Oct 28, 2014

My revision questionnaire

I'm neck-deep in revisions right now and thought I'd share a strategy that's been really helpful over the years. It's a chapter-by-chapter questionnaire to help make sure I've gotten the big-picture stuff in addition to the line edits that are so much easier to spot. This can be tailored depending on how you write and the things you tend to miss/overdo, but here are the questions I ask myself (and actually write out the answers to) after I finish editing each chapter:
  1. What is the main character's goal for this particular scene? 
  2. What is the conflict (i.e., what stands in his/her way, and where is the tension/suspense, even if it's minor/internal)?
  3. What does the reader learn from this scene? Not what sort of moral lesson, just what new, useful information does this scene impart?
  4. Does this scene really need to be here? Could I take it out without having much impact on the overall book? This is a tough one because sometimes the answer is yes and then I have to decide whether to add to the scene or just cut it.
  5. What emotion/mood am I trying to evoke with this scene? How do I want readers to feel (with the understanding that I can't control their actual reaction)?
  6. Why will readers care about this scene and the characters in it?
  7. Where is the theme? 
Number 7 involves extra prep work because you need to know your book's theme ahead of time. I never know what my theme is until I finish the first draft, but a lot of people start with a theme first. It's also a very subjective thing -- that is, other people might get a totally different theme when they read your work. Basically, try to write out a one-sentence theme for your book and make sure it's present throughout, that you're deepening it as much as possible, or at least building up pieces of it that will create a whole. Here are a couple of links about finding your theme:

Finding Theme in Your Book: An Exercise in Searching for Repeating Patterns
25 Things Writers Should Know About Theme

Once I finish answering all these questions I usually have several more (really good) ideas for improving the chapter. It forces me to think about the chapter as a cohesive whole, rather than nitpicking the words to death (which is also important, but less so in second-draft stage).

So there's my process. Hope it's somewhat helpful. It's also an evolving list, so any suggestions for things to add are welcome!

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