This series details how I write and revise. Every step is based on how I work and what my drafts look like. It’s very likely that not all these steps will jibe with your way of working. It’s even possible that you will not be able to use even a single step here, though if that’s the case, you’ve learned quite a few new ways that don’t work for you. That’s progress in itself!
I recommend you to read through the guide to get a feeling for it before you start using it, since part of what I like with my process is the division of tasks. For me, it’s easier to go through a section several times, with different focus for each time, than to catch everything in a single go.
My first draft is generally cohesive with only minor changes in plot/motivations, but sparse in details. I occasionally joke that I can do scenery, dialogue or character motivation, but not two at the same time. So, if your 1st draft is a jumbled mess of changing point of views, changing directions, you’ll probably need to start at a different step. This doesn’t mean that either of our technique is superior/inferior, it’s just recognising that you use different techniques for painting with oil compared to water colour.
I tend to adhere to a three-act-structure, with mapped out plot points and character arcs, though before I start I only have a vague idea on the high and low points. This article by K.M. Weiland simplifies the plot points, and that (along with a general idea on where the characters are going) tends to be where I start my first draft. It often also changes, but I can be almost certain that the points I set as "plot points" do happen. They just might end up a lot less important than I originally imagined.
I generally do a close PoV, so any steps about the point of view assumes that it’s not omniscient, or shallow. This includes both character voices (as in dialogue) and narrative voices (as in how they perceive their world).
Beta readers are, in my opinion, key to any author. They’re a nice check, and you can use them at almost any stage, as long as you clarify which stage you’re at, and what you’re wanting out of the beta reading. I feel that you should aim for 2-3 rounds of beta readers before querying, and that it’s a good idea to get a diverse group. This is especially true if your story includes marginalized characters; try to get people who belong to the particular group(s) (if you don’t) to give input.
Each of these steps can be repeated, obviously. Some even have a built-in loop. I do them in this order because, to me, that’s most logical. You do you!
I’ve divided the steps into three different sections.
- Writing. After this section you should have all the scenes you need in place, and every scene should be useful and add to the story
- Narrative. This goes through point of view, consistency and pacing. You should have a compelling, coherent story after that section
- Language. The icing on the cake, with themes, motifs, narrative voice and, yes, spelling/grammar
- Words on paper, aka "First Draft"
- First read-through, removing scenes that don’t add to the story you’re wanting to tell
- For each story/character arc, evaluate what scenes are missing. Decide approximate length and see how the story needs to be rebalanced in terms of word count
- For each scene, evaluate the scene/sequel structure and ensure the goals (note, not character goals) of the scene are met
- Fix errors in consistency, such as foreshadowing, timeline faults or factual errors
- For each character, ensure consistency in their reaction and development, both for those with a clear character arc and those without
- Evaluate scenes on paragraph level, with point-of-view limitations and Motivation-Reaction Units, including expanding senses
- Pacing, which is on a scene level but going into paragraphs/sentences for rhythm and balance
- Chapter/Act division, which looks at getting your scenes in order, and your arbitrary story-divisions set up, with hooks in the beginning/end
- Evaluate and expand on themes and motifs
- For each character, evaluate their dialogue, sentence by sentence
- For each point of view, ensure their narrative voice is appropriate
- Examine the difference in the scenes to see how the language should change
- Remove filter words
- Spelling- and grammar check. Hemingway app is nice for language structure suggestions
- Repeat step 3 from the Narrative, keeping in mind the pacing from step 4
- How to minimise the hurt you spread with your words
- Evaluate the rhythm on each unit (word/sentence/etc)