The Silver Lining | Revision Outline

A few weeks ago I sent Chandler Craig my revision outline for ALICE IN WONDERLAND HIGH because she was embarking on a big revision of her novel. I sent it to her to show her how I organized and meticulously planned out my revisions. She loved the outline and encouraged me to blog about it in case others find it helpful.

This revision outline was from a while ago when I did the first major overhaul of ALICE based on awesome feedback I’d received through critique partners and through an R&R. There were a lot of things I had to solve in this revision: I had to cut a subplot, bump up a secondary character’s role so they became a main character and appeared in more scenes, clarify motivations and character personalities, and start the mystery earlier and amp the stakes. The last one required the biggest changes because I had to move information that had appeared later in the novel to early scenes and invent new scenes to keep the mystery arc twisting and turning with new information revealed that helped amp the stakes. There were a few other revision things I had to solve, mostly related to fixing voice, but I’ll blog about the techniques I used for fixing voice next week.

Now, I should note that I have a photographic memory so at first I was moving all the scenes around in my head and placing them where they should go. That may sound crazy but I can see the entire novel as a timeline, almost like notecards, and if the revisions are small, I can usually shuffle it around and not get confused. This was too big a task for that. I tried handwritten notecards at first but that didn’t work for me only because I quickly realized I needed more writing/instruction space than an index card could provide. I didn’t want to just write a sentence per scene and then shift it around visually. I wanted to write a step by step guideline so when it came time to revise, I just had to go down the list.

I started by outlining every scene currently in the novel and what happened in it. Then I tackled each revision point separately, starting with the easiest one: the subplot I had to cut. It was very clear which scenes it comprised because they were self-contained (which was why I had to cut it, it was too separate from the main plot) so I went through the outline and highlighted that section gray with a line through it. The next easiest was the character (the antagonist) that was missing in too many scenes and needed a bigger role. So I went through the outline and marked which chapters he was absent in. At that point, I had to figure out how to add him into more scenes. I couldn’t just add him for the sake of adding him. His scenes had to have purpose, they had to drive the story and mystery forward. This is where I started combining revision points to solve multiple things at once. If I started the mystery earlier and moved information from chapter 12 to chapter 4, then I could have a scene with Alice and the antagonist in chapter 12* that would reveal more information about the mystery. This led to other scenes like that. And those scenes became my absolute favorite in the entire novel! I can’t believe they didn’t exist in the first few drafts. They belong in the novel.

I kept going in that manner until I had a super detailed revision guideline. I even included instructions to myself highlighted in red as a reminder about what I was thinking when I put it in the revision outline. Sometimes the notes were things I still had to figure out like "Find better motivation for this" Sometimes they were more detailed instructions for things that had to be cut like "Delete this sentence but then change the next one to this particular thing instead." Or just reasons why I was cutting "This is repetitive, you can combine these two scenes by doing this and losing this information but keeping this one." Or I’d write down what domino effect a single change may cause on the rest of the novel like "If I change this, then their motivations will have to change and that scene down the road won’t work either." But sometimes they were questions to Jen Hayley, such as "they need to discover new information but…WHAT?!?!" I sent Jen the revision outline before I started on the changes just to make sure I’d covered everything and to get her help in brainstorming the things I was stuck on. She helped me answer some of the questions I was unsure about. So did my awesome writer’s group when I posed a few questions to them in chat.

Basically, the revision outline was a step by step process with everything possible I could think of that needed to change during revision. I tried to account for all plot holes or domino effects in the outline so when it came time to fix it in the novel, I didn’t have to worry about that stuff because I’d fixed it already. And based on CP feedback on the revised manuscript, it worked. I did actually end up doing notecards in Scrivener before I revised only so I could color code the various subplots and track them to make sure they were threaded throughout the novel properly. But I’d really covered it pretty well in the revision outline document so the notecards ended up being unnecessary, just an added tool to help me double check I’d covered everything before I started revising.

The revision outline took me about a month to complete, maybe even a little more. It’s where I did all my brainstorming. I was okay with taking so much time on this because when it came time to actually implement the revisions? I banged them out quickly, in less than a month, because I’d already done the bulk of the work. All I had to do was go into the manuscript and make the changes. 

So I’m including screenshots of the revision outline with all the highlighting to see what it looked like. I will be doing this for all my novels from now on. I’m a big fan of outlines and to-do lists and being organized with my thoughts. Notecards may work for some people, but this worked for me.

*not the actual chapter numbers, just an example

What’s your revision process?

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5 Responses

  1. I have to ask you

    Do you have time to sleep! This is very impressive – and you write, and work lots, and watch a fair amount of tv… I think you must not sleep at all. 🙂

    • Re: I have to ask you

      Haha! Actually, sometimes I don’t get very much. For the month of December I was working 13 hours a day and trying to complete a huge revision. I didn’t want to cut TV from my life so I cut sleep. Yes, I clearly have my priorities in order.

      What helps the most is that I know when I can procrastinate (like now) and when I can’t. So if there’s a deadline, I know every free moment I have–whether at home or work–has to be put toward the project.

  2. Pingback: » Blog Archive » Revising Voice

  3. Pingback: Ugly Revision Complex | Fumbling with Fiction

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