I Finished the Book, Now What Do I Do?

Back in 2007 I was teaching a fantasy novels class at the Loft and the discussion led me to put this together for my students. I thought it might be of some interest here.

Revision: What do you change? How? Why? These are big questions and tough to answer.

This is also where you’re going to start getting really sick of reading and rereading your novel. I’m going to list a bunch of techniques for identifying problem spots. This isn’t a sequence and I’m not going to give them to you in any particular order. These are just methods you can use.

1 Read the book aloud. You want to try to get through this in as small a number of reading sessions as possible . Whenever you hit something that bugs you, highlight it. Don’t stop, don’t note exactly what it is that bothers you. Just highlight it. If you get a brilliant idea for the story right it down on a separate sheet of paper, but in as brief a note as possible. At the end of the session write down any ideas you’ve had for changes.

2.Read the book silently and follow the procedure in one.

3. Read the book as you would read a book from the store. As close to straight through as possible without making any notes. When you’re done, right down what did and didn’t work for you.

4. Build a chart or spreadsheet. Read the book, making notes on the spreadsheet of every scene and chapter. What does the scene do? What should it do? Plot. Character. World. Mood. Theme. Why did you write the scene? What can you do to it to make it serve more than one purpose.

5. Create a duplicate document of your novel. Open it. Read through and smooth out the prose, but don’t do any major reworking. When you hit something that needs work, make a note of what and why, but don’t actually do any of that.

6. Build a revision plan, or list of things that need changing. You will probably need to use some of the techniques above to create the plan. Make it into a set of bullet points. Think about how each of those changes will echo forward and back through the book in terms of consequences and needed foreshadowing. Add those to the plan. Plunge in.

7. Open the book up and just change everything you don’t like. This one can be dangerous and should be approached with caution.

8. Get another set of eyes, preferably several.* A couple of writers and a reader or two who doesn’t write is ideal. Listen to what they have to say about the book. Decide where they’re right, where the things they note point out stuff you should have put in that you didn’t. Where the suggestions diverge from what you want the book to be.

Revision resources:

Wyrdsmiths Index—Category: Revision and Multiple Drafts.

Miss Snark Index—Category: Revisions

Making Light revision oriented comment thread.

David Louis Edelman on line edits:

Thoughts, comments, suggestions?
*Important note: always remember it’s your book and you ultimately are responsible for it. Don’t make changes that don’t work for you. Be certain it’s your sense of the story that’s telling you they don’t work and not your ego.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog September 27 2007, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)