I Wrote a Novel, Now What? Congratulations—You’re Only Halfway Done!

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We hope you’ve had a chance to catch up on sleep and are now starting to reread and revise your NaNo novels. Writing a draft is only half the battle, so today author Laura VanArendonk Baugh shares some questions to ask yourself when you’re revising:

If they’d asked
me, it would be called NaDraWriMo: National Draft Writing Month.

Don’t get me
wrong—writing 50,000 words in a month is a big accomplishment, and I’m
not taking anything away from that. But it’s not accurate to think
of it as a finished novel just yet. 

Fortunately, we
have the next eleven months for revisions! Revision is not a
luxury; it’s an essential part of finishing a novel.

“When
I say writing, O believe me, it is rewriting that I have chiefly in
mind.”

Robert Louis Stevenson

But without the
communal adrenaline of NaNoWriMo—and let’s be honest, it’s far
less thrilling to post “I removed a weak subplot” than to update
that purple bar—it can be hard to maintain that promise to revise. Rewriting is also very different than writing, so it can be hard to
know how to even start.

Here is how I do
it:

Structure & Pacing

When you’re beginning to revise, ask yourself: Does my story
follow a standard plot arc? If not, why not, and does it still work?

This is the first
and most critical component. It does not matter how poetic your sentences are if the story is unsatisfying. The question posed at
the beginning must be answered at the end.

You may need to add a subplot for depth, or remove that bunny trail. Each scene must
simultaneously advance plot and characterization. Any scene,
even one you enjoy, that doesn’t meet this criteria is deleted from the
manuscript. This is brutal work, but necessary. Loose prose written
under pressure needs to be distilled to pure story. Writing a log
line—a single sentence to summarize premise and plot—can help you simplify your structural analysis. Try it!

The key may also be to just finish the thing! Fifty thousand words is about two-thirds of
a traditional mainstream novel, so depending on your story and genre,
you may not be done yet. My 2017 project will be complete at 90,000
words, so just a few thousand more and then I’ll start revising.

Characterization

It takes me a
while to understand my characters. I don’t really know someone
until I drop him into the middle of a plot and see what he does.

I may revise
early scenes with the complex personalities of later writing. Does her
knowledge of sushi help to identify the murderer? Go back and drop a
kappa roll reference in her introduction. Humanize a dull character
by giving him a fear of spiders or heights. Let a villain snuggle a
kitten to show he’s not all bad.

I also make sure
each character has a consistent voice, but that individual characters’ voices
differ. Try rewriting a scene without any dialogue tags, and see if you can distinguish each speaker; if you can’t tell who’s who, it may be time to focus on distinct character voices.

Wordsmithing & Polishing

This is the
final (and for me, the most fun!) part of revision. This is where
we take sandpaper to the rough story and polish it into gleaming
brilliance. This is where manuscripts start to sing.

You can get those
shining, perfect lines in your first draft too, of course. But like a
diamond in the rough, they cannot be fully appreciated until
they are given a proper setting.

Save this line
editing for after structural revisions, lest you spend hours
perfecting scenes you’ll end up cutting. I used to get caught in
this most enjoyable part of revisions, but to be efficient with my
time, I’ve made it my reward for getting through structural editing.

Tackle Those Revisions!

Revisions are
usually most effective when we’ve had time away. My manuscript and
I will agree to see other people for a while, and then I’ll come
back with a fresh outlook. Remember, you have time to make it great!

Need more
detailed guidance? Editor Janeen Ippolito of Uncommon Universes Press
has a series
on revisions
with links to other free resources.

Enjoy your
deserved break after your hard November push, but don’t forget the
next step toward finishing your novel. Happy revisions!


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Laura VanArendonk
Baugh is an award-winning writer of fantasy (epic, urban, and
historical), mystery, and non-fiction, both traditionally and
independently published. Her NaNoWriMo fantasy The
Songweaver’s Vow
is a semi-finalist for SPFBO’s Best of
2017. Visit her website to learn more.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Ben Terrett on Flickr.