I’ve started a full revision of The Herb Witch Tales this month. I’m currently revising the third draft of Uprooted, and will move straight into revising the second draft of New Earth.
These novellas form a duology, so it’s important to me that the characters, plots, and narrative themes align between them. I had written the first part in full, started the second part, and then decided to rewrite part one. Now that I’ve finished a subsequent rewrite of part two, I’m taking the time to revise both parts together.
Thus, my focus for this revision phase is first on consistency of those big pieces, knowing I’ll likely have to come back again to revise for smaller details.
That got me thinking about which elements are important to focus on during a given revision phase.
I’ll start by looking at what to focus on when revising an early draft.
3 Elements to Revise in an Early Draft
I’m using the term “early draft” here, because every writer drafts at a different pace. Some take three drafts to get a polished story; others take ten, or fifty. An early draft could be a discovery draft, where you’re just getting words onto paper, or it could be a draft that has already gone through a couple of revisions, but still feels raw.
In any case, you have a completed draft that you know needs some work. Where to begin? I’d like to highlight three places to start.
1 – Scene Development
This might seem obvious, but an early draft likely has a lot of plot holes to fill. Read through your draft with a questioning mind. From scene to scene, are there any questions left unanswered about how your characters are behaving, jumps in time, or events that are not presented to the reader directly?
It’s okay to leave some of these things for the reader to interpret, but that should be an intentional decision. If you’ve skipped a ton of scene development for the purpose of getting that draft finished, then many parts of the story may feel unfinished when you’re revising.
With every scene you revise, ask yourself:
- Does this scene transition well from the previous scene?
- Does the scene demonstrate new or reinforce established information about the characters, the plot, or the world they’re in?
- Does it transition well into the next scene in a way that readers can follow?
2 – Character Consistency
Pay attention to the way your main characters may change – or not change – over the course of the story.
- Do their attitudes shift, and do these changes serve the narrative?
- Does each character have consistent voicing — the way the speak, act, fidget, or think?
- Do their decisions align with what the reader knows about their fears, their motives, and what’s happening around them?
- Does each character have agency, able to make decisions in reaction to what’s happening around them, rather than being buffeted through each scene like a toy doll in a hurricane?
Similarly, do your side characters have a purpose in your story? These are the folks who may only appear in a few scenes, or in the background of whatever the main characters are doing, but they should be there for a reason. A character who just reacts to what’s going on around them – a child who only complains to their parents, or a sidekick who only cheers on their leader – will fall flat. If you’re taking the time to create a character and place them in a scene, then give them something to contribute.
3 – Narrative Flow
This follows on element number one above, but forces you to take a step back and view your story not just for each individual scene, but for how the entire piece comes together.
- If the story is intense with drama or action, are there moments of quiet and calm, or is the reader constantly pushed from one crisis into another with no respite?
- Does the narrative meander from one scene to another, taking random expository detours that last for pages on end?
- Does the plot flow naturally, or will the reader feel jolted along due to unexpected time jumps, or sudden changes of place?
Finding Your Story’s Intention
None of these things are bad to have in a story, but they should be intentional. Revising an early draft should give you the opportunity to understand, and improve on, the tone, pacing, and style of your story.
And don’t fret the details of Editing or Proofreading just yet. That will come in later revision phases.