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What Strategies Do You Follow to Revise Your Novel?

Revision strategies by Sathya Achia

Revisions are a nightmare as far as I’m concerned, but of course there are strategies to make them less daunting. In the life cycle of a book, revisions play a vital role: all the loopholes are found, the character arcs streamlined, the horrors of missed words and phrases banished.

To give us a few strategies for revisions, we have with us today Sathya Achia, a bestselling author of South Asian descent who creates stories of adventure and discovery for picture book, middle grade, and young adult readers.

Here are her revision strategies. Take it away, Sathya!


At long last, you’ve finished that draft! After years of pouring your blood, sweat, and tears into creating a world of unforgettable characters, plot twists, high stakes, and settings like no other, you’re ready to unlock that next level: the revision!

Many writers dread the revision process. I did, too, until I experienced the manuscript glow-up—the evolution of my words and story after taking it through the revision process. I learned that story magic comes from examining your story through a fresh lens, consulting with your critique partners or editors, and molding it into the best version it can be.

Through revision, I’ve found the heart and soul of my stories. By no means is this an easy task, but by breaking the process into digestible chunks, you can create your own plan to polish your work.

While there are many ways to take on the revision process, below what works for me and hope it will give you some ideas of your own and a more optimistic approach to taking on revisions.

Get ready for the revision rumble…

  1. TAKE A STEP BACK: While you may want to take the plunge and start work immediately on your revisions mere moments after you completed that last page, it’s important to take time away from your draft. Begin your review after taking a few weeks away from the manuscript because it’s your best chance to gain some clarity. This allows you to approach your work from a fresh perspective—almost experiencing like a reader would—which will give you the chance to respond constructively to your pages and/or any critique partner or editor feedback you may have received, rather than react impulsively. Most of all, go easy on yourself—expect mistakes, plot holes, character issues, and more.

 

  1. CREATE A PLAN: Once you’ve taken a sufficient break away from your manuscript, move through your draft one page at a time. This doesn’t necessarily mean from beginning to end—for some writers, this may be starting at the end and moving backward through the draft. For others, this may be focusing on specific chapters you already know you need to work on. During this stage, I tend to print out my manuscript, stock up on colorful sticky notes, highlighters, and pens, and have at it. Others may prefer the use of tracked changes or other digital approaches of review. Do what works for you.

 

Before you dive in, consider the various ways you’ll delve into the draft in front of you. This may include several reviews of the following:

–Overall story: The overall story is the ‘big picture’—structure, plot, timeline, story flow and feel. Identify global issues. This review entails many of the subpoints and elements mentioned in the “Read + Take Notes” section (scroll down).

–Each scene: As you read, ensure each moment is well-crafted and the story moves forward with well-established pacing and character development. Everything and everyone included should have a purpose and take the reader in the right direction and deeper into the story.

–Each page: Once the heavy lifting of developmental self-edits are complete, comb through each paragraph and sentence for structure, word choices, and punctuation.

 

  1. GET ORGANIZED: I use a spreadsheet/worksheet (see below) to help me stay organized and keep track of the areas in need of my attention. When I’m organized in this way, I feel less overwhelmed with the process because I can see my plan of action which makes the revision process more manageable. Generally, I track myself using four columns: FEEDBACK, CHAPTER #, PAGE #, and SOLUTION. You can add or subtract columns or color-code items based on your needs and approach, but I’ve found that this is what works best for me.

 

The FEEDBACK column includes a note on the edit point in question; CHAPTER + PAGE numbers are included so I can easily locate the area(s) when needed; and SOLUTION is where I propose any ideas to overcome the issue(s) identified in the FEEDBACK section and will help trigger a reminder of how I can update or clarify the passage for readers. I do this in addition to making notes in the margins of the manuscript itself—again, it’s what works for me.

My spreadsheet allows me to keep tabs on each piece of the story as I receive feedback from critique partners or editors.

  1. READ + TAKE NOTES: As you begin on revisions and read through your pages, ask yourself about the following story elements below:

 

–Story set-up: Think of this as the space between the story’s hook and the inciting event and will be what makes the inciting event matter. Here you’ll take readers into your world, introduce key characters, and show what’s at stake.

    • Is it obvious whose story it is?
    • What’s your protagonist’s motivation?
    • Can readers get oriented in your world (fairly) quickly?

 

–Plot, setting, pacing, and timeline: Search for any discrepancies or inconsistencies in time sequences, places, character details, etc. Although you’re focused on these story elements, keep focused on your story’s protagonist because it’s the protagonist who’s in the driver’s seat moving the entire plot forward. The story will not move forward if your character is aimlessly milling around. Be sure to have them endure conflict and opposition as they move toward their goals. 

Does too much time pass between critical turning points? Too much time between important scenes can slow a story down for readers, so keep things moving. While doing your revisions, think of a way to connect those scenes more closely if possible. 

TIP: Critique partners and beta readers can help fine tune plot, pacing, and timeline, by highlighting for you what they see areas needing more)

Tension + conflict. A story needs to hold the reader’s interest and can be accomplished by increasing both tension and conflict. Conflict comes from the opposing goals among your various characters and the challenges, disagreements, and difficulty built into these relationships. Additionally, subplots in novels can delve into the complexities of characters outside of the story’s main storyline and can add emotional layers to help the story progress further and adds to the tension that keeps the reader turning the pages.

