Friday, December 30, 2011

Revision strategies – A Chapter Worksheet

Now that 2012 is upon us and the holidays are nearly over, I’m ready to get back into some serious writing. I spent the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas revising my middle grade science fiction adventure, so I decided to share some things I’ve learned now that I’ve been through extensive revision processes with my first two books. For this one, I wanted to approach it more systematically than I have in the past, in hopes that it would make the process easier and I wouldn’t end up like the poor writer in the photo.

Once I have a draft I’m fairly happy about, I go back and revise by chapters, trying to ensure each chapter holds together as a unit itself and adds to the story as a whole. The chapter checklist below is something I came up with to make sure I’m not missing anything in a particular chapter. It works well for my type of plot-based stories, but I’d be curious to see how others writing more character-focused stories approach the process.

So here’s my worksheet for each chapter:

1. Chapter # ___

2. Chapter length in pages____

3. What event makes the plot move forward?

4. Which new characters are introduced and what does reader learn about them?
      a. if the goal is to make the reader like the character, how is this achieved?
      b. if the goal is to make the reader dislike the character, how is this achieved?
      c. if the goal is to leave the reader unsure about the character, how is this achieved?

5. How are existing characters or character relationships developed?

6. Is there backstory? Is it woven into the action? (avoiding the dreaded information dump!)

7. Worldbuilding/Setting details-What senses are used to describe setting?

8. How is the theme developed?*

      a. External conflict – what actions/information add to the theme?

      b. Internal conflict-how do the characters change/develop?

9. Chapter ending-why would reader want to continue to the next chapter?

*My main goal is to tell a good story, but I’ve come to realize by reading some of the reviews of my books that my themes may not be obvious enough. By trying not to hit the reader over the head with the message, I’ve sometimes gone too far in the other direction and made it too hard to recognize there is a theme. I’m still trying to find the right balance of theme development without ruining the pacing of the story.

How does this compare to your revision methods? Any other tips you’d like to add?

~ Dee Garretson


  1. That's a great summary checklist for chapters! I'm definitely going to use this. I especially like the question about using the senses. It's something I often overlook when revising; I'll focus on only one of the senses, and not fully flesh out the scene. Thanks!

  2. This is definitely going into my "how to revise" file. I particularly like the questions in #4. I write my first drafts pretty cluelessly, so it's a surprise when my critique group say things like "I'm not liking your MC," when I like the MC a lot. #4 will really get me to thinking about the needed "effects" that go into making a likeable, unlikeable,or a character you're just not sure about.

    Thanks for the insight into your process, Dee, and a Happy new Year to you.

  3. This is a very analytical approach! I admire anybody who can tackle the writing process this way. My first drafts are all pantstered -- and while I try to be a little more organized during the revision process, I can't claim to anything as precise as this.

    One thing that I *have* found helpful: Making an outline of the existing draft and highlighting the main plot and all subplots in different colors so I can see how they blend together and balance each other.

    For example: If the main plot is yellow and the romance is pink -- and my outline is awash in solid pink for a big section with no hint of yellow -- then I know I need to re-arrange events.

  4. Dawn, I'm the same way about the senses which is why I need to remind myself about them. I finally realized why I love certain books and it's because of how much all the senses are used in the worldbuilding.

    Michael, I know one of the main comments from editors and agents is that they don't particularly like the main character, and I think it's because writers see their characters so clearly in their heads, they don't realize they aren't getting a complete image out there.

  5. Like others, I admire you for being able to do this type of revision, but it is too detailed for my methodology. Revision for me is more wholistic and I go about it in a less structured way. I *tried* a more focused approach like this once, but it took me out of the flow I need to be in and slowed things downs immensely. However, I will say that some of your questions I ask myself throughout revision. Good post, Dee.

  6. Oh, wow! What a great idea! Revising to me always feels like taking an old broken tape recorder apart or something. Then I'm sitting there with all the pieces scattered around and have to figure out how to get it back together again. I usually:

    1. Tackle line edits first - easy changes like word repetition or cuts for each chapter.
    2. Figure out the big picture stuff and jot notes to myself, then start at the beginning and just read/revise the way through. I keep a separate word document open, so when I cut large amounts of text it's right there if I need it again.
    3. While I"m revising, I jot a short list of thing that come to mind that I can do at the end.
    4. Then, once I'm done, I read through again to make sure everything flows.

    I actually love revising - much more than drafting, actually - so it's a fun process for me!

  7. Oh my GOSH...LOVE THIS. er, sorry bout the shouting. Needless to say I don't have much of a chap by chap revision method. Thanks for this, Dee!

    Happy New Year to all you Project Mayhem-ers!

  8. This is so timely for me. Consider it officially bookmarked.

  9. I love your analytical, checklist, approach to revisions especially that you check your world building through the medium of the senses.
    Happy New Year to you all.

  10. Awesome! This is something I really need! Thanks, Dee


  11. This is great, Dee. I think this is so helpful to so many writers (including me)!! Thanks so much for posting this. :)

  12. It is fun to see how differently writers approach revision. Happy New Year, all!

  13. Thanks for the tips, Dee! I'm with Marissa--I LOVE revising, much more so than cranking out that first draft. Revising is a much more rewarding process for me, as I can FINALLY see the manuscript pulling together in a way that's just not there in the drafting process.

    I especially like tip #9. With young readers, those cliffhanger chapter endings--or something intriguing that makes them want to read on--is so important, especially for the readers with short attention spans :)

    Great post!

  14. THIS IS EXCELLENT! Thanks so much for this!! You have no idea how much I needed this breakdown!

  15. Awesome! Thanks for sharing, Dee! :-)


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!