Where Do I Even Start? Revision Challenges

So… that novel I finished in November?   The one I was going to start editing in January?  Well, it’s nearing mid-March now, so I’ve started digging my teeth into it.  Really, though, I just got a nibble before I realized that I have a lot of background work to do.

I need to figure out what the characters look like.  I need to decide on some of their personalities (because a few of them jump a bit all over the place through the story), and what their pastimes might be.  Background information that will help me to write them as richer, fuller characters.

I also need to figure out the plot of the story.  Not the basic plot, I have that — I know the key points, and where they happen.  But the little pieces, the subplots and building scenes — I have some of them that I’m not sure where they belong.  A few of them may not even belong in the story, simply serving as helpful (and necessary) background.  I had this entire story plot, but my November writing strayed from it (pretty much entirely in the beginning parts of the story) and now I am left with bits and pieces of scenes and a need to figure out where the story starts.

So, where do I start?  Where do I start in digging into this monstrous project?  Where does the story itself even start?  I’ve spent the better part of the month on the character sketches — because it seems like something that needs to happen regardless of how the story ends up being told, but those are nearly done and now… now I need to dive into the pile of words and scenes and see if I can make sense of it all.

This is uncharted territory for me.  I’ve never revised a novel before, usually I finish the writing in a linear fashion and then just set it aside.  And, honestly, it’s been years since I’ve even done that.  I think, ultimately, this approach of writing different scenes not-necessarily in order will serve me well, but facing the daunting task of making sense of it all is… well… daunting.  I know that I want to have good progress on this by the end of April (so I can let it sit, or perhaps even send it to an early reader, for a month before I dig back in), but I need to find a way to push myself to do that.

How do you edit?  I suppose the first question is, how do you write?  Do you take the linear approach, or do you write up scenes all willy-nilly?  And when it comes to revising (not just word-editing, but deep revising) how do you approach it?

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11 thoughts on “Where Do I Even Start? Revision Challenges”

    1. Usually I write linearly… but in the past year it just hasn’t been coming out that way. This past year is also the first time I’ve actually been able to write ENDINGS so…that’s sometime 🙂 For editing I think the linear approach will probably be worth a try at least. Honestly, this is the first time I’ve gotten to the point of being able to do major editing so I’m just trying to make sense of it all!

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  1. I write some scenes in advance but for the most part, I write in a linear way. I find it helps keep the momentum going and saves having to fix the transitions later. As for editing, I’m still in that stage where a lot of different things work depending on the occasion. It’d be nice to get a system down that works all the time. Hope you find yours soon. Good luck!

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    1. I have a feeling (like with my writing) it’s going to be different for every project. I know my academic work tended to get linear editing… going to give that a try with this one (and remind myself that just because I start the story in one place for this revision doesn’t mean that’s where I have to end up starting…) Thanks!

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  2. Most of the time I write the first draft in a linear fashion, but when editing, I’m all over the place. I find that working on some later scenes can often help me figure out what should be going on earlier (and sometimes vice versa), I also find that re-reading what I’ve got on a semi-regular basis helps me keep an overall view and think about where I need to tie things together. And remember, it can be fun! Good luck. 🙂

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    1. Re-reading what I’ve got is going to be important… I realized that recently with Disparate Threads. One of my beta readers caught something in a scene that I had already addressed in something earlier. Would hate for something like that to slip by when I’m not doing something more episodic in nature!

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  3. The first thing I do is cut. I am wordy. If you are a naturally concise writer, be thankful. If you are not, the first thing you need to do, before you even start the real revision, is cut. Start with the adverbs and prepositional phrases. Move from there to paragraphs that are unneccesary because they are not moving the story.

    If I EVER get back to the fiction (and I am admitting to myself at this point that I may just not), I will not write scenes in linear order.

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    1. I tend to be really REALLY wordy (see, like that…) also, as a friend often points out, I tend to head ramble (also, my punctuation is atrocious, that’s why I have early readers who are far more savvy with that than I). I know that at some point that cutting is going to have to happen, but I’m realizing that I’m not quite at there yet. It’s tempting to start there, but I’ve been fighting that urge because I think I need to figure out some order first. I’d hate to put the time and energy into detail-level revising and cutting before I even know if the scenes are going to be used (or heavily re-written).
      I have to keep reminding myself that THIS is what I set out to do this year. To not just write and blog, but to get a viable version of my novel done by winter so I can start dealing with the headache that I imagine query-letters will be (since I have such trouble with cover letters, I can’t imagine query-letters will be any easier!) It may mean starting to set certain priorities differently (though I know I am more focused in the summer than the winter, so I’m hoping that will help), but I’m depending on my stubbornness to help me get there 🙂

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  4. First off, congratulations! Actually getting a first full draft done of a large project like a novel is a great accomplishment. I would find a test reader I trust and talk with that person. Find where they get bogged down, find where . Just answering the questions “What do you mean?” or “Why did you chose to do that?” can really help crystallize where revision needs to take place and how to do it. I find that talking my writing through with someone really helps me.

    Your institution’s writing center might help. I’m working with a fiction writer to give reader feedback, and at OSU we’ve had faculty come in (to work with the graduate or post-grad writing assistants).

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    1. Thank you! I think it’s still not quite to test-reader stage since at the moment it’s a jumble of 80k+ words in disjointed scenes, some of which may happen before, or may happen after other ones. I have a few people lined up to take a look at it when I get to the point of having it in some semblance of actual order!
      Thanks for the suggestion about the Writing Center! I had assumed that, since I’m not a student at my university I wouldn’t be able to use it, but I just looked and, sure enough, I could. I’ll have to keep that in mind and explore more 🙂

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