Novel Work: Round One Revisions
Posted on August 12, 2020
by Aeryn Rudel
A little over a month ago, I finished the first draft of a new novel tentatively titled Hell to Play. I let it sit for a while to rest, refocus, and work on other projects, but now I’ve started doing the initial read-through and revision. I thought I’d talk a bit about what I’m trying to accomplish in this initial revision and why. As always, this post, like most posts on my blog, is how I do things. It’s not the only way or even the right way. It’s just my way. 🙂
The revisions in this first round will fall under the following four broad categories.
- Basic clean-up. I’m not really laboring over the prose at this point since much of it is likely to change. I am, however, trying to fix typos, dropped words, and particularly clunky sentences that might pull a reader out of the story. I’m also removing a fair amount of repetition, which is a problem area for me in long-form fiction. I expect I’ll cut a good 3,000 to 5,000 words from the manuscript (maybe more) by the time I’m done. I do all this because I don’t want my critique partners to get distracted by these little bonehead mistakes, and, anyway, they’re usually pretty easy to fix.
- Glaring continuity errors. This falls under problems I can see from space. Some of these are pretty simple, like where I’ve given a secondary character the last name Peaks in chapter one and then for some reason called him Richards for the rest of the book. Other times, it’s more world-building continuity stuff. For example, this book deals with occult magic. In the first few chapters it’s pretty loosey goosey and leans more fantasy than horror. Later in the book, I started using real-world occult sources and the magic took on a more gritty, realistic tone. So I’ve revised the way magic is portrayed early on to match the rest of the book.
- Plot holes. Whereas the continuity errors are mistakes you can see from space, the plot holes I’m shoring up this round are the drive-a-truck-through-it variety. For example, in the first act the main characters go on and on about how a minor villain gets access to certain tomes of forbidden lore. My intent was to weave this into the story in a way that supports the primary villains goals and motivations, and, uh, I didn’t do that. So I’m faced with either toning down the “how did he do that” in the first act or adding what is essentially a subplot to the second and third acts. The jury is still out, but I definitely need to deal with this.
- Character voice and motivation. This can fall under the first three items, but it’s important enough, especially in this book, that I treat it as a separate thing. I have two main characters in this novel, and the POV switches back and forth. So one of the things I’m really trying to do is make each character voice distinct. There are places where they sound a little samey, and I’ve been correcting that wherever I find it. Additionally, both characters have very separate goals when the story begins and those goals become more aligned as the novel progresses. That change in goals and motivation needs to feel organic and earned and not feel like I’m flipping a switch in service to the plot. Most of the heavy revision in this round will be focused on this point.
So those are the broad strokes of what I’m working on before the novel goes to my critique partners. I have no illusions I’m going to be able to fix everything because I need eyes other than mine to point out the other shit I missed. As the author, I have certain blinders on that make it near impossible to find all a novel’s issues on my own. That’s where trusted critique partners come in, and their notes are invaluable to getting a book to the next level.
Now where do we go from here? Once this revisions is complete, the book will go to my critique partners, as I mentioned. They’ll read it, compile notes, and get it back to me. I’ll then make another, more extensive revision based on those notes. I’ll also do a more focused clean-up of the prose. Then, the book will go to my agent, and it’s quite possible he’ll request additional edits. After that, well, hopefully I’ll have a marketable novel a publisher might actually want to buy. 🙂
As a critique partner for another author I have done a lot of the first three but I do find character voice an issue. I can do educated vs uneducated, but the graduations do get difficult. Take the Order of the Stick as an example: Varsuvius vs Thog is easy; Varsuvius vs Roy is not so easy.
Yeah, when the characters share some traits–both my characters are irreverent and somewhat crass, for example–it can be tougher to make them seem different enough. I’ll get it closer in this pass and then rely on my critique partners to get me the rest of the way there. One of them is very good with voice.