Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Post-NaNoWriMo Revision Checklist

Why, hello there! Perhaps you've finished your manuscript during the month of November; perhaps you're just finishing it now, springing for that last 20k or 30k words to meet your total word count goal and reach the end of the story.

Or perhaps you haven't. That's cool, too. This post is still totally for you.

We're heading into the holiday season, so a checklist feels very appropriate to me. And thus, I bring you....

The Post-NaNoWriMo Revision Checklist!

Is there bulky or unnecessary backstory in the first few chapters of your manuscript? Especially if you are a pantser (see: little to no outlining done in advance), it's easy to end up with pages and pages of character discovery. This is necessary work that you did to learn about your hero and set up the story, but it's also text that doesn't belong in the manuscript you'll send to agents and editors.

Can you cut down the wind-up? How long does it take to reach the inciting incident? When does the ball really start rolling downhill? Get there sooner. Pull us into the conflict as soon as possible; lay out the stakes so we know what to fear; and get your hero up in that tree so you can start throwing rocks at her.

Does your MC have a complete arc? Another side-effect of the common NaNoWriMo "discovery" period is not allowing your main character a full range of change throughout the story. Now that you've reached the end, it's time to rewind and figure out where your MC starts, and how your MC becomes the person they become by the end. The change should not be insignificant.

Is your MC an active participant in the story? Another common problem in NaNo: letting things happen to our characters, instead of our characters causing events to unfold. Check your main character for agency. Is she/he mostly reactionary to things that happen, or is he/she actively changing the course of events?

Are the lows low enough? Are the highs high enough? My own personal tendency when writing quickly is for events to move along smoothly: this happened, and then this happened, and then this. But remember: your flow of events should more resemble "this happened, but was stopped by this, which then caused this, and therefore this came to be." See how you can lower your low points by adding more obstacles; raise the emotional intensity of your high points, for contrast.

Fact check, reality check. It's easy to fly past logistical problems, plot holes, and simple character cheats (letting our MC do something she probably wouldn't do, based on her character, but it was convenient at the time) when you're writing fast. And it was OK to do this during NaNo because that was what needed to be done in order for the story to keep moving. But now it's time to sit down and think about who she really is, and cross-examine it against what she actually does. Do her actions at the beginning fit into her character arc? Can events that happen to her be caused by her?

Reverse outline. Now that you've written the story, put it into an outline. What changes are occurring in your MC at each twist in the road? What secrets unravel? Remember: you want to write a page-turner. Don't save every gnarly secret until the end, or we'll lose interest long before getting there! Drop some hints and pay-offs throughout the story to keep us reading. Use your outline to hone your reader's experience. What is your reader feeling at each step in the story arc and character arc? Manipulate your readers! Move events as necessary in the outline to build tension toward the climax.

These are just a few ideas to get your second draft rolling. Always send your manuscript to a trusted friend or critique partner, and revise a third time before sending out to agents and editors!

Read more of Kiersi's writing advice on her blog, The Prolific Novelista, or follow her on Twitter at @kiersi.


  1. Good list here, Kiersi. I made the mistake of not letting my MC be more proactive previously. Luckily, a fellow-writer pointed it out in a critique and it has made a huge difference!

  2. Thank you Claudine! That one in particular crops up a lot. I think it's easier to let things happen then to make them happen :) (some life philosophy there!)