3 Goals of Novel Revision

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To understand novel revision, there are three basic concepts you must grasp.

First, is the idea that when you finish a novel, there are now two novels. There’s the one on paper and the one in your head–and they are not the same. One of the major tasks of revising your novel is to make sure everything in your head is on the paper. How many times do readers say to you things like this: I don’t understand. I can’t visualize how that happened. I am confused.

And you are totally surprised, because of course, it’s right there in the story. No. You didn’t put it on the page.

Second, you are also trying to match up your story to your concept of an ideal story. An ideal story–according to you–might be one with lots of action, stirring emotions and a great love story that resolves at the end. Or it might be one of slowly peeling back the layers of action to reveal a character. Whatever your ideal story is–you didn’t hit it on the first draft and the second draft is your chance to try it again.

Third, and related to the first two, the function of a revision is different from the first draft. In the first draft, you are figuring out what story you want to tell. In the second and subsequent drafts, you are figuring out what is the most dramatic way to tell that story. What can you change, how can you structure it differently, so that your reader stays engaged the whole way through?

Revision is the only way to achieve a publishable novel and it’s not scary. It’s just a different phase of writing the story from the first draft–making sure what’s in your head is on the page, and one of matching up a story to an ideal story, and one of considering your reader and making sure you keep that reader the whole way through.

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3 Comments
  • Carol Frome
    October 5, 2012

    In my experience as a poet and now a faction writer also, not only is revision not scary, it’s part of the creative process. A first full draft does not mean that the creative part is done; it just means that the initial composition is done. When I see that I’ve left something at the bare bones stage, I know I have to add more meat, and that is creative work. Same thing with lines that don’t ring right. Or a trite passage, or many other things. It’s tiring, and for me, sort of nerve wracking–because I’m afraid I’ll miss some glaring bit of idiocy–but it’s also fun. Maybe even more fun that the initial composing. And I can say for sure that some of my best work has grown from the revision process.

  • Diana Baer
    October 5, 2012

    You’ve got some very good points, I feel that the greatest mistake authors can make is not finishing the first draft, you have to have an ending so you’re not ttrapped in a constant state of revision

  • kristina Stanley
    October 6, 2012

    I agree with Diana. There is something very satisfying about having the first draft done. To me the novel starts to feel real at that point.