make a note to check out Anita’s site regularly.  She plans to share more articles with everyone.  http://www.anitanolan.com

 

“THE END” is Only the Beginning:

A Step-by-Step Guide to Refining Your Manuscript

by Anita L. Nolan

           Even though you type “THE END” when you finish a first draft, your work is only beginning.  Rewriting, revising, editing, and polishing your manuscript are still to come.  But with so many things to consider and so many decisions to make during those stages, you might not want to start–or ever think you’re finished. 

There is a way, however, to methodically revise and improve your manuscript.  By beginning with the big picture and methodically working to the smallest details, the process may not be pain-free, but it should be faster and easier.  

          As you write the first draft, keep a tablet at your side for notes.  By the time the first draft is finished you’ll already have a long list of ideas to consider, and you can continue to add to it through the refining process.  Keep a separate list of character and place names on the tablet you can check for spelling.  You can note character traits, (like blue eyes or brown hair) as well.

          I’ve broken the refining process into four steps, starting with the big picture and narrowing the focus with each step.

Step One: Rewrite

          Rewriting falls somewhere between first draft and revision.  Rewrite when you’ve wandered off course while writing the first draft, or fill in the parts you skipped the first time through.  Rewrite to strengthen character goals and motivations. 

          Once the story is as complete as you can make it, move on to– 

Step Two: Revisions

          During revisions, fix the big problems.  Make significant changes to plot, settings, characters, and conflicts.  Search for weak scenes and dropped plot lines. 

          When revising, I outline the manuscript.  This allows me to work on a macro level and not get caught up in the minutiae of the paragraphs, sentences and words (or the amazing beauty of my prose!)  It’s easier to track the timeline on an outline, for instance, than monitor it as I read the manuscript.

          I include the following in an outline:

  • Chapter Numbers
  • Scene Numbers (numbering each scene allows you to move them around without getting confused.)
  • A list of plot points in the scene (I aim for at least three.)
  • Starting and ending page numbers for the scene
  • POV Character
  • Setting
  • Time Frame
  • Number of Pages in the Scene
  • If a turning point occurs in the scene, I note it

           Once the outline is completed, I mainly work with it through the revision process, referring to the manuscript as little as possible.  An outline reveals the holes in the plot, weak scenes, timeline errors, etc., much more readily than a read through the manuscript.

          Working from the outline, I do the following:

  • Check chapter and scene order.  Do any scenes need to be moved so that the story is revealed in the proper order, or if you have more than one point of view, are secondary POV scenes appearing at regular intervals? 
  • Check for timeline inconsistencies.  Does Scene 8 happen before Scene 7, either in time or in the sequence of events?  Either way, make a note on the outline.  You might use a calendar to help keep the timeline accurate. (Blank calendars for any year can be found at timeanddate.com.)
  • Highlight short scenes. (I consider a short scene to be four or fewer pages, but that can vary depending on what you write and your style.)  Short scenes can make a book choppy and provide opportunities to stop reading.
  • Make the easy decisions.  If there’s a scene where nothing happens to move the story forward, draw a big X through it on your outline.  You can take it out of the manuscript later. 
  • Highlight scenes where little happens.  These are the scenes to eliminate, add to, or combine with another scene.  If a weak scene can be strengthened by combining it with another scene using a transitional sentence or two, make a note on the outline.  Perhaps two short/weak scenes can be combined by changing the point of view in one.  Or consider strengthening the scene by adding information or creating a new subplot.  If you decide to add a subplot, note on the outline other scenes to which the new plot points should be added.
  • Check scene locations.  Could any be changed to someplace more interesting/unusual?  Would changing the setting add tension to a scene?  Check for repeated scene locations and vary if possible.
  • Check plot lines.  Do they follow all the way through the story, as necessary?  Are they mentioned periodically?  Do they have closure?
  • Are all conflicts resolved?  
  • Look at the list of ideas you made on the tablet.  Are any worth incorporating?  If so, make a note on your outline.

           Now you should have a lot of changes listed on the outline, and you haven’t read the manuscript.  Depending on how involved a manuscript is, I may make the changes, then outline again before moving on.

To read the rest of her article go to:  http://www.anitanolan.com/theend.html  Cheryl Klein is mentioning the article in her interview in the 2010 Children’s Writers & Illustrator’s Market.


Responses

  1. Thanks Kathy!

    Great website.

    Like

  2. Remember I am going to be in NYC with the editor dinners on Tuesday and Wednesday. Did you start palying around with your blog?

    Kathy

    Like

    • yes, I did. I’ve stuck one toe in the blog water. Brrhhh!

      anita

      Like

  3. Thanks! I really needed this!

    Like


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