Category Archives: The Writing Process

Revising in the Wild West

As I have spent all of April deep inside the revisions for a novel I intend to publish early this summer, I have a lot of fresh thoughts on how to proceed once your first draft is complete. As with all writing advice, what works for me might not work for you.

I think I have the process by which I write a first draft pretty much locked down. I’ve written 9 projects in the past 24 months, and the process by which I got from word one to ‘the end’ has stayed fairly standard.

Once that first draft is done though, well my friends I’m afraid to say I’m still in the Wild West. On that day my newly completed story finds itself in a lawless land, where chaos is sheriff and revision misfires roll by like tumbleweeds.

Okay pardner, maybe it’s not *that* bad. But it was, for quite a while. It is only on my past 2 or 3 projects that a working process has started to show itself. Pull up a stool and have the bartender give us two shots of Ol’ Blinkin’ Cursor (my favorite drink) and I’ll spin you my tale.

(All right, I admit I’ve pushed the cowboy metaphors too hard here. I’ll hitch ‘em to the post for now.)

So for me, the key to revisions is knowing three things about myself as they relate to the first draft

  1. The things I do well
  2. The things I don’t do well
  3. The things I don’t do at all

I’ll go through what those mean to me, though of course they could mean something completely different for you.


I have a pre-revision process, which is to simply read the damn thing. Better yet, I have the damn thing read to me! using Word (although there are many other options) you can have the document read to you by your computer and you *will* catch little things that you’ll miss visually reading your book.

Seriously, I can’t recommend this method enough.For me, it is even better than reading your draft out loud.


One thing I try not to do in revisions is undo what was working the first time. I am fortunate to have an alpha reader for much of my work, and she often reads the chapters as I write them. Thus, I usually enter the second draft with a little outside feedback, which is something I recommend.

In my case, my dialogue is pretty good on the first run so I’m try not to change much of that. Character bits usually land decently on first draft as well. I want to make sure that I’m not adding words to parts that read clean and quick the first time. In general, I try to only add words to clear up confusion or add description. (As I’ll explain below). Anything I was pumped and excited after I wrote it I try very hard not to mess with.

The danger here to me is in sanding off the sharp edges and making things more dull and bland by adding things that didn’t need to be there.


Also known as – Action Scenes. Time to focus on the blocking and on making sure that I clearly described the setting and any relevant elements. Additionally, I need to fix over-wording and pacing issues that I often introduce to these scenes.


There’s two versions of this for me. The first is stuff that I know I tend to be sparse with on my first draft. This is usually description and emotional demeanor – reactions to events. When I’m writing my first drafts, I don’t like to slow down for anything. When my momentum is lost it can be hard for me to recover.

The second part of this is to fill in all the little <> marks I made in my draft, each of them denoting something to be filled in later. (If you are interested – I have a whole post on these right here)

So those are my primary methods of getting a workable second draft, which is usually the one I will pass along to my beta readers. The trick at the end of this process (which could be any number of drafts) is determining when you are done, but that’s a blog post for another day.

Good luck!

When A Pantser Revises

Guest Post by Chris Marrs

If you’re a panster like I am, then your first draft probably contains quite a few random place holder scenes, notes, and a plot that may end up looking like a different animal at the end than the beginning. Which, to a lot of people I know who plot meticulously, doesn’t seem very efficient. A pantser’s first draft is likely to be less organized than a plotter’s and, if it’s like mine, will need a complete rewrite.

Since I have difficulty reading for long stretches on a computer I print the manuscript. A page of a first draft may look like:

 “Mist off the lake—remember to change setting from barn to cabin—swirled around the base of the giant oaks dotting the shore. The slap-splash of oars cutting through water startled a loon. In a flurry of wing beats and a lonely sounding call, it took to the air. Mark chanced a look over his shoulder as he leaned against a tree trunk. Ragged breaths hacked his throat. Emerging from the tree line a dark figure. Harry pushed off from the oak and waded into the lake.

“Help!” he yelled hoping whoever paddled out there would hear and come to his aid.

The almost seductive shush-shush of tall grass and random crack of a small tree breaking came closer. Heart racing, Mark waded further into the lake. The boom of a shotgun blast made need to find a distinct sound that’s not trite or maybe an action for the character would work better than a sound.

