How I Revised My First Novel
Normally I would review a book related to revision at this point in my blog series to give you a concrete example of the topics I’ve been covering, but I don’t know other authors’ revision processes as well as my own. Instead I will share how I revised my first novel and why I made the decisions I did. I will cover everything from organization to rewrites to finding the true beginning.
Failure and Breaks
I learned the hard way why writers should step away from their story before revising. I finished the final 60,000 words of my first novel during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The following month I attempted to dive into revision and found I continually got caught up in the small details instead of focusing on the overall story. I became frustrated with myself and my characters, so I set the novel aside and waited.
At the time I didn’t know what I was waiting for. Now I know I needed the magic and excitement of completion to wear off, so I could see what was on the page, not what I wanted to be there. Waiting three months to dig into my revision was one of the best decisions I made for that novel. Stepping away from your story could be one of your best decisions too. It gives you time to gain perspective and take off your rose colored glasses.
Rearranging, Cutting, and Expanding
When I finally did return to that story, I had a lot of work to do. I don’t write in order. I might write the first chapter then chapter seventeen then four then twenty. Because of this, I gave each scene a short heading while I wrote, so it was easier to organize. These were headings like “Brooke tries to escape” or “Kindle tells Lady Awendela no.” Then I wrote each scene description on a notecard and physically moved them around until they were in an order that worked for the story, character, and plot arcs.
At the same time, I tossed whole scenes that didn’t fit or move the story forward. Those notecards went in a bone pile. When I cut and pasted the computer document into the correct order, I pulled important lines or concepts from those scenes before deleting them from the new document. Many of the scenes I deleted were of Brooke alone in her cell. They weren’t moving the story forward and most showed the same aspects of her character. Don’t be afraid to cut things from your story. The first draft is about getting your ideas down on paper, and some ideas aren’t right for the final book.
I also added notecards with descriptions of scenes I needed to write. Because I had three point of view characters, I often added scenes during sections of the story one character dominated to balance the points of view. I had to add more Lady Awendela sections to the beginning, so the reader wouldn’t be jarred when her POV returned. If you are writing in multiple points of view, get a pack of multi-colored notecards and give each character their own color. Then write the scenes from that character’s point of view on their notecards and put your story in order. This will allow you to see where one character’s POV is taking over.
Reading My Story
Once I had the scenes in order, I printed the whole book and read it. I marked places where I needed to add more to a scene, cut paragraphs or lines, and smooth transitions between scenes. In particular, I had to make a lot of continuity notes.
Because I don’t write in order and came up with more ideas as I wrote, I had to make sure my characters weren’t talking about an event that hadn’t happened yet or Brooke didn’t lock her door before the scene where she gets a lock. I also marked places where I could foreshadow a later scene. Continuity is a huge part of revision. All writers come up with new ideas, twists, and character nuances as they write and develop the story. You will have to go back and add those to your earlier sections.
Finding the Beginning and Ending
Starting with Brooke
You will rewrite your beginning multiple times. You might not have to rewrite your first paragraph or sentence, but you will have to rewrite. My first chapter, like many writers’, is now my second. I began with the secondary protagonist’s point of view instead of the primary protagonist’s POV. This was a huge problem because I knew my readers would become confused when he didn’t turn out to be the main character.
Coming up with the right opening was one of the hardest parts of writing that book. I tried modifying a scene from later in the novel, but that didn’t work because the entire story is chronological other than that beginning. I tried using a flashback to Brooke’s childhood, which is often frowned upon and boring. However the flashback had some great foreshadowing elements, so I broke it up and used lines from that beginning in what is now the start of the novel.
Don’t be afraid to rewrite your beginning. You are a much better writer now than when you started. You know your characters and story better than ever. Your revision will likely be a vast improvement over your current version.
Discovering Lady Awendela’s Conclusion
The antagonist, Lady Awendela, is one of my novel’s point of view characters. I knew she needed a bit of a character arc, a comeuppance, and resolution to her marriage concerns. While I knew the story’s climax when I started writing, I had no idea what would happen to her. I wrote eight versions of Lady Awendela’s finale before I found the right one.
I love the current version of what happens to Lady Awendela because it fits the story, her character, and the mythology of my fantasy world. However, I couldn’t have found that version without first writing the other seven. If you are stuck on a pivotal scene or moment, don’t just rearrange your current version. Write a whole new one. Ask yourself “What if this happened instead?” and write that scene. It is worth the extra effort.
Why a Professional Editor Shares Her Revising Process
An author’s first draft is not their published draft. Don’t compare your first to your idol’s final. It’s not fair to yourself. These revisions I’ve shared from my first novel were just the beginning. Once I got my story to a place I was happy with, I took it to a critique group. Then I traded with a few writers and editors to get more feedback. Revision is where your story is transformed from an idea on paper to a book that will linger with your readers. Use revision and feedback from others to Ignite Your Ink.
How did you revise your first story? Share your process in the comments below. For more articles on revision and a free revision checklist, subscribe to Ignite Your Ink blog.
Ignite Your Ink is written by editor and author Caitlin Berve. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics, actively participates in multiple writers’ organizations, and is dedicated to helping writers produce content that leaves an impression on readers.