Kath here. We’re thrilled to have Cathy Yardley guest post with us today. You may remember that Vaughn Roycroft, one of the Facebook page’s Mod Squad, blogged about Cathy in his post The Mentor/Mentee Benefit and since then we’ve been itching to have Cathy guest with us and share her fiction-writing insights. Cathy has been writing humorous women’s fiction and romance for the past thirteen years. She’s a teacher with Savvy University and offers writer’s coaching and editing services through her writer’s website ROCK YOUR WRITING. Her latest novel, TEMPING IS HELL, has been described as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets The Office” and releases December 2012. 

Why we love Cathy: 

Having my own business, riding herd on a rambunctious six-year-old, and trying to maintain a fiction career in the current “wild west” of the publishing industry has made me obsessed with creating simple solutions for myself and other writers. I adore genre fiction, and I love helping other writers find the sweet spot between art and business when it comes to crafting their own stories.

Follow her on Facebook or on twitter @ cathyyardley. Enjoy!

A Simple Approach to Revisions

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when revising your novel. You’re hit with slew of decisions that need to be made all at once. Should you add a character?  Cut a secondary?  Why is the dialogue so stilted, and where is the setting, and should you add more sensory detail or axe it altogether because the pacing seems to drag?

I’m a hard-core plotter, and I’m all about systems.  I see revisions as Plot 2.0 – the natural extension to how I approach creating a story.  This system doesn’t work for everyone, but if you’re freaking out about how to revise your genre fiction project, this approach can be a very useful jumping off point.

Based on the traditional three-pass editing system, here’s how I tackle revisions for genre fiction.

First pass:  macro planning.

  1. Check GMC.  (Otherwise known as Goal, Motivation, Conflict.)  If you haven’t written it down before the draft, make sure you’ve got the GMC for your protagonists and antagonists handy.  
  2. Check plot points.  If you don’t know where they are, or worse, what they are, then rather than a driving cannonball of a story, you may have an episodic version of buckshot.  Go for the cannonball.  Make sure you have plot points for any POV protagonists especially.  Like your protagonist/antagonist GMC, I’d have this handy.
  3. Do a scene by scene list.  (This is what freaks most people out.)  To me, it’s logical to create a map of what we’re working with.  For each scene, write down:
    1. Whose POV is this scene in?  POV is important.  I don’t just mean third versus first, or a voice element.  Whose eyes are we seeing the story from?  Is this the right POV for this scene? 
    2. What is the goal of the scene?  If you’ve read my book ROCK YOUR PLOT, you’ll know I believe every scene has its own GMC – and that goal, motive and conflict is tied to the POV character.  If that doesn’t work for you, at least figure out why you’ve included the scene.  What does it do?  Why is it important?
    3. Is the character consistent? Ask:  “is this really what he would do in this situation?  Is there any other choice he could, or would, believably make?”  This tests for plot myopia – the horrible “but I need him to do to this, so the rest of the story works!” that inevitably spikes the tires of a story.  Plot must come from character. 
    4. Is the conflict strong enough?  Tension and conflict are fuel in the fiction engine.  Is there any way you can plausibly bump it up?
    5. Does it end in a disaster or hook?  If you end the scene on a triumph, or even just a comforting lull, then the reader is free to put the book down. Unless it’s a resolution scene, you don’t want that.
    6. Identify the plot points.  Make sure they’re happening at around the right locations and in the right sequence.
    7. Check for escalation.  You’ve already noted the conflict for the scene.  Look at the scenes prior, in the same POV.  Do you have repetition of conflict?  Can you increase the urgency, the stakes, and/or the obstacles?
    8. Check for talking heads syndrome.  Do you have several scenes where there are simply characters talking? Is there some way to rewrite the scene incorporating an interesting action that either move the plot forward, or perhaps symbolizes the story/theme/conflict in some way?

Armed with these notes, you’ll know where scenes need to be added, rewritten, lightly revised, consolidated, or cut.  Address each scene as needed.

Second pass: micro scene work.

Once the first pass is done, check for:

  1. Setting.  Do we know where the scene is?  When it is? Make sure the scene is anchored.
  2. Exposition.  Are you showing, or telling?  If you’re not sure, print out a scene, and highlight how much is in internal monologue.  If you’re suddenly able to see your pages in the dark because of all that neon ink, you’re telling.
  3. Overshowing. The converse of exposition.  Does the reader need to know all this detail?  If so, why?  Can you summarize it if necessary?
  4. Dialogue.  If you don’t read anything else aloud, read dialogue.  Ask: “Would my character say this?  Would anyone say this?”
  5. Internal voice.  If you’re writing in deep third or first person especially, make sure that your character’s internal observations and monologue match what he would say aloud to another character.
  6. Sensory details/description.  These can be what put your reader into the scene.  Help them experience it, rather than just “think” about it.
  7. Emotion.  Are you getting the emotions of the scene across?  Or just reporting the actions?
  8. Final information/set-up issues.  Did you have world building you needed to clarify?  A payoff in the third act that needs mentioning in the first?  Make sure you close all necessary loops at this stage.

Third pass: final details.

Here’s where you’ll look for the “usual suspects.” (For example, I am addicted to ellipses, and I suffer from a recurring case of adverb creep.)  Once you’re aware of your writing blind spots, you’ll be able to fix them.

You can also check for things like varying sentence length, grammar clarity, word choice, or any number of things that influence how the reader experiences the work.  Here’s also where you do a typo run and look for anything that might jar your reader out of the experience.

The sequence is key.

The important part is learning to focus on one pass at a time.  Otherwise, it’s like painting and decorating a room in a new house, only to rip out all the wiring afterward because it’s not up to code.

Follow this sequence, and when the dust settles, you’ll find not only is your story sound and sturdy, but enticing.  Your final draft will feel like home, to both you and your readers.

You can learn more about Cathy on her website, and by following her on Facebook and Twitter. Write on!


About Cathy Yardley

Cathy Yardley is the author of eighteen novels, published with houses such as St. Martin's and Avon, as well as her self-published Rock Your Writing series. She's also a developmental editor and writing coach, helping authors complete, revise, and get their stories published. Sign up here for her newsletter to receive the free course Jumpstart Your Writing Career.