Pretty messy, right? There are notes and poor/confusing sentence structure not mention the MC’s name went from Harry to Mark because Mark suited the character better later on. And a whole lot more crap not shown in the sample. Things like gratuitous scenes that don’t further plot or character arc, the main character acting out of character, and strange rambling sections that aren’t quite sure what they’re trying to say. Alternately, I discover little gems. A wonderful turn of phrase or two that zings, a character flaw or trait in a minor character that compliments the main character’s struggle or strength, and maybe a random scene that subtly enhances the theme. Personally, going through the first draft is more enjoyable than writing it even though there is a lot of stuff to got through and piece together.

As I’m reading, I’ll circle the paragraphs that stand out and I want to keep and scratch out the ridiculous or redundant. I’ll make comments, use the backside of the page for loose rewriting, and question character motive. I’m also looking for continuity—more specifically where it took left turns—for how the plot and character arcs relate, and for which notes are applicable and which aren’t. And all the usual culprits you look for when reading a first draft pantser or not: theme, voice, setting, ect.. Grammar and the like I leave until after the second draft. Then I open blank document and start again using the first draft as a guideline. Like I said, not very efficient but I have found my second drafts come closer to a plotter’s third.

It’s only after a clean up of the second draft that I will send the manuscript to my beta group. In my opinion, my pantser first draft isn’t fit for light of day. Honestly, even if you plot I feel the first draft shouldn’t be let out the door. I feel you owe it to your beta readers to send as complete manuscript as possible. I have a wonderful beta group and if I sent a first draft or first draft point five where I’ve taken out the notes and “tidied” up the story, they would send it right back unread. The mindset being one is unable to constructively critique a first draft and I am wasting their time wading through b******t. So I wait until I’m finished editing the second draft before sending it to them. I have found I receive better critiques this way and, as a beta reader, am able to provide more constructive critiques.

I liken a pantser first draft to putting together a jigsaw puzzle. In the beginning the task of putting together all those pieces seems daunting. Then the pieces begin to fit together and the whole picture starts to emerge in a way you hadn’t dreamed. I love that, that seeing where my imagination went without being obligated to a plot. So, despite the extra work, I’ll stick to pantsing the first draft.

Chris Marrs lives in Calgary, Alberta with her daughter, a cat, and a ferret. She has stories in A Darke Phantastique (Cycatrix Press-2014), the Bram Stoker winning The Library of the Dead (Written Backwards Press-2015), and in Dark Discoveries Issue #25/Femme Fatale, October 2013. Bad Moon Books published her novella Everything Leads Back to Alice in the Fall of 2013. Her novella, Wild Woman, was published in September 2015 as part of JournalStone’s DoubleDown series. Entangled Soul, a collaborative novella with Gene O’Neill, was published by Thunderstorm Books in November 2016. January Friday the 13th, 2017 saw the publication of Intersections: Six Tales of Ouija Horror in which her story Sounds in Silence appears. She has two stories available with Great Jones Street short story app.You can find her at,, on Twitter as @Chris_Marrs, or Instagram as hauntedmarrs.

Organizing Critique Comments for Implementation

Guest Post by Susan Forest

You’ve chosen beta readers from more than one source who understand your genre, you’ve given them your best work so they don’t correct flaws you know about, and you receive their feedback. But how do you organize the feedback, process, and implement it?

Knowing how to effectively deal with feedback will greatly help and improve your manuscript and will turn beta readers into fans.

First, it’s helpful to receive your feedback, when possible, in both written form (line edits and/or written comments) and verbal form. A nice protocol is to invite your three beta readers over for snacks or out to a restaurant for coffee and dessert. This is not only a way to thank them, but to bring them together by a specified deadline, to give feedback.

During this meeting, ensure you set a tone of professionalism (it’s not just social) and take notes without interrupting (except to clarify misunderstandings). There is no point in taking up time explaining what your story was supposed to say—if they didn’t get your message, that’s feedback, too.

When I get home from such a meeting, I first organize my comments into two types: line edits and global revisions. The line edits are easy to get through fairly quickly. Here, you can clear up typos and small wording or sentence changes that you agree with. You can ignore the occasional edit that is clearly wrong, or at least, wrong for you.

