Four-Step Book Revision Process

Revision Process

Congratulations! You wrote a book! You did what tons of people dream of doing, but never actually do. You did it. You’re really an author now! Now let’s talk about what to do next—the revision process. Before you send your precious, shiny book baby off to agents, you need to revise and polish it. Unless your name is James Patterson or Stephen King, then by all means, kindly disregard. I’m sure your prose flies from your brain to the page perfectly, with no plot holes or diction issues or typos to be found for miles. How lovely for you.

Revision Process Lindsay

Wow, a book! (You can’t tell, but the page title says “Shitty First Draft.” Anne Lamott was right, it’s very freeing.)

The rest of us need to revise.

Now, look. I have no business telling you how to write a book. Really, I don’t. I’m unagented, unpublished, and fresh out of hairspray (that’s not relevant, but it is important that I remember to go to the store later). That said, I’ve written three full manuscripts, and learned a thing or two about the revision process along the way.

Four-Step Book Revision Process

Here, briefly, is a quick-and-dirty guide to revising your book.

  1. Re-read your book.
  2. Developmental edits.
  3. Scene edits.
  4. Line edits.

(Note: This is the process that works best for me, after I’ve got a solid rough draft. Mileage may vary.)

1. Re-Read Your Book

Revision Process Example

Write books, they said. It will be fun, they said. You definitely won’t ever want to violently tear your hair from your scalp while sobbing into your mountain of revision notes, they said.

“But Lindsay,” you’re saying, “I just finished writing it. I know what happens. This is a waste of my time.” Trust me, okay? If you get nothing out of this exercise, margaritas are on me.

Diving into revisions with a quick (three-ish days) read-through not only helps me get into the editing mindset, but helps me spot the discrepancies between what I thought I had written, and what my fingers actually typed. I prefer to print my MS out (sorry, trees), take a pink pen (red is too aggressive and angry), and mark everything my little heart desires, from major issues to confusing, bad, “what the hell was I thinking” in-line jokes.

2. Developmental Edits

Developmental edits are the big-picture revisions, the time where you really dig into the meat of your story. Does the love interest’s name change halfway through the book? Did you forget certain characters exist for, oh, say 70 pages? Does someone get captured and then you accidentally forgot about that plot point entirely? You laugh, but I’ve done all of these things.

Plot

Look at the big-ticket items. Is there a defined beginning, middle and ending? An inciting incident? Obstacles that the main character has to overcome, thus building the plot and revealing character development? Rising action? Climax (tee hee hee…I am a child)? Resolution?

The biggest tip I can share, the thing that helps me keep my plot moving in a logical way, is the But/Therefore Rule from the writers of South Park.

There are tons of resources about this online, and I encourage you to read them all, but it boils down to replacing your “ands” (X happened, and then Y happened) with “but/therefore” (X happened, therefore causing Y to happen, but then Z thwarted their progress).

I’m not trying to be dramatic when I say this idea revolutionized my storytelling. The plot should be a series of sequential, cause-and-effect events, rather than a random, strung-together order of weak scenes.

Character Arcs

What does your main character learn, how do they change, over the course of your book? Your MC should begin the book as one type of person, and finish as another. For example, when the reader meets my latest MC, she is broken and battered. But through her revenge arc and emotional growth, she ends the story healed and whole (it’s less cheesy than it sounds, I swear).

Give your character goals, both big picture and in each chapter (more on chapter-level goals later)—this will help drive the plot forward.

Romantic Arcs

Revision Process Romance

The primary structure is: attraction→conflict keeping the couple apart→first kiss→tension/conflict growing→getting emotionally closer (first sexual encounter might happen somewhere in here)→explosion of conflict and black moment→resolution.

Keep in mind whether your romantic arc is paced correctly for the type of story you’re telling. For example, the first kiss in an enemies-to-lovers story would take place waaaaaaay later than the first kiss in a casual fling-turned-soul mates book.

3. Scene Edits

Now that you’ve knocked out the big to-do items, let’s talk about what’s happening on a chapter level.

Chapter-Level Goals

Every character in a scene should want something—bonus points if they want opposing things, causing conflict. Is your MC trying to get the sexy stranger’s attention across the bar? How does she accomplish that? What stands in her way? Whether the MC accomplishes the goal or not, what are the consequences? Does she have a night of hot, steamy romance? Or is her failure the final straw that prompts her to create an online dating profile, where she meets the love of her life?

This is where you work in your world-building (if your book takes place somewhere unfamiliar) and characterization.

Are your chapters and scenes in the right order? Does each new one build upon the previous? This is also where you can address the pink-pen notes from Step 1.

4. Line Edits

Ahhhh, line edits. Once I finally arrive at this stage, I can (and have) spend hoooouuuuuurs upon hours debating with myself whether the appropriate diction choice is “moist” or … just kidding, I’m not a monster, I would never use that word. This is the time to get really nitpicky about what’s being said or shown, and how.

The biggies for me include:

  • Diction
  • Description (finding the balance between too much and too little, which is a matter of personal taste for every writer)
  • Filter words (felt, saw, heard, noticed, observed, etc.)
  • Passive voice
  • Is this the clearest, most concise (or intentional) way for this character to express this thought/idea?
  • How many times have I just used the word “massive” on this page?
  • Seven.
  • Seven times is probably too many. (Hint: use Wordle.com to sniff out words you may be overusing!)

There you have it, friends! Follow this revision process, and you’ll have a lovely book to share with CPs and beta readers.

And here, just because I love ya – a link to my favorite beat sheet from Jami Gold. If you’re a plotter, this can help you flesh out your story before you start drafting. If you’re a pantser, this will make sure your story is on track once it’s drafted.

Questions about my revision process? Comments? Care to drop off a fresh can of hairspray at my door? Find me on Twitter at @lindsaylhess.

Lindsay Hess
When Lindsay isn’t writing stories with magic and kissing, she spends her time devouring as many tacos as she can get her hands on, and wrangling the Hess herd of rescue pets—two cats, one dog, and an almost entirely house-broken husband. She watches muuuuch more Netflix than is good for her productivity, and loves to cook and entertain…but detests cleaning her house. Consider this your warning should you ever come over and encounter a cat/dog hair tumbleweed (or three). It isn’t her fault. Don’t blame her.

Also, bring wine.
Lindsay Hess on InstagramLindsay Hess on Twitter

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