Approach 1: Analyze What’s Driving Your Plot
One helpful revision technique we’ve used in the Book Revision Lab is analyzing the emotional transformation of the main characters as described in Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc by Dara Marks. While this book was originally intended for use with screenplays, it’s just as valuable for novel writing. The exercises in this book really help me think about my characters’ movement and growth within the plot and how the plot is driven by the evolution of my characters.
Approach 2: Move the Story Forward with a Reverse Outline
Another revision tactic we’ve applied is reverse outlining—creating an outline of the draft you’ve already written—to assess the effectiveness of each chapter in moving the story forward. An outline can be as simple as journal notes or a detailed spreadsheet that tracks character appearances, themes, and chapter length or word count. I find an outline an invaluable tool to help me create a visual map of my story. It forces me to zoom out and see how and where each plot point or major character development occurs without getting stuck in the line edits.
Approach 3: Read the Story Aloud
In the book Refuse to Be Done, Matt Bell suggests writers read their stories aloud. I’ve done this for small sections of my story but not the whole novel. It sounds daunting, but it’s super helpful. Reading my novel aloud forces me to slow down, making it easy to spot redundancies, grammatical errors, and clunky sentences that don’t land like you want them to.
All these revision techniques highlight continuity issues I might have missed. They’ve also reenergized my revision process. Finding new ways to revise my novel has been critical, especially as I get to the end.