Sometimes, a line edit your beta reader gives you includes something bigger: a place where the reader was confused, where their comment has implications for several places in the manuscript, or where the comment gets to deeper thematic or character arc issues. Make a note of these, and add them to your second type of comments: global revisions.

By doing line edits first, you accomplish something important to the book, improve your novel, and give yourself a sense of achievement—and staying positive about your novel is critical, especially in the face of multiple notes to make changes.

The global revisions, especially on a longer work such as a novel, can be daunting. Begin by putting them all into a single document (perhaps in point form), and reduce their number:

  • Delete any repetitions. But remember: if all three of your beta readers pointed out the same issue, it’s probably valid.
  • Delete any changes you’re not going to make. Perhaps your beta reader isn’t really your audience (if he or she doesn’t read or understand your genre, they might be off base), missed the point of your story, or—although you respect their point—you simply know: this is not a change you’re prepared to make. Hey, you’re the author, and this is your book.
  • Don’t try to please all tastes. If one reader wants you to make a certain change, a second gives you the opposite advice, and the third doesn’t want any change at all, remember that by trying to be all things to all people, you can edit the passion out of your story. Follow the critique of the reader whose vision is closest to what you are trying to achieve.

Next, phrase all comments in the positive. You can’t do anything with a negative comment. For instance, even if you agree that the comment, “Don’t make your protagonist weepy and weak” is valid, it can’t be implemented until you change it to “Angela should stand up for her own position in her relationship with Greg.” That is something you can work with.

Then, find out where (in which chapter and scene) you want to implement the change. In the above example, you might decide that Angela will tell Greg she intends to buy a cat in chapter 2, scene 1; choose the restaurant in chapter 9, scene 5; and demand he pay half the rent on their apartment in chapter 15, scene 4.

In some instances, a comment will be implemented in only one place in the book. In other cases, several different examples will find their way into different parts of the book (as in Angela’s example, above). In still other cases, the same detail will be applied to multiple places in the book. This could happen when you want to ensure rats are ubiquitous in your medieval fantasy.

Create a new copy of your manuscript (Angela and the Rat, v. 2.0) and insert the points you want to change at the top of each scene. You might want to use a different font for these notes, just to be sure the point doesn’t accidentally slip into your text. Now, instead of an overwhelming list of changes to make, you have anywhere from 2-5 points at the beginning of each scene—and some scenes will have no changes at all. This is much more manageable.

Revise each scene. You are likely to discover as you go through that some revisions simply won’t work. You might have thought you could slip in a reference to rats in chapter 3, but to do so turns out to be awkward and derails the point of the scene. No problem. When you’re revising chapter 4 you might find a more natural place to put it—and, if you already intend to refer to rats in 2-3 more places, you might not even need the chapter 3/4 reference.

You may find that implementing a change in one part of the book spawns other changes, such as the domino effect of logic and motivation, or a cool new idea that enriches and deepens your text.

And, when you have finished all the revisions (like the guy taking the wheelchair apart and putting it back together who discovers he has a handful of nuts and screws left over), you may find there are some revisions that somehow just never made it into the new draft. Do you really need them? Maybe. If so, go back and find a place to put them in. Or, maybe you don’t actually need them.

Read the entire manuscript again. This not only allows you to catch inconsistencies the revision process may have introduced, it gives you a chance to put your finger on the pulse of the book as a whole, so you can see how the build and flow of plot logic and emotions work together. This step has the added benefit of pumping up your enthusiasm for your novel: it is better! Revision worked! And, it wasn’t as painful as it first appeared.

It is a truism that, with rare exceptions, first drafts are not very good; that fiction comes to life under revision. It is also true that coming out of a meeting with your beta readers with a wheelbarrow full of suggested improvements can be daunting and depressing—so much so, it can be hard to even look at your creation again. By winnowing the comments down, rephrasing them with positive wording, and dividing them up into small, workable batches, you can really make use of their power, and come away with a vastly improved draft: one you are proud to send off to potential markets.

