Thursday, January 21, 2016

Revision Help from the Pros

by Patricia Cates
Yesterday evening was the first ever NaNoWriMo Spreecast. It was intended for those who have a work in progress leftover from the fall, and who are now perhaps stuck in the revision stage. The title of the web cast was fittingly “How to Revise Your NaNoWriMo Novel.” Kami Garcia, NYT best-selling author, served as the host fielding questions for K.M. Weiland and James Scott Bell, as they were the other guest authors in attendance. They shared many great tips in order to help the rest of us. In case you missed this, I thought I would give you a short synopsis of what was shared. There was a ton of great information on how to rewrite, what to rewrite and how to fill in gaps. Questions came in live from viewers. I only wished it were longer. 

When asked what mattered most in revision stage, the authors all agreed that it was structure. Katie M. Weiland, (a.k.a. K.W.) suggests we make sure to have all the major plot points in place. To have the bones of your book be sound is crucial, because everything else is really cosmetic. She asks us to check to see if the beats play out, to look for a midpoint, to check for sign post scenes. Are the critical ones in the right spot?  Jim agreed on structure being key and pointed out that we need to make it very clear on what the character wants, what is at stake and what will stand in their way. He believes the stakes need to be "life or death" either physically or emotionally. He asks us to look at plot points and verify that there is increasing tension happening.

K.W. added that a great hack is to let your book rest. She says to walk away from it in order to gain objectivity and give yourself some space. Jim was in total agreement and feels that writers need to give themselves 3-4 weeks away from the book, and then come back to it and view it as a reader. He says that the worst thing you can do is start on page one and start crossing things out. He likes to print off a hard copy and read it as if it were somebody else’s work and not his own. He’ll then go back and make notes in the margins as he’s reading, or use symbols that let him know what should be done. He makes note of whether it’s too slow, or confusing, or where he might be tempted to put it down and stop reading. When asked about the slow spots, Jim simply wants us to ask ourselves if the scene is necessary. If it’s not...but you don’t want to kill it...he suggests we turn up the heat. He likes to use fear of any kind, and on any level. If there is even just some worry, he feels it will bring emotion to the reader and act as a hook.

Another person asked the question about whether beta readers or critique partners were actually important in the process. Jim feels that it is an extremely important part of revision in that these people can bring about a terrific objectivity that we might not have. Katie adds that this can help an author clean up a manuscript before it even goes on to an editor, which really might only give you one good clean sweep. Jim also mentioned that it is smart to have readers of your genre take a look at your book and give input as opposed to fellow writers. K.W. likes to use craft books to help her revise before going to edit. She enjoys reading screenplay books as they help with structure so much. She suggests a few including the classic “Story” by Robert McKee, as well as “The Anatomy of Story” by John Truby.

When asked how to develop characters that might be a bit one-dimensional, K.W. talked about using internal conflict as a basis, or, the conflict between a want and a need. Perhaps the character is even buying into a lie of the story theme. Jim wants us to use the element of surprise to capture the audience as it adds another layer of interest. He says to "make it unexpected" in action or dialogue. Katie Garcia likes to see evidence of wounds and old baggage which allows the reader to understand why that person might have the world view that they do. She asks us to delve into that “one bad thing” that happened to them, that makes our character think like they do, and do what they do. Another fun tip she suggests we can use on a character is to just make their life miserable.

In order to stay motivated during revision our expert authors suggest we use a calendar or simply remember to show up for work. We can train ourselves by forming good habits and sticking with them. For those who do not have a publisher or agent yet, K.W. suggests we hire a freelance editor. Right now there are a lot of legitimately good ones out there. Katie warns to do your due diligence in researching who they are for now, as anyone can say that they are an editor. K.W. is planning on compiling a list of veteran freelance editors and posting it soon on her blog. (Can't wait!)

When a viewer asked about the amount of backstory that is acceptable, and when or where to add it, Jim had a great idea. He says to use it sparingly at first and then layer it in. By rule of thumb he says that in the first 10 pages you should only allow yourself three sentences. That’s it. Then in the next 10 pages he says to allow three paragraphs. This does allow the reader to gain sympathy and empathy for the character, but he wants to see action first.

Lastly, K.W. advises we avoid “on the nose” dialogue in our books. This would be direct answers that are not surprising or exciting. Also avoid “I love you” and the like. Save the direct statements for later on where they are actually needed. The fewer found, the more impact they will have. Jim says to trim the fat and take out filler words. This is great for those writers who need to get their word count down. If it isn’t necessary, get rid of it.

If you’d like to watch the podcast online you can do so by downloading the Spreecast App. If you don’t have access to that technology you can always purchase one of the craft books that these guest authors have written. You can check out their websites and


  1. Awesome advice! I am in revision mode now, so this is a huge help. My goal is 1 chapter each week- it's not something I NaNo'd, it's just been a work in progress for a long time, and yes, structure is what it's lacking! I'm finding that reading a book on writing (Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway) as I go is keeping me motivated because the things I read keep giving me ideas for how I could improve my book. This week I learned about how to use more active voice to make your descriptions come alive.

    Thanks so much for sharing this!

  2. That's great! Thanks for sharing what you're up to and your advice as well. I'm definitely going to get a writing book now after what I've learned. The three act model is just too simple for what I've got goin on. I'll have to check that one out :)



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