Revising a novel is always tricky…cut too much and you lose something of the spirit, leave the material as it is and old structural problems remain.   A few thoughts on the matter:

  • If a scene or character seems utterly believable to you, keep it.  At the same time, take advice on how to improve the section in question.
  • When faced with huge amounts of back story, compromise rather than cut.  Some scenes are more important than others.  Some aren’t that important at all.  Can the story progress without the scene?  If not, keep. 
  • Always remember to make a note of the small changes along the way and to implement them in the manuscript as you go along.  For example, maybe you’ve shifted a scene to a different day.
  • Keep a written list of story questions nearby to prevent the material from losing focus.
  • If more than five people suggest that a scene isn’t working, remove the scene.
  • Before cutting material, place it in a spare file in case you need to retrieve the deleted scene.  (This is crucial.  See also article on backing up work.)
  • If you can, read the story out loud to get a sense of the rhythm.
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8 thoughts on “The Balancing Act

  1. Thanks for this post! Something I struggle with in the opening chapters still (even though I am querying my first novel now). Reading out loud has helped me most I think. And printing a hard copy – something about reading holding it in my hands makes me see things clearer.

  2. Lawrence, it is really hard to find your blog – can you add your blog URL to your avatar so that we can click on your name and arrive here? Please feel free to remove this post. Jennifer

  3. Hi jennifer,

    It sounds like we’re at similar stages in the writing.

    I’m still new to WordPress and slightly unsure about some of the features like the URL and avatar stuff. Just spent about forty-five minutes trying to alter the URL setting – hopefully, the change will become obvious in a few moments.

  4. Lawrence,

    I’ve just found Nathan Bransford’s revision checklist on his blog, but you’ve covered some valuable points, too. I think I’m going to merge your list with his to keep it by my side as I roll through my middle draft. 😉

    Thanks!
    Teresa

  5. Hey to you, Lawrenceez, and welcome to the world of WordPress.

    First, thanks for stopping by my blog and for your comment! : )

    I’ll add you to my blogroll so more writers find your blog.

    Your advice is spot on — especially with backstory. I *love* backstory, but it really is a delicate balance between backstory, and forwarding the plot.

    As I’ve been querying my second novel, I’ve had different agents’ feedback on the subject. One agent felt the backstory stalled the plot progression, while another found it (backstory mostly being the mc’s thoughts) quite hilarious and necessary.

    Again, it’s a balance — not enough of one or too much of the other and the agents get prickly.

    Em

  6. Hi leftywritey,

    I agree. It’s interesting that two separate agents can have completely different opinions on the same topic. I’ve seen similar occur in writer groups – some members will love a particular character or theme while others won’t. Thoughts and feelings can run high on both sides.

    Thanks for commenting and offering to place my site on your blogroll (still haven’t figured out how to do anything like that.)

    All the best with your writing,

    lawrenceez

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