Susan writes SF, fantasy and horror, and is an award-winning fiction editor for Laksa Media. Her novel, BURSTS OF FIRE, will be out in 2019, followed by FLIGHTS OF MARIGOLDS. She has published over 25 short stories, contributes to When Words Collide, and has appeared at many international writing conventions.

Before You Revise, Know Your Story – 5 Simple Steps

At first glance, the advice ‘before you revise, know your story’ seems like silly advice. Of course you know the story, you just finished writing it! But despite the thought, the sweat, the sleepless nights mulling over scenes and characters, do you really know your story?

It’s like baking a cake. You choose every ingredient carefully. The vanilla flavouring is not an imitation extract – you’ve sourced the beans, scraped them out, pulverised them to get an even distribution of the flavouring in the batter, but not so much that you’ve destroyed the essence – or have you? Have you done too much or too little? You’ve chosen every ingredient carefully, mixed, chosen the pan, and baked it all with the skills you’ve learned to date. But, is it the perfect cake? You don’t know until you step back, see if it’s lumpy, lopsided, and taste it to know if it’s too dry or too moist.

How do you get to know your story?

  1. Let it sit for a bit, two or three weeks. Like a cake, it needs to cool before the true flavours come out.
  2. Write, in one sentence, what the story is about. For example: the story is about a girl learning the true meaning of inner strength while challenging an evil king who has oppressed the people. This line about your story will be part of your pitch.
  3. Change the about sentence into a question. The climax must answer this question. If it does not, then there is a story problem which needs to be addressed. When a girl challenges an evil king who has oppressed the people, will she learn the true meaning of inner strength?
  4. Create a chart with the following headings, Scene #, Page, One-Liner Description, Scene Type, and POV. You may choose to add other columns such as Notes for the problems you discover but note them only and don’t be tempted to fix them yet for you may have to change or delete the scenes.Even if your story is organized into chapters, I recommend the chart be created at the scene level. For example, Chapter 4 might have five scenes. Number each of them and note the page number. This is important because every scene must pull its weight as it must somehow address the About Statement. If it does not, then it must either be changed to do so or eliminated.The One-Liner Description will not only tell you what the scene is about, but when this exercise is completed, you’ll have created an outline (many editors want this done). The outline will show you the shape of the plot and will point out gaps in logic or progression.

    Knowing the SCENE TYPE helps us understand story pacing and story balance. Depending on who you read, there are anywhere from four to twenty or more scene types. I like to keep it simple by focussing on exposition, dialogue, action, and reflection. These are the four elements I want to keep balanced in a story. Is there is too much reflection and not enough action, or too much action and not enough dialogue? Examining scene types addresses issues such as the boring sections which may have too much exposition or reflection. Too many of those in a row can slow pacing and kill momentum. Too many action scenes in a row can cause reader fatigue and be unrealistic as characters need to stop and reflect, even for a moment whether it’s internally or in dialogue with someone.

  5. Forget the About Statement and Question you wrote in Steps 1 and 2. Write new ones based on the outline. Are they the same as what you originally thought? If they aren’t that isn’t necessarily a problem if you decide that this theme is what you want the story to be about.This exercise allows a writer to understand the story’s theme. That was the goal of the About Statement. The Question tells us very quickly if the climax and its resolution answer the theme’s concern. If they do not, or don’t do it satisfactorily, then there is a story telling problem which needs to be addressed.If you discover that the theme or About Statement has changed then you can either:
    1) accept the change and make sure all scenes address the new theme in some manner; or
    2) pinpoint the scenes which derailed the story theme, and rewrite with a view to making sure characters, actions and plot points address the desired theme.

Knowing your story and addressing plot, pacing and thematic issues will save you grief and many hours of work because there’s no point in line editing or scene editing if the scene needs to be eliminated or changed. Plus, your beta readers will love you. Beta readers will point out structural issues and problems this exercise has easily identified or they may know that there is a problem but don’t understand it. This process allows you to address the bigger issues ahead of time so that your beta readers can address other details, such as character inconsistencies, which are more helpful to your editing process. Make the best use of beta readers by giving them a structurally sound manuscript.

So, get to know your story because the rewards of doing so will be recognized and lauded by beta readers, editors and agents.