Revise your Story in Four Essential Steps (The Cupcake Method)
Woohoo! You completed a messy first draft during NaNoWriMo or over whatever time frame you needed (no judging here). Congratulations! The biggest hurdle has been reached
... or has it?
Under the sound advice of professional authors and editors everywhere, you have full permission to let that manuscript rest, but perhaps that rest period has become a few months....or even a few years?
Again, no judging, but we can't let our heart stories make it this far and then collect dust bunnies forever?!
HERE IS YOUR CALL TO ACTION:
Get that beautiful mess out of your drawer, and back on your recent files list. Join me as I work through four essential layers to the revision process, using the steps to make cupcakes, because why not? (Plus, now we can justify treating ourselves to a cupcake for each of these four stages!)
My goal is to accomplish these steps over the next three months, but you can take as long or as short as you need. Up for the challenge? You can follow me over on Instagram for bite-size tips throughout the process, and check back here as I accomplish each layer of the journey, hopefully over the course of a month or so!
In this post, I am going to share a food-blog-worthy snapshot of the FOUR ESSENTIAL LAYERS (plus a cherry) for revising your story...and with no advertisements, cause I'm down with free kindness!
More detailed descriptions of each stage will come along as well, so check back often for updates on these posts as my learning grows as well...because we never stop learning, right?
So here is my cupcake plan as of May, 2022 when I started to revise my fourth full-length adult novel (EEK! You read that correctly...I have ventured to the old side, BUT there still is a teen protagonist ... and four other characters of various ages and importance who also get the spotlight:
STAGE ONE (THE RECIPE AND ALL THE INGREDIENTS):
In this first stage of the revision process, I plan to read through my entire manuscript without touching a single word or comma! I triple dog dare you to do the same thing. It might sound completely ridiculous, but I want us to read our stories fast to identify four critical ingredients and whether we have them:
GENRE CONVENTIONS: Do I have a clear story genre and include the critical scenes and conventions necessary for that genre
CHARACTERS WHO CHANGE: Do I have characters who change from beginning to end? Do they have clear goals, motivations, and wounds?
STORY STRUCTURE: Do I have a plot that follows an accepted story structure?
THEME: Can I identify a clear theme that I can sprinkle throughout but not knock people over the head with?
STAGE TWO ( THE TECHNIQUES AND STEPS IN THE CORRECT ORDER)
In the second stage, I am looking at individual scenes and whether each scene is complete with its own mini-story arc, a value change (i.e. positive to negative), enough conflict, and forward-moving action from my characters. I will be fleshing out character motivations, strengthening backstories, and ensuring that pacing works both within scenes and across the entire story. I will also be looking for major plot holes and runaway ideas that never get resolved or need to be killed off.
STAGE THREE (THE SLOW RISE OF EMOTION AND TENSION)
In this third phase, I will be doing more time-consuming emotional and sensation-based work. I will also be deciding where to break scenes across chapters, to help raise tension, and how to vary POVs through character development. This is the hard stuff that we can skip over, but I think it is the secret sauce to making a story resonate with readers. I will be working through a number of techniques and strategies such as using all the senses in descriptions, working on showing versus telling, building in unique character quirks and memorable setting descriptions, and playing with character reactions that may be less predictable in a scene. (Think Donald Maass advice)
STAGE FOUR (TRIMMING, AND ICING)
This final phase you might assume is for spelling and grammar, but the reality is most computer programs offer this up to you for free and a lot faster than doing it on your own! I will obviously put my manuscript through spelling and grammar checks, but before we even get there, this step will help to make my sentences sing. I will be searching for weak verbs, unnecessary adverbs, and any other weeds within my masterpiece. I also will be hunting down cliche analogies and clunky repetitive descriptions. It will again be a painstaking process, but with the help of "FIND/REPLACE" and a handy list of the most common filler words, we will get through this phase.
THE CHERRY ON TOP
If you have it in you, (and you must), the last stage will be to read through your cupcake...I mean eat through your manuscript...I mean read through your manuscript OUT LOUD! We all make mistakes that get lost within the passion of our story. We also want to listen for the musicality of our sentences and tantalizing word choices. This is where we can finally add all the sprinkles and that last shiny cherry to our cupcake/manuscript to dazzle those agents, editors, and publishing folk.
Stay tuned for all the details of each step to come!