How I Write: Step 7 – The Second Revision

So now you’ve completed a book, and people have read it. If you are phenomenally lucky, even your harshest critics will think you’ve done a wonderful job and you’ll be good to go. If you are normal, people will have observations/problems which may need to be addressed. And that means you’ll need to do a second revision.

The Hardware

No new hardware for this one.

The Software

Likewise, no new software. You’ve already revised once, this is the same deal, just with feedback from people besides you.

The Content

For the second revision, you’ll have notes from beta readers to contend with. The first thing you’ll want to do is gather and classify them. Beta readers can identify all sorts of things, and addressing them can have varied amounts of priority. Here’s my personal ranked list.

Most important: Plot Holes

I hate when plot holes make it through to the main story. Some of them can seem very minor. (How did that guy get his sword back after he dropped it?) Others are utterly gaping. (That character died in the last book and saves the day in this one with no comment or mention from the other characters.) So you’ll want to make sure you address every single one of these before moving on to other proposed fixes. Frequently, the solution is as simple as adding a sentence foreshadowing or explaining it. Sometimes you’ll need to restructure your story. Seal these up, though. They ruin the story for the reader and really hurt your review score.

Very Important: Pacing Problems

I almost always have to deal with at least a few pacing issues. These come up when you have, for example, two or three chapters in a row without any action or plot advancement. You might feel like you’re heaping on some delightful character development, but if it doesn’t feel important or if it’s too much too quickly, you can bore your readers. Less dedicated readers might even abandon the book entirely. So if something’s too slow, consider whittling it down a bit or mixing in something exciting in the center.

Similarly, sometimes you can end up with—oh, I don’t know—200 pages of solid climax. That sort of thing can be hard to follow and can exhaust a reader. Better to space it out or trim it down. Another common problem I run into is the tendency to rush the ending, either very quickly resolving the final conflict or leaving an awful lot of dangling plot threads. These can be solved with a revised climax and/or a nice long epilogue. I love me a nice epilogue.

Somewhat Important: Character Consistency

It’s a bit misleading to put this at a reduced priority compared to the other two, but that’s just because very frequently fixing plot holes will fix character problems. What we’re dealing with here is when your characters act… out of character. Do you have someone who is afraid of heights striding confidently across the top of a cliff? Do you have a dimwitted character using some serious vocabulary? Did a kind person act viciously cruel or vice versa? In any of these situations, that could be an intended element of plot. But if your beta readers felt it was out of character, double check to see that you’ve properly set up the evolution or motivation.

Also, a very different problem with a similar name, make sure you’ve got the right character names. Shameful as it may seem, often at least once in a story I’ll swap the names of who characters for a whole conversation, which can really throw the reader into a spiral of confusion.

Low Priority: Wish Fulfillment, Recommendations

This happens most often with ascended fans who are doing your beta reading, but sometimes people wish things had gone another way. Bob and Alice should realize they’re in love. Evil K. Villainpants should be humiliated before he’s defeated. Worrywart Sadsack should get a chance to be a butt kicker.

You’ve got to be careful with these. Sometimes they are a great idea, but they need to be a really great idea to derail your story for its inclusion. Which brings up an important point. Don’t feel obligated to incorporate every opinion. The most vocal and consistent of my beta readers (you know who you are) almost inevitably gets into a debate with me about a minor plot point. Sometimes that point is valid and I eventually address it. Other times that point is addressed in five other places across the book and earlier books in the series and doesn’t require any adjustment. It’s important to be willing to accept criticism and admit faults, but it’s just as important to remember that it’s your story to tell and sometimes things are going to be subtler, or more chaotic, or gentler, or rougher, or a dozen other things than the reader is expecting.

Once you address all the changes that need changing, if you’re very lucky, you might be able to hand it back for another round with the beta readers. Don’t bet on this. Unless you’ve got world-class beta readers or a very long timeline, you might just have to settle with re-reading the adjusted chunks of the story on your own before moving on to the next stage. The exception is if a sweeping and massive change to the story is made, possibly due to a glaring plot hole that makes the rest of the plot unresolvable. If you re-write enough story for it to basically be a whole new story, it might be worth doing a full, beta-tested third revision. If not, brace yourself, because next up you send it to the editor.

Leave a Reply