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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