Season 2, Episode 3: Revision Specifics, The One-Hour Manuscript Review

In this episode:

Now that we’ve talked about revision in the abstract, it’s time to get down to specifics. How do you go about doing it? What does it look like?

Jennie has a series of exercises she recommends that will help you get started with revision.

The One-Hour Manuscript Review: This is looking at how an agent or editor would view your work; it’s something they do dozens of times a day, every day. They have to work quickly, and frankly, it doesn’t matter if something remarkable happens between page 73 and 93 – they have to want to get past the first chapter. If they don’t want to keep reading, a potential reader won’t, either.

You read your first chapter very quickly and scan chapters 2 and 3. You’re looking at the beginnings and ends of chapters carefully to see how they tie together and how they drive the story forward. Then you jump to the middle and read for about another ten minutes. Finally, you read the penultimate chapter, the one right before the end—that’s 5 minutes or so. Then you read the last chapter the way you read the first one and take about 25 minutes to assess what you saw. You’re asking the big questions, like does it have a narrative drive? Does it start in the right place? Does it feel like a story, like it ends in the right place? Is there a force of opposition and do we get all the characters motivations, desires, all the questions we want from a reader?

“If there really is something fantastic happening on page 37, there’s going to be clues on page one; there’s going to be clues at the very end. It’s not like someone does an incredibly bad job on their first chapter and rises to the occasion in the middle of the book.” – Jennie Nash

In this exercise, you're not a writer. You're a reader. You're a skimmer. You're like, what would I think if I pick this up? It's just like if you're in a bookstore and you pick up a book, you read the jacket copy, and you go to the first chapter and you know, you skim it like a potential buyer.

Yet another use for the two-tier outline comes again in revision – after you’ve analyzed your manuscript, you can either use it to guide you through the changes you need to make, to steer your manuscript in the right direction—or, if you need to, you can redo your two-tier outline to reflect needed changes during revision. The two-tier outline is like a magnifying glass on what’s working and what’s not, both in the small scale of scenes and the larger scale of the entire manuscript.

The manuscript audit is the third tool that Jennie recommends. During a manuscript audit, you move through your novel, chapter by chapter, marking green, yellow, and red-light issues. Green-light issues are no big deal – takes a minute or two to fix. Yellow light issues might take longer. Red light issues may take several hours and are the big, big red flags that will stop a reader in their tracks and make them question if this is the book they want to be reading, or not. Do NOT fix during the audit – your job during this point in revision is to find what needs to be fixed. Jennie recommends printing out a paper copy of your manuscript and using highlighters and post-it notes for this exercise. When you’re finished, you take it a little bit at a time—fifteen minutes for a few green light issues here, an afternoon to fix a few red-light issues, etc.

If you’re hungry for more information about the Stoplight Method of revision that Jennie discusses here, watch the replay of our Mom Writes Season Two Kickoff event where Jennie did a webinar all about it! You can watch the replay here!

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