Kim Foster
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How To Revise In Layers


Some writers can fire off a beautiful first draft. It seems to spring forth from their brains, and fingers, fully formed and gorgeous. Me? Not so much.

My first drafts are a mess. They’re chaos. They’re borderline illiterate in places. Half the time I’m making little notes and comments to myself, about stuff I want to remember for a given scene, or emotions I want to express at a particular spot.

So I do a lot of revising.

One of the daunting things about revisions, especially revising a novel, is the sheer number of things to do. The solution? Take it in layers. In one layer, work on cleaning up your scene structure. Next layer, flesh out your descriptions and imagery. Dialogue might be another layer. Last comes the polish.

I usually have a plan for which layers I’m going to tackle, and a schedule for each phase. If you try this, remember it takes a certain amount of discipline to work on the layer dictated by your plan. Sometimes you might find yourself getting pulled into the lotusland of polishing a single sentence when you’re supposed to be revising for plot coherence.

And maybe, if you have unlimited time, it would work for you to do all your revising in one long, slow, expansive run through. But when you have a deadline, if you’re under contract, say, you may find the layered approach keeps you better on track. How many layers, and how long you spend on each layer, is going to wholly depend on how long your manuscript is, how much writing time you have at your disposal, and how messy your first draft is.

Here are some layers to consider:

  • character
  • plot
  • scene structure
  • dialogue
  • imagery
  • description
  • setting
  • emotion
  • themes
  • wordsmithing/polishing

So tell me–do you revise in layers like this? Or do you have a different approach?

While you’re here, check out some of my other posts on revision:

4 Responses to “How To Revise In Layers”

  1. karmasdogma says:

    I WISH I could revise in layers, but can’t seem to turn the editor off and focus on just one thing … so I take it chapter by chapter, generally. Though might try the layer thing next time!

  2. Therin Knite says:

    Hm. Layers. Not something I’ve thought of before. I usually just tackle it one scene at a time.

    • Kim Foster says:

      It doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s worth a go if you’ve never tried it before. I like the opportunity for multiple passes at a manuscript from different perspectives. Doing it this way also helps me ensure the final product contains all the threads and elements I want it to.

      Thanks for commenting!

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Kim Foster writes YA and adult books about thieves, spies, and assassins. (Read More)

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