Revision: Taking A Step Back


Image result for image person asking help

Have you ever been asked to read a friend’s manuscript, and, well, their work was borderline horrible? But that friend is so clueless that he/she thinks it’s PERFECT and is honestly thinks a movie deal will be offered any day now?

Well I’ve been that friend. My first drafts were horrible. In fact, I didn’t even know they were drafts. I thought I had a final product. And I thought I had a GOOD final product.

After the first pieces of feedback, I got busy rewording a few things here and there, changed a description or two. What I didn’t realize is I was waaaay off the mark in what needed to be fixed. It wasn’t a matter of copy edits. It was the story overall needed some attention. “Revision” was something that needed to sit tight while bigger issues were figured out.

Here’s what I wish helpful folks would have told me:

Dear Bitsy,

Thank you for the chance to review your manuscript. It’s a charming concept with some wonderful moments. But it needs a bit of work.

A book is a story, a destination. HOW you tell the story is almost more important than WHAT the story is. Both need to be solid.

A simple question to ask yourself is: My books is about _______ but underneath it’s about ________. Wanting to dance, for example, is really a story about wanting to find a partner, or wanting to belong. Knowing what your character wants is what your story is about.

I think it might help if you start out with a commonly-used formula: This is a story about (name main character) who more than anything wants/fears (identify desire) but can’t get it because (list <ideally three> obstacles standing in her way) until (climax or resolution).

It might take you a week to figure these out; don’t just write the first, things that pop into your head. Really think it through.

Then create an outline. Don’t just rewrite what you’ve already got.

Stare at the outline. Rewrite it until it’s exactly what you want to write about. Then, write out and explain the beginning, the middle and the end, in a few sentences each. There needs to be a “problem” that the main character tries to fix, twice, before trying something new/different a third time, when she finds a solution. The successful way it was figured out is typically based on what she learned from the first two tries.

Otherwise you’re changing a little here, a little there, and the story starts to unravel because eventually the end of the book no longer reflects the original purpose/thought/storyline. Changing sentence #4 can change sentence 47 which means sentence 11 needs changing, etc, etc, until you’re running around in circles.

You need to look at it from the big picture. Fixing commas and apostrophes are the least of your worries right now. If you’ve got an outline, you have a better frame of reference on how slight changes can affect the whole story. You’ll have less to rework in the end.

The story needs to follow what’s called a “story arc.” (Google it and you’ll see graphs and explanations.) What is the main problem? Is it addressed from the start, or do you only learn of it as as it’s being fixed? Tell us early on, so we are committed and ready to join the main character on her journey.

I know there are exceptions to the rules of the formula (above, in italics), but it’s the most effective way to clean up a story or storyline in order to get published. It’s a tough market out there and publishers only want the very best of the very best. I think the formula and the outline will be a big help. Then the words will write themselves.

I bet if you give the formula and then an outline a try, you’ll see how much easier it will be to fit the pieces together.

I hope that all makes sense. I know I gave you a lot to think about and work on, but nothing worth it is ever easy

Best of luck on your writing adventure!


Miss Interpretation

If I apply the simplest form of the formula to a current manuscript of mine, I get:

This is a story about Sawyer, who more than anything wants to dance, but can’t because he asked someone who said no, he asked someone else who refused, until he finally found someone who says yes. After revealing a secret, Sawyer and his dance partner end up laughing, and dancing, the night away. 

Put another way: Sawyer had a problem. He figured out a plan to fix it. It didn’t work, twice, but he stuck it out and ultimately won. The story starts out sweet, has a few emotional ups and downs, then a big up followed by even bigger up, and the tension is resolved by the end. If you were to graph the plot line, it would look like this:
or, even more simply, this:
I would have saved a TON of time on revision if I realized I wasn’t even ready to revise. I need to take steps I should have taken before I finished writing it. Only THEN could I start revising.
Hopefully you’ll think of this before or during your next manuscript creation. Consider applying the formula to a manuscript you’ve already been working on for ages but couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong. I bet you’ll be surprised at how cleaner and clearer it your manuscript becomes. When the “real” revising starts, you’ll have a much easier time because you’ve got a roadmap of where you’re headed and where you want to end up.
Give it a try and let me know what you find. I hope it’s as helpful to you as it has been to me.
*images from,, and

6 thoughts on “Revision: Taking A Step Back

  1. Thank you for this, I really learned a lot, and I will use these tips to get better.  Lois Lunsford Author/Teacher

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