So, You’ve Finished Your Draft!
Congratulations, but you still have work to do: revising it!! But where to start??
If you are feeling overwhelmed, then check out these 10 revision pointers for novels or screenplays. They can act as a handy checklist for revising your draft. Good luck …
First up, do NOTHING. That’s right … Just let that novel sit in a drawer or on your computer’s desktop. Do absolutely zilch with it, for a couple of days (minimum) or weeks (preferred) or months (maximum).
Let your subconscious bubble away, revising any of your story’s problems as you get on with other stuff. (If you’ve already done this, now is the time to get going!)
2) Prepare a copy
This bit is important. DO NOT have just one copy of your novel or screenplay – that way misery lies, Paul Sheldon style.
Instead, send a copy to your eReader or print out a hard copy so you can make notes your preferred way. (Just make sure you can’t get sucked into typing more of it, so DO NOT read it on your laptop!).
You need to read it like a new reader would, so try and be as objective as possible. Don’t let yourself off the hook just because you like a character, scene, or line of dialogue. Be really honest with yourself and get ruthless!
4) Avoid revising the draft *as* you read
Remember, this is all about THE READ. There may be whole chunks that are dull, need fleshing out or make no sense. Remind yourself this is okay, it’s a first draft! Just write a few brief ‘notes to self’ to remind yourself for later.
5) Concentrate on the big picture FIRST
When you’re done with your readthrough, you need to concentrate on the big picture stuff first. These include …
The concept (aka premise). Is it obvious WHAT this story is? Do I get a sense of the tone, genre and style? What has gone before that is *like* my story?
Do my main characters WANT something? Does it drive the story forwards? Do I understand WHO is doing WHAT and WHY?
Structure/ Plotting. Can I follow the plot holistically? Does it feel like there’s ‘enough’ at stake? Are there ‘story cul-de-sacs’ that don’t seem to go anywhere? Does the plot seem to escalate, or run on the spot?
A good tip here is to use a plotting worksheet LIKE THIS ONE.
Also, by ‘drawing the story’ – and understanding the characters’ actions within it – you are less likely to end up stuck in what I call ‘The Story Swamp’ in your redraft.
For more on writing craft, you can grab a free online mini-course on everything mentioned in this article, HERE.
6) Next, concentrate on scene by scene
I like to write a list of every chapter or scene, then summarise what happens within it. In screenwriting, these lists are called beat sheets. Once you have done this, you can spot where there isn’t enough or too much going on.
Novelists are not off the hook though. Creating a beat sheet for your novel is also a great way of working out whether there’s enough going on in each chapter in your book. You can cross-reference with your plotting worksheet and figure out if scenes are in the ‘right’ order.
7) Get rid of your obvious ‘writer tells’
Screenwriters may fall back on various ideas, tropes, or plot devices that feel way too samey, especially in openers. Alternatively, they may use dialogue that feels very clichéd. Pay particular attention for these when you are revising.
Novelists need to watch out for random info dumps that slow the read down. Info dumps are also a favourite of amateur writers, so you want to make sure your exposition flows smoothly.
Last of all, ALL writers need to make sure they identify their crutch words. Crutch words are those ‘filler words’ you personally over-use that can be substituted or cut altogether.
8) Sweat the small stuff
So you’ve worked on the big plotting and character stuff holistically … Then worked your way down to individual scenes.
This is especially important if you are a screenwriter, where every scene MUST add something in terms of advancing the plot. If it doesn’t, be ruthless and CUT IT.
If you’re a novelist, I would recommend ensuring your draft is free from purple prose, which are those overwritten, ornate chunks of text.
This also means NOW is the time to really work on stuff like grammar, spelling and punctuation. (Don’t panic about this too much though, people in the industry are not the grammar purists they once were).
9) Stay Positive
At this point, you may feel like your brain is about to explode. You may hate your draft and have no idea whether it is good. THIS IS NORMAL and literally happens to all writers, even pro authors. Don’t freak out!
10) Get a peer reviewer or beta reader (or two!)
Now you’ve written and revised your novel or screenplay, it’s time for some feedback. Get a beta reader – this is someone who can give you feedback. Find them online in writers’ groups, via hashtags on Twitter and Instagram or at networking events (both on Zoom and real life).
Alternatively, there are services where you can pay for specialist readers, though B2W always recommends exhausting your free options first.