In the last step, we switched gears from drafting to revision with the cold read. Once you have done this, to prepare for revision, it’s time to get back into outlining, with a bit of a twist. Just as you did your pre-draft outline to prepare you for drafting, the post-draft outline will prepare you for effective revision.
If you’re still writing, that’s fine, you can save this for later. Likewise, many writers may be reading these posts at different stages of developing their own stories, so I’ll keep going ahead because my aim is to provide something that is complete and available as a reference.
Linear revision kills
We started this journey with a carefully-written premise, and I compared it to having a healthy spine. Let’s call on this analogy again. How is your spine, anyway? It’s been a long trip! Despite all the preparation, no doubt it’s worn you down, so this is the point at which to get back into traction and get yourself aligned for what comes next.
Many writers jump into revision like a swimmer into shark waters. They wade through their draft again and again, focusing on different elements, and slowly they drift out deeper and deeper, moving in circles, making deeper changes without a proper reference. Then the sharks show up and guess who’s on the menu?
Whether those sharks are the editors or agents who send out polite rejection letters, or the Gollum in your head that tells you the task is hopeless, linear revision is bound to kill you sooner or later.
It’s madness, but there’s method in it
Not all is lost!
How is your spine, anyway? Time to stand up straight and learn how to master revision. The first stop is the posture clinic, aka the post-draft outline.
Now, this is going to sound crazy. In fact, you’re going to think you’re crazy as your doing it, but when you get to revision and see how much power you have to master your manuscript at all levels, you will be grateful for this step.
We talked in Step 7 about creating a frame-by-frame outline before drafting. From this, your 9-part outline breaks into a sequence of distinct events that give you some focus when you are writing the actual story. But the story takes on a life of its own, and now it’s time to put everything together.
In order to do this, we’re going to basically make our frames over again, except this time we’re looking backward at what we’ve done, with a mind to how the story knits together as a whole. Because these frames are smaller, we will call them sub-frames.
As you go through, try to identify distinct chunks of your story. These are not necessarily scenes or chapters. They are segments, anywhere from 200 to 2000 words or so, where your story takes on a unique cadence and shape. For example, if your scene is a dialogue between conspirators overheard by your POV character, followed by your POV character’s introspection while she rushes down a dark alley to warn her father about the plan to kill him, these events would stand alone as the sub-frames. Maybe in your original story you just saw the meeting of conspirators and that was your frame, but in the act of writing, the alley scene was new, so now it’s time to put it in.
Don’t get lost
There are more steps after this one, so make it your task, during this step, to just identify the sub-frames. Go through from beginning to end and mark them in your document. If one of the sub-frames is particularly long, don’t worry, but do see if there is an inflection that breaks it up. For example, if you have a long conversation in one passage, have a look. If it starts out with an exchange on the history of the world, then someone interrupts with a recent event that changes the topic, then this inflection divides the action and could be seen as a sub-frame.
Going over your whole story and dividing it up will also serve as a speed-read of your manuscript, which is a good thing to follow the cold read (review what the cold read is HERE if you need to). You might appreciate some higher-level things that niggled while you read and made notes, and might get some ideas for how to resolve problems the cold read brought to your attention. Next week, we will talk about how to detail each of these subframes, which will help you spread out roots from these higher-level ideas. Most importantly, it will help you appreciate what your story is off track.
It’s good to plant more anchors (remember, these are the alinear revision techniques I mentioned earlier. Read about them HERE). It’s also fine to revise as you go—iron out a typo, tweak a passage, catch a fresh idea while it strikes you, and any other such thing—but do try to keep your focus on the task at hand. In other words, don’t let this step degenerate into a linear edit, or else those sharks are going to poke their little fins up at you…
It gets crazier
Identifying sub-frames is the start. The next step will be your iron suit for revision, and there are so many important components to it we will devote next week to discussing how to make a sub-frame sheet that will be an effective tool to help you bang every revision nail in place.
Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. Find out more about Graeme and his writing by visiting his website, HERE.
You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog: