Revision Checklist

I’m in the middle of revising my second novel as I write this.  While my process for writing a first draft is still a work in progress, my revision process is coming into its own.  I have a confession to make.  I LOVE revision.  First drafts are hard.  Overwhelming.  There are hundreds of blank pages to be filled.  It’s scary.

But with revision, I already have a book to work with.  I get to play with concepts, characters, plot points and themes.  I’m going to lay out my own revision checklist with all the usual disclaimers:  this is what works for me. Feel free to discard, expand upon or ignore any or all of it.  And please share what works for you.

1.       1.The Outline:  I don’t usually use an outline when writing the first draft, but I always do one immediately after the first draft is written.  Instead of reading through the entire first draft, I do a skim-through, creating a separate document that will become my map for big picture revisions.  I create a table, with a row for each chapter, a column describing (in 1-3 short sentences) the major plot points/scenes in the chapter, and a column for notes of things that I already know need to be added (more setting details, conflict or character development).  

Chapter 1
Short description of action/scenes in chapter in 2-3 short sentences
Notes for revisions
Chapter 2
Short description of action/scenes in chapter in 2-3 short sentences
Notes for revisions

2.            2.  The Big Picture Plotting Revision:  Now that the outline is done, I read through the scene descriptions in order, to see how the story flows from a plotting standpoint.  Does the story build to a climax?  Are the major plot points resolved?  What about subplots?  Do they carry through the entire novel?  Do major characters disappear for long stretches?  Are their chapters or scenes that aren’t moving the story forward?  The outline takes up less than two pages and it’s much less intimidating than a 300 page book.  I’m also a visual learner, and the outline really helps me visualize the plot trajectory of the book.  At this stage I look for scenes that need to be cut or rewritten, and also look for scenes that are missing or need to be added.  I then add rows for new chapters or scenes and describe them in bold, so I know I still need to write them.  I cut scenes that aren’t working and add new suggested scenes within the outline, until I have a plot that I’m happy with.  This is all done is broad strokes within the two page outline, and saves me having to actually cut or revise scenes until I’m satisfied with the big picture.

3.              3.  Plot Revision-Back to the Manuscript:  Now that I’m comfortable with the plotting, I go back into the manuscript and make the revisions I’ve noted in the outline.  I add scenes in the places noted , and take out any scenes slated for cutting. 

4.             4.   Pacing/Conflict Revision:  Now that I’ve done a big picture plotting revision and gotten the plot/scenes that I want in the book, I scale back to a scene by scene revision for conflict and pacing.  I’ve described the process as revising for suspense here.   I use the outline again, but this time, I create a new column next to each chapter where I identify 2-3 conflicts for each scene.  Now I revise the chapter with those conflicts in mind and make sure that there are some setbacks and tension builds in each individual scene.

5.              5.  Setting Revision:  Now that the scenes are working from an overall plot and tension standpoint I go through the entire book to add sensory details in each scene.  My rough drafts are usually dialogue heavy and sparse on descriptions.  If you write a lot of descriptive passages, you might want to take out some setting details.  In either case, this is a great time to look for ways to use setting to emphasize themes or add tension to the scene.

6.             6.   What the MC is thinking Revision:  I write in first person, but that doesn’t mean that the reader knows what the main character is thinking in every scene.  I go through each scene and look for ways to give clues to the main character’s reaction, whether it’s through thoughts, actions or physical reactions.  A little telling is sometimes beneficial here, if used sparingly.  This is one of the last revisions I do, and I always love the book so much more after this one.  It will add depth to your characters and story.

7.                7.  Line edits:  Now we’re getting into minutia.  I try to do line edits as I go through each scene in the prior revisions, but now is the time to use the find function on your word processor to look for overused words and descriptions, eliminate passive voice (not all-just what doesn’t need to be there) and cut back on gratuitous adverbs and adjectives.  This a great time to think about first lines, dialogue tags and make your characters sing.  This also the place for the big read through.  I read the entire manuscript through from beginning to end, on paper, making edits with a pencil.

8.             8.   Send to trusted readers:  This part of the process can’t be skipped.  A reader who you trust to be honest and give constructive feedback is priceless.  This could be a critique partner, an agent, a family member or friend.  I rely on other writers (hi Muses) because I know I will get more than a vague I liked or didn’t like something, and they will point out plot holes, pacing and voice issues that I am too close to see (or have been avoiding).  Some writers only want the criticism; they want to know what needs to be fixed.  I need readers who will point out what is working as well.  I don’t know about you, but I am a fragile, needy writer who constantly seeks validation.  And I know I can trust my readers to encourage me as well as help me improve the story.  Listen to the feedback, but keep it in perspective.  You can't please everyone all the time.  Trust your gut and your vision, but accept what rings true.

9.              9.  Repeat:   With valuable feedback in hand, the process starts again.  The only exception is that I think it’s important to have a new set of trusted readers when you get back to step 8.  This is especially true if you had plotting or pacing issues the first time around.  You need fresh eyes who won’t be influenced by what they’ve read before.

That’s my process.  Of course it’s all subject to revision.


So glad to hear that someone else loves revision as much as I do!! It's my favourite. Your ideas are great too. Good luck with it!

I'm with you. I love revisions, but not so fond of writing the first draft (which I'm currently working on).

Great check list. I'm definitely going to be referring this, though I get to skip part one. I am an outliner. :D

Very helpful! This will come in handy when I tackle my NaNo novel. :)

Wendy and Stina, so glad to hear that others love revision. It's the reward for getting that first draft out there. Pam, Best of luck on your own revisions.

I love your revision process! It's very thorough. I have a five step process that is similar in many ways.

Awesome checklist. I'm not that organized when I revise my stories.

What a great process. I love the idea of the chart. I'm going to be making one as soon as I can. Thanks for the tips.

This is a terrific idea starter. I'll be bookmarking this and following it, once I get through that dreaded first draft!

I love this plan, lovelove. I'm following it and blogging my progress. It's exactly the approach I needed, thank you!

Amie, I'm going to your blog to check out how its going. So glad the process is working for you!

Really love this methodology. Printing it out for future reference.
Thanks so much!

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