TIP: I often use a character worksheet to really get inside the head of each character. This helps me fully understand their wants, needs, desires, and motivations. I jot down everything about a character, but there are some key points I like to make clear for myself as I develop them. I imagine their past (places they have been, things they have done) and their present (things they like to do, what scares them, what they want to accomplish, hidden talents, musical tastes, fave foods, most treasured possession, what motivates them, biggest secret, etc.). Again, there are many ways to approach this and I ask myself the questions in my character worksheets when I first create my characters. During the process of revisions, I go back to these worksheets to ensure I’m on track.

I constantly ask myself what it is that my protagonist fears the most if they don’t succeed. Knowing what really makes a character tick and what’s at risk is a great way to understand how they deal with failure or a challenge ahead of them. Building on the failures of your protagonist is an opportunity to show growth as they face multiple challenges and cope with the consequences. It makes for an excellent revision technique.

–Character development. While character development is particularly important for your protagonist—you should ensure all your characters are dynamic and relatable. If I find issues with any of my characters, I revert to my original worksheets to see if there is an area that I may have overlooked and review how they move through my story, ensuring I’m staying as true as can be in action and word for the character. Through these worksheets, I gain a deeper understanding of the individuals in my story. Understanding motivations, fears, and secrets for each character can really elevate their story and arc.

    • Are they relatable? Believable?
    • What’s their motivation?
    • Are there characters you could make more relatable?
    • Are there areas you’ve identified to layer in more emotion?

TIP: When I have issues with character development, I revisit my character worksheets.

–Ensure that dialogue is working in your story in all the right ways. It can be used to do several different things for the story, including advancing the plot, revealing character, showing conflict/tension, or providing important information. Make sure you use dialogue in a purposeful way and make sure it’s clear who is speaking. Other things to check:

    • Does the dialogue sound natural?
    • Is there too much dialogue in parts?
    • Is there too much description or exposition?

 

–Ending: At the end of your story, you want to leave the reader with a lasting impression. Two key elements to key in mind: make it satisfying and believable! There are several ways to close out your story, and you’ll have to explore which is right for what you’ve created. Maybe you wish to leave readers guessing with an open-ended ending; or you want to bring them full-circle (ending the story where you began). There are ‘happily ever-after’ endings, or you may want to keep your readers wondering what’s going to happen next (especially, in stories that are a series) with a cliffhanger ending. Whichever path you take, when you’ve completed the story, ask yourself: Did I create a satisfying ending and was it believable?

  1. ENLIST CRITIQUE PARTNERS: Once you’ve had the chance to digest your work, it’s a good idea to share it with a few trusted individuals in your writing circle who can provide constructive feedback and know a thing or two about what it takes to write a story. You can ask them to focus on certain aspects of your work or on areas you felt were lacking in your story. They’ll help you to further mold and massage your story.

 

Keep writing and Happy revising.

——-

When not spinning stories, Sathya can be found exploring the great outdoors, traveling the world, or wrapped up in her greatest adventure of all: Motherhood.

Visit her website: sathyaachia.com or find her on Instagram and TikTok @sathyaachiawrites or on Twitter @SathyaAchiaAbra

 

ABOUT IN MY HANDS:

Sathya’s debut YA fantasy-adventure novel, In My Hands, has the action and adventure of Tomb Raider, the heart of Wonder Woman, and is steeped in South Indian folklore. It’s ideal for fans of the Aru Shah and Percy Jackson series.

 


My literary crime novel, The Blue Bar is on Kindle Unlimited now. Add it to Goodreads or snag a copy to make my day. The sequel, The Blue Monsoon is on Goodreads, and now out in the world! Signed copies are available in these independent bookstores. And if you’d like to read a book outside the series, you can check out You Beneath Your Skin.  Find all info about my books here or on Linktree.

The blue monsoon the blue bar


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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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4 Comments

  • pennyfrances says:

    I agree with the previous comment, I enjoy revising more than the pulling teeth exercise that the first draft often feels like. I like to think of the first draft as the clay from which I’m going to make a beautifully crafted pot (thought there will probably be at least 3 more pots before I get there. Useful to have Sathya’s tips – they are broadly similar to my approach, but always new things to try. And seeking BETA readers/critiques from beyond my immediate circle is what I want to do with my current novel (just embarking on draft 2). I realise I should have done this a lot sooner with my novel that was eventually published, but took 5 or so years, manyb rejections and 3 revisions from first sending out. I think I could have save time by seeking external feedback sooner.

    • DamyantiB says:

      That’s such a lovely way of looking at it, Penny. It’s nice to think that every pot/story draft gets a little bit better with each new version, before finally becoming exactly what we imagined it to look like. I’m glad you found Sathya’s advice useful, and thank you for stopping by! Best of luck with your new novel!

  • cleemckenzie says:

    It’s interesting that this part of the writing process is dreaded by so many. I love this stage. It’s as if I only have two horses to control not an entire team, and I can focus on how to deepen and strengthen the story. It’s tht first draft that drives me bonkers.

    • DamyantiB says:

      Thanks for sharing! Interesting analogy, I can see where you’re coming from. It does feel good to be able to go over what’s already there, instead of focusing on churning out words and getting the story on the page. I must say, though, that the entire writing process probably drives me a little bit bonkers!