Back in the day, I thought revising meant reading the thing over and making sure everything was spelled right, grammatically correct, and that the main character’s hair never accidentally changed color. Ha! Those were the days… I’m in the middle of revising the twelfth Kitty novel, Kitty in the Underworld, based on editorial notes. Here’s what I’m doing, without any details to avoid spoilers. It’ll give you an idea of what constitutes a serious, in-depth revision.
- I’m moving the end of Chapter 2 to the end of Chapter 1. Thematically, the same thing is happening, and this way the story won’t have to switch gears, then switch back again.
- I’m adding a scene to the end of Chapter 1, a great big bombshell of a plot coupon. In the earlier draft, the first three chapters mostly described the series’ status quo as of the end of the previous book, Kitty Rocks the House. This is one of the pitfalls of writing the twelfth book in the series: I’m trying to re-introduce characters, remind the readers what’s been going on, etc. But it’s actually kind of long and boring to read. So let’s follow good novel writing rules and do something early that actually changes things and starts the plot off with a big push.
- This Very Bad Thing I’ve added will influence absolutely everything that follows. The novel’s main plot starts in Chapter 3, and this Very Bad Thing has the added bonus of making the main plot that much more critical and suspenseful. Note that none of the comments I got from my editor or my beta reader suggested adding a Very Bad Thing happening in the first chapter. I got notes that the whole book needs more drama, that the stakes and motivation aren’t clear, and that the opening is a little slow. I decided that having something bad in the first chapter will fix a bunch of the more vague problems my readers pointed out, in one fell swoop.
- Previously, Chapter 2 was a bunch of people sitting around talking about the status quo. Now, it’s a serious meeting about what to do about the Very Bad Thing that happens in Chapter 1. Note, I’ll also be reminding my readers of the status quo from the previous book by having my characters discuss the new situation in contrast with the old. Now this scene is doing more than one thing plot-wise, which is a big improvement.
- And that’s about as far as I’ve gotten right now, but as I’ve said, the changes I’ve already made are going to have consequences for the rest of the book, so I need to go over the manuscript carefully to make sure those ripples make it all the way through the story.
This is heavy, tedious, slogging work. Not the glamorous side of writing at all. Rewriting entire chapters kind of sucks. I sometimes feel like I’m breaking the whole book to pieces and I’ll never be able to put it back together again. Reviewing the manuscript to examine how one big change affects every other aspect of the story is intensely tedious. But I do it, because I know it’s going to make the book better.
Here’s the really tricky bit: the manuscript was probably okay the way it was. A lot of cool stuff happens. My beloved characters are doing what they do, and the readers who’ve been with me throughout the series would probably like the old version just fine. But you know what? It can be better. I can make it better. I don’t want to put out an “okay” book. I don’t want a book that makes my readers think, “Oh, that was nice.” I want them to think, “Holy shit, that was amazing!” I want a brand new reader who’s never read any of my work to read this book and think, “Wow, I ought to check out the rest of the series.” I don’t want to put out a competent book, I want to put out a great book.
And that’s why the slog is worth it. (But I seriously need a big pot of hot tea and some good music to get me through it…)