Friday, July 11, 2014

Novel Revision 101

In the spring I taught a four-week class on novel revision. The idea for this course came while I was on a run. I was listening to Cheryl Klein and James Monohan's Narrative Breakdown podcast on Revision Techniques, and it struck me how perfect this podcast would be as a starting place for a revision class. From there I developed a course for SCBWI members who'd drafted a middle grade or young adult manuscript but weren't quite sure how to go about revision.

Those who signed up for the course received copies of Darcy Pattison's NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS and Cheryl Klein's SECOND SIGHT. Because so many already had Cheryl's book, I gave those participants Mary Kole's WRITING IRRESISTIBLE KIDLIT.
Members were paired with partners and exchanged manuscripts. They focused on big-picture changes (character growth instead of punctuation, for example) and wrote a letter to their partner which focused on three things:
  • What works
  • What needs work
  • What stuck out
Participants also wrote "letters to a sympathetic reader," a technique Cheryl Klein sometimes uses with her authors when they begin the editing process together. The sympathetic letter focuses on
  • The real thing / key ideas / effect on reader the author is aiming for
  • Where the novel started from / idea came from
  • Big ideas the author is exploring
  • The things the author loves and wants to keep
  • The things the author knows are not working
  • How the author sees their main character (their purpose, journey, etc.)
  • What the book is now and where it should be
  • Mission / vision statement for the book
A sympathetic letter helps a writer to get back in touch with their initial ideas. It can also show how ideas have changed over the course of the draft. Though partners exchanged letters, its primary function is to teach a writer about their own work.

Are you interested in improving your revision techniques? Try writing your own sympathetic letter. Listen in to the Revision Techniques podcast. Find a copy of Cheryl and Darcy's books. 

For my posts in the months ahead, I'll share quotes and links from the class on revision and story's key components, character, plot. 

Here's to strengthening your writing, friends!


  1. I have all three of these books, and they are indispensable. Caroline, you are a true mentor, helping other writers in this way.

    1. You're so kind, Michael. I feel like I benefit threefold with things like this: I love to teach, I knew the class would meet a need, and I could continue in my own learning (always so much room for growth).

  2. I don't have Darcy's book! I will have to add it to my library. Good info from YOU, though, Caroline.

    1. It really is great, especially when paired with Cheryl ' s more theoretical look at writing.

  3. A few years ago I took a webinar that Cheryl Klein taught. It was fantastic!!

    1. I've always wanted to take a class with her. She's such a fount of knowledge.

  4. I love Cheryl Klein and Second Sight! Thanks for the heads up on Narrative Breakdown. I've got it on my podcast lineup now.

    1. Hope you enjoy! It really is a fabulous program.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!