Novel Revisions – Substantive Changes and Proper Planning

Photograph by Tomasz Sienicki, distributed under CC BY 3.0.

Photograph by Tomasz Sienicki, distributed under CC BY 3.0.

It’s 7:42 PM on a Sunday, and we all know what that means: It’s time for another writing-related post to bore and alienate people.

On my first WordPress post ever, I was starting on draft six of my novel which was a little over 75,000 words (and the title to my first post was misspelled, as evidenced by the perma-link—I’m awesome). I’m currently halfway through draft seven and the word count has gone up to 79,000. Still fluctuating.

[UPDATE/NOTE: Check the comments for other WordPressers’ thoughts on planning out your novel.]

Substantive Changes in Later Drafts

Since I started this novel, I knew that I would immediately have to make huge substantive changes when I started editing: adding, removing, and changing entire characters and events. This was somewhat anticipated because I wrote my novel in a don’t-look-back method where I would avoid editing my chapters too much as I went. My priority was to reach my word count goal. So, it was a given that I would need to make important changes to the novel.

However, I didn’t expect that I would still be making major substantive changes while working on draft seven. Really, I thought by the time I got this far, I’d simply be tweaking prose and correcting grammar and spelling mistakes.

This problem likely resulted from not starting with a detailed outline; I just created the world and a few characters with certain psychological profiles, and nudged them forward to do whatever they wanted. This resulted in a whole lot of mundane crap that had to be cut and altered.

Benefits of “Proper” Planning

I don’t think there’s absolutely correct way to plan a novel. Between the many successful authors out there, I’m sure they’ve used just about every method conceivable. That being said, I think there are a few things I could’ve done to help me write a better novel and avoid making substantive edits so late in the game:

1. Come up with awesome, turning point scenes first and lead my characters there.

I know some writers actually start off by writing the ending climax of their novel before anything else. I think that’s worth a look.

It’s natural for writers to come up with climax scenes at least a little ahead of time. For example, I’d be writing chapter six and think, “It’d be cool if ABC happened,” and then I would use X number of chapters to get there. However, planning the major events earlier is probably beneficial to the flow of the narration. Unplanned, crazy events might be too jarring. Also, unlike other things in life, a novel should only have so many climaxes.

2. Try, on the first run, to leave a cliffhanger/hook on every chapter.

It may be kind of cheesy in a way, I sure thought so when I switched from reading classic literature to newer, popular novels. Over time, though, I’ve grown to accept this tactic. You never want your reader to finish a chapter and just think, “Oh, that was nice and symbolic, and worded in a very pleasing manner.” You want them to think, “Cripes! What happens next?!” (the “cripes” is optional).

For my WIP, my early chapters spent time developing characters and doing intermittent bits of world building, but there weren’t enough “oh schnapps” moments. On this edit run, and the last, I’ve been remedying my novel of that ailment and I think it’s a much better read now.

3. I need a new laptop.

Okay, this has nothing to do with anyone else, but my monitor has been on the fritz as of late and the screen was too small to begin with. A new laptop with a bigger screen would also be useful for novel-writing purposes.

So, yeah.

End communication.

16 thoughts on “Novel Revisions – Substantive Changes and Proper Planning

  1. You are so funny. If there were one “right” way to write a novel, it’d be a no sweat affair. The true difficulty is finding what fires your imagination and trusting it to lead you through the story. Most novels written according to outline, IMHO, come across as plodding and predictable. But carry on! We all have to carry our own hides to the tanner!


  2. Wow! Your post came to my front door right on time! I too had the notion ‘a few’ revisions would be all she wrote and I would be on my way to completion. What I didn’t expect from this my first novel were characters nudging me, throwing me bones, all kinds of twists and turns just coming at me and feeling… right!
    I found ultimately my showing up ready to let the world and the characters speak to me is getting me much further along and closer to actual completion than my thinking I had/have all the answers upfront!
    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, having characters adhere to their personality and psychology will essentially steer your story for you. It doesn’t often surprise me, but sometimes it does—”Wait, this character would totally react like this, not like that.” And “this” ends up being totally awesome (well, hopefully; sometimes it’s stupid and boring and you need to add outside force)..


      • Usage of ‘outside force’, been there/done that! Cool though when your characters realize you’re applying it, huh?
        It’s nice finding myself looking forward to getting other ‘chores’ out of the way to get back into a world and its characters flowing through my pen… well, and my keyboard strokes!


  3. Neither bored nor alienated! I think those are great tips. I’ve started drafting novels before and run into the same problems. I also find myself editing too much before I even get the draft out. (Too anal for my own good!) I think I need to try to start with a strategic and detailed outline like you said. Thanks for the tips!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It seems you’ve discovered what many who have gone before you ultimately realize. That being that novel writing is hard work. Do not despair. We all do it. Every. Bloody. One. Of. Us! It’s what sets serious writers apart from the pack–that willingness to hone, polish and perfect our art. Be well, my friend and…once more into the breach. 😎


  5. I’m the type of person who naturally comes up with the climax first. Figuring out how characters get there is the hard part! But I guess it’s good to have a few “high moments” in the outline that I can write around. Good advice!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Tossing my two cents into the wishing-well, I like to construct an outline with about five ’emotional’ steps, and then free write five novelettes that serially append from the end of the previous one, the final novelette of course being the climax. Sometimes I bubble the novelettes individually, if I feel the need to order my thoughts, but this allows me to keep on track and maintain a meta-arch that spans the larger work.

    Have you tried post-outlining. I’ve only done this once, but it seemed to help. You read your novel, taking notes, then outline the novel you’ve already written. You then proceed to edit the outline, only a few pages, and see what sticks and what doesn’t before going back in with a chainsaw; cut the dross and rewrite.

    Best of luck that your next draft might be the final one 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m a big fan of the outline. My first couple of attempts at writing novels completely bombed (of course I was much too young to write a novel anyway), and it was mostly because I didn’t know where the story was really going. The outline still changes, and I even re-outline after the first or second draft to make sure it all makes sense. So, yeah, love love love the outline. (And for laptops, I love love love HP.) 🙂


  8. I’m currently in that painful stage of rewriting my first draft. I had a semi-detailed plan to start, but of course, I have so much to change. It’s incredibly overwhelming. It’s nice to read about someone else’s experience with the process.


  9. 79,000 sounds like far too many words. Harry Potter notwithstanding, readers today have short attention spans. I suggest you accelerate completion of your novel by dropping every other word. Or, alternately, all the “big” ones.

    You’re welcome 🙂


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