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Revision: Making a Mess Less Complicated

by S.E. Jones (originally posted on

There’s a lot you can fix in a first draft. It’s why they’re first drafts. You can focus on character, world building, plot, inner cohesion, the writing, the flow, the pacing–the list goes on and on.

If you were to try and do it all at once, you’d go mad. Well I would anyway. So what to do?

The first thing I think you have to recognise is that there are things that you change which effect other things. If you change the plot, then you change the pacing. If you change the characters, you change the plot. On the other hand, changing the order of a sentence does not effect much except how the reader experiences your world (this is important, but it’s not going to cause massive changes to everything else).

You can fiddle with pacing without effecting character. You can correct for inner cohesion and extrapolate on your world building without having too much effect on everything else (this is not always true–sometimes when you change something to make sense, you realise you’ve created a massive plot hole), but it’s generally true.

I find the easiest way to approach revision is by concentrating on one thing at once. As there is no point in line editing if you’re going to delete that section of text because of a plot change, there is a certain order to these things. My plot comes from my characters (it’s just how I work), which is why my order is the way it is.

Revision order:

  1. First Draft : get everything down. figure out what I’m writing.

  2. Second Draft: revise for characters: arches, the interactions and consequences of the interactions between characters. Growth/change. Motivation.

  3. Third Draft: Plot–where are my acts, turning points, does my pacing work out, where are my scenes and sequels, do they make sense.

  4. Forth Draft: internal integrity and world building: does everything make sense, do I obey my own laws/world rules, ect.

  5. Fifth Draft: writing. Line by line stuff.

I find this approach takes what could be a very overwhelming process, and makes it far easier to handle. Some people may give pacing far more attention, some may put plot ahead of character, but again, I think the idea behind breaking it down like that still works quite well regardless of how you approach things.

Guest post contributed by S.E. Jones. S.E. is a writer and paramedic living in London. When not doing the above two things, she reads. Check out her website for more of her work.

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