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Pay attention to timeline issues, character development/arcs, character motivations, scene motivations, pacing, etc.

Today we’re going to talk about how to approach the next revision step: developmental edits. Basically this means addressing the major, structural issues of your WIP before moving on to the minor things.

This step comes after you’ve read your first draft, made some comments or jotted down ideas.

Of course, whether you’ve merely jotted down ideas, or come up with new pacing suggestions, or discovered some character motivations, etc., at this point you should create a new outline.

Even if you’re not an outliner, this is the point where an outline can save you a whole lotta work. Trust me. As a reformed pantser, I have (finally) learned the value of repeated outlines.

I’ve discussed it before, but I’ve revised a previous WIP so many times I think my eyes were bleeding. The sole reason I spent so much time, sweat, blood, etc. on this revision is for the simple reason that I failed to outline my novel–ever. If I ever return to that WIP (it may be permanently shelved at this point), I will not fail to outline it. And pay attention to story structure. And character arcs. And…everything else I’m sharing with you over the course of this revision series.

So even if you’re a die-hard pantser, at some point, an outline is incredibly useful thing to have. This could be just a quick jot down of plot points, done prior to beginning, or else a detailed outline with every scene pre- or post-writing. Choose your method and go for it.

The key is being consistent. In order to remember all the pertinent events that occur in your novel, you should worry more about consistency and details than methods.

And plan on outlining more than once. Whether it’s keeping your outline updated as you write, or if it’s writing your first draft based on a loose outline, or no outline at all, then outlining your first draft and revising with that outline in mind, know that you should be outlining.

Why? Well, I’m glad you asked.

An outline:

  1. Prevents you from making minor changes.

    Ignoring a badly written sentence can be one of the hardest things to learn in revision. Yet it’s an important skill to develop. Forgo tweaking your sentences–for now. There will be a time (and a revision) for that later. But right now, you really have to focus on the bigger issues at hand, and an outline forces you to look only at the big moments of your novel and not the sentences that compose it.

  2. Forces you to examine the overall structure.

    Even if you “hate” structure and consider it beneath you, it’s hard to deny that all stories are made with a supportive structure underneath. By accepting this, even only at the revision stage, you can save yourself a headache by examining it and seeing whether your story structure needs some help. Here’s a quick post from the archives of my blog discussing story structure in case you need help or a quick reminder.

  3. Helps you address pacing issues.

    Examining the larger structure lets you see whether your midpoint is indeed falling halfway through the novel, instead of three-quarters of the way through your novel. It can help you examine whether your plot points are actually as big (or small) as they ought to be.

  4. Helps you streamline your plot.

    It’s easy to throw in a lot of subplots (here’s a previous post on subplots) and rabbit trails as you write your first draft. Even if you’ve outlined your first draft, getting sidetracked is kind of allowed, because you’re exploring your characters, plot, and story in a different way. And if you didn’t change your outline accordingly, here’s the chance to do that.

  5. Helps you organize your thoughts.

    You will have a multitude of thoughts as you reread your MS. In fact, you’ll have probably half a million ideas and thoughts that may or may not deserve more thought. (Yes, writing is largely a thinking game, and requires multitasking and organization.) What outlining does, especially if you go more in-depth than just the main plot points, is allow you to streamline your thoughts and organize any new ideas in the context of your story’s structure.

  6. Identifies the largest, most looming issue(s).

    This kind of makes sense if you think about it, as often times it’s hard to see a structural issue without an outline. An outline forces you to sit down and consider your novel’s structural moments. What is the pivot point? What is the midpoint? And do they fall at the “correct” moments in your novel? An outline will show you whether they do, and perhaps even where to shift some events to make them fall at the right moments and avoid that dreadful, saggy middle.

  7. Identifies any plot holes you might have missed.

    Plot holes were discussed last week, if you missed it and aren’t quite sure what they include. But in this context, it’s important to realize that it’s critical to discover any plot holes before your novel is ready for consumption, or before you spend too much time revising in a misguided way.

Outlines are valuable tools, one that many writers don’t utilize to their fullest extent. Looking at the bigger picture of a novel always helps in revision, and should not be ignored. Even if you’re only outlining the main points, it can help you to make your story stronger and leave a more lasting impact upon the reader. What could be better?

Those are my top 7 reasons for outlining during revision. Do you have another? Drop a note in the comments below!