The Three Stages of Editing (On Revision: Intro)

“There’s a hormone secreted into the bloodstream of most writers that makes them hate their own work while they are doing it, or immediately after. This, coupled with the chorus of critical reaction from those privileged to take a first look, is almost enough to discourage further work entirely.”

 –  Francis Ford Coppola


Well, I’ve accomplished something, at least: the first draft of my manuscript is done.

The one thing I can say with confidence is that I spent enough time working on it, for a first draft. I started it back in April 2009, finished the story, set it aside for a few months, rewrote most of it, set it aside again, rewrote it again, then set it aside and finally, this past August, rebooted it starting from scratch.

And I think I might have something worth keeping this time.

I followed that annoying rule of writing a first draft; the one that says to try as hard as humanly possible to make it good, all while keeping the firm mentality that it won’t be. Every author I’ve ever read about has said that the first draft of their story was terrible. Nobody is perfect the first time around…nobody I’ve heard of, at least.

And thus introduces the purpose of…revision.

[Insert Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor].


Based on what I’ve heard, there are three stages of revision, if we’re discussing a novel (which I always am). None are pretty, but I think together, they’re fairly effective.


Stage 1: Plot Revision

I don’t claim many of my personal methods as ironclad, but I think it’s safe to say that you should always revise plot before anything else. Always. You can work on wording all you like, but if the beautiful descriptions fit a stupid storyline that you intend to change later, then it’s back to square one.

When I myself go through “plot revision,” I don’t just look at storyline, either. Yes, my first step is to make sure everything is logical, that there are no gaping holes in logic or unrealistic events taking place. But then I also think through the characters. Are there any that fall flat? I liven them up. Are there any that the story would be the same without? I erase them.

Yep, just like that. I still can’t figure out how extraneous characters work their way into my story (because why would I take the time to invent them if they didn’t have a purpose?) but they do. And during this first stage of revision, I find and eliminate them.

I’ll talk more about this and the other stages in their own posts later, so I’ll shut up for now.


Stage 2: Word/Style Revision

After my plot is in place, this becomes the most important phase of revision. Anyone can tell a story, some can tell a good story, but there are only some who can tell a good story in a good way. The difference is a little thing called voice, and it’s one of the most important ingredients of a novel. How different would the Percy Jackson books be if narrated in a factual, third-person POV similar to that of Artemis Fowl or Harry Potter? Or, likewise, if Artemis Fowl and Harry Potter were narrated from the first person POV of their titular characters?

Every word is essential. And the way they’re mixed makes all the difference.

I’ll dump my thoughts on this a little later.


Stage 3: Final Read-Through

Yay! The plot is good, the wording is good, and you even found a copy of the 2013 Guide to Literary Agents on sale! Praise Tolkien!

Unfortunately, there’s one thing every author recommends you do with your manuscript before it’s declared perfect. I’m not looking forward to it, but I’m going to do it.

I’m going to read my entire manuscript aloud. Cover to cover.

At first when I heard this recommendation, I thought it was a matter of personal preference. And I suppose it still is. But I’ve heard it from enough successful authors that I think I should do it, and I’d recommend you do it, too.

I agree that it’s a good way to eliminate any final “flow” problems. You’ve fixed plot, you’ve fixed wording…now, this last revision is a way to nail any issues with both.

I’ll let you know how it goes.


Happy revising, to anyone starting it. I’m sure I’ll be distracting myself by blogging more often later.