Novel Revision, Step Five: Add, Subtract, Unify and Decide

Yes, I know that is a particularly silly bit of wordplay.

At this point in my revision process, I sat down with scene summary, the notebook from step three, and a pen, with the manuscript on the floor beside me. If you'll notice, that meant I had two highly complementary things at my disposal:
  • an overview of the story arc, and 
  • a list of things wrong with the story.
The scene summary proved the perfect place for unifying the story structure. By adding scenes, scratching them, or modifying scene notes, I could accomplish the following:
  • Remove or change any scenes that added nothing to plot or character
  • Carry or remove plot threads that got dropped part way through the book
  • Foreshadow or remove plot threads that appeared mysteriously rather late in the book
  • Balance out suspense
After planning a couple of new scenes to strengthen the end of my book--which got shorted in the original draft due to my desire to finish in November--I brought out the notebook and started going through my list of plot problems, one at a time, making a decision on each item. Fixes for big plot level problems got worked out on the scene summary; corrections for small one-occurrence issues just got noted in the margins of the manuscript, wherever they happened.

One caveat to the process: Inconsistencies in sensory detail need their own documents. Compass directions trouble me enough in real life, so I drew some (incredibly sloppy) maps to keep my characters moving and turning in an orderly way. Likewise, time became very challenging for me because different worlds tracked it differently, so I made up a timeline. Other authors have trouble keeping track of any given character's name, hair color, arm length, hat size, etc; this may necessitate a sketch or dossier.

By the end of this step, I had a marked-up manuscript, a revised scene summary, a timeline and several maps, and an updated list of character names (pretty much everyone in my book had had some form of their personal address changed.) Everything waited in readiness for my favorite part of the process, which we'll talk about Wednesday.

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