Updated: Mar 3, 2019
When it comes to writing styles, there are two schools of thought in the writing community. Either you're a Plotter or a Pantser. Although, realistically, most people fall somewhere in between.
A Plotter is precisely as it sounds: someone who outlines and plans before they've even dabbled with their opening line.
The term Pantser is derived from the expression, "by the seat of your pants." Or, in other words, just wing it!
Drafting my first novel, The Christmas Calendar, I was a total Pantser. I had a glimmer of an idea, then sat down to write. And write. And write. Spilling close to 65,000 words onto the page in a few months.
Honestly, it was SO MUCH FUN! Most days, I couldn't wait to sit down at my computer to write. And, overall, I had a relatively decent rough draft by the time I finished. Since I'd grown up reading and internalizing stories, I developed a natural gauge for story structure.
But, since it was my first novel, I sent it off to a developmental editor to see what I'd missed. She responded with 3-4 pages highlighting various areas I could flesh out the story more or raise the stakes for my heroine.
To let the story percolate, I set it aside for a few months and worked on other projects. Now that I'm beginning revisions, I have a LOT of ideas to improve the story. But, at 65,000 words, it's daunting to decide what to tackle first.
Thus, I devised a REVISION STRATEGY.
First, I print out the entire manuscript (sorry, trees! 😢) and read through it, flagging areas for revision. I pay attention to four key elements and highlight them each with a different color.
Plot refers to story structure specifically. Does an aspect of the story need clarification? Would the story read better if I moved a scene earlier in the manuscript or later? Or what if I deleted it completely?
Character calls into question attributes like likability/relatability/ character motivation/growth/etc. More than anything, I want you to connect with my characters, even to feel what they're feeling. If a scene falls flat or there's no connection, something needs to change.
World building refers mostly to the setting. Do the descriptions draw you into the story? Can you see/smell/hear/taste/touch the world I've created? For me, getting lost in a story is as much about belonging in the world as it is about befriending the characters.
Prose is my favorite stage of revisions. It means I can go through the manuscript and "pretty up" the sentences, creating new ways to express something.
I'm getting ahead of myself...
My first pass, I'm merely reading, highlighting, and placing sticky notes for later. Once I've made notes on the entire manuscript, I can go back and tackle each area (plot, character, world building, and prose) one at a time.
If it sounds tedious, it absolutely can be! Which is why I've created little "hacks" to help me along the way.
For plot problems, I create a retroactive outline. Meaning, I take my existing story and create an outline so I can see it broken up into consecutive segments. Viewing the manuscript from a "bird's eye view" makes it easier to spot what isn't working.
For character issues, I've designed a Character Cheat Sheet. At the top, I write down the overall wound for the character as well as her internal and external needs. For example, for Cassie, her wound is feeling unlovable due to abandonment. Her internal need is for love and family. Her external need is for security (job/money).
Next, when analyzing the problem scene, I decide which emotion I want to be at the forefront. I write a short, one paragraph summary on why the character is feeling the chosen emotion. Then, I list several possible ways I could express this emotion on the page (both internally and externally). For instance, if a character is embarrassed, I create a list that looks like this:
Covers face with hands
*Tip for writers: The Emotion Thesaurus is a handy shortcut.
I create the cheat sheet so when I sit down to rewrite the scene, I have already distilled the exact emotion I want the reader to experience (or sympathize with), and I have tools at my fingertips to expedite the creative process. Sometimes, I don't use any of the curated options, but knowing I've laid a foundation frees up my creativity.
World building is an enjoyable element to fix! By the time I've locked down my plot and my characters, I get to delve even deeper into the world I've created. And I can "set the mood" in several ways. Sometimes it's as simple as getting in the right headspace. I'll make myself a fresh cup of coffee, throw on a pair of cozy socks, and settle into my comfy desk chair, already daydreaming about the gorgeous settings I get to mentally explore. Other times, I need a little more motivation. Which is why I've created Spotify playlists and Pinterest boards for each of my novels.
*Tip: My handle on all platforms is rachaelbloome.
Finally, I get to prose. Unfortunately, there is no hack for this section. But I have found that the more I write, the better I write. And if I'm feeling really stuck, I'll read. Reading reminds me of why I became a writer in the first place, and it inspires me to spin words in new and inventive ways.
Lastly, I go back over the entire manuscript for spelling and grammar errors.
*Tip for writers: Grammarly speeds up this process immensely!
Okay, let's recap:
In a nutshell, that's my revision process! But, as with most things writing-related, it's sure to evolve over time. Of course, I'll always keep you updated. 😉
I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into my writing life.
Now, back to revisions!