Making a revision road map: turning beta and editor notes into a next draft plan

As this month’s series of posts on epic battles in fantasy wraps up, I’m back for my usual Friday post to continue my discussion about the process of writing a next draft.

If you’ve missed the earlier installments, this all started in my April 23rd post on the difference between writing a draft and doing a revision and strategies I have come up with to make the next step for Blood Dawn a draft, not just a revision. (Read that post here if you’d like to know more.)

I promised in that post that I’d talk about what a road map was and so today I continue what I started last week (Read that post here.)

Today I continue, with the details of how to actually take all the hard feedback and turn it into a road map for writing a next draft.

Dump and sift, a work strategy with writing application

When I’m not sure how to put together a bunch of information, I dump it all in one place. I do this in my day-to-day work and find that simple step instantly kicks overwhelm in the butt.

For me it’s seeing everything all in one place. It’s an absolute mess, but once I have it all there I can look at it and ask: how can I clean up the mess?

And that idea is exactly what the first step in creating the road map is all about.

It doesn’t matter who’s feedback is who’s anymore

Up until this point in the process, I’ve been looking at each set of notes separately. It’s integral to this process that I’ve now read all the hard comments that now remain in each document twice and I’ve had a long period of time to reflect on them.

But now it’s no longer efficient to deal with these comments separately because the comments are too deep to be resolved with a simple 5-10 minute revision in place. This is where using the dump and sift technique comes in handy.

Create categories for plot, character, and craft, and sort all comments into those

I use Scrivener, so when I dump all my remaining hard beta reader and editor notes I do it in a new text document at the start of Blood Dawn’s manuscript file. From here, I start to separate comments and create three major categories — plot, character, and craft — and sort all comments accordingly. This is tedious and involves a lot of cut and paste, but it’s worth it!

Although I no longer want to keep notes separate, I do still want to be able to remember the source of each comment. This helps when I have comments on a similar issue where opinions might differ so I can reflect on which direction I want to take. To help me differentiate, I put a letter next to each comment, usually the initial of the source, i.e. my editor was Austen, so I’d put (A) next to each comment that’s from her notes.

Once each of these categories are sorted, I split the large text file into three — one for each category, and name it accordingly.

Sort everything further — characters, plot elements, craft issues

There are far too many comments to just go through them all in order, and really this is not the goal of the road map. But just like the first step where I had to dump all my feedback in one place so I could sort it on a large level, this next step allows me to sub-sort within each category and creating the beginning glimpses of a road map.

1) Character categories

Within the character file, sort each comment into a category for each character. For Blood Dawn, with seven point of view characters, it makes sense to put all issues relating to, say, Venton together, and similarly with Rena, Jane, Aukamil, Skippy, Lantis, and Manwen (Manwen’s notes are HUGE). Even with secondary characters any comments should be separated. For example, Rena’s uncle, Kurt Estelle, plays an important role in Blood Dawn but he’s not a viewpoint character — still, making revisions to Blood Dawn regarding his character will make sense if I can think about the story where he touches it and decide what I need to change to address all issues that are problematic to him for my beta readers and editor.

2) Plot elements

Plot is a broad topic, so it makes no sense just grouping all my notes relating to “plot” together. But, unlike character, plot is a bit trickier to separate.

Here is what I find helpful to get this started:

I go over the list of everything under “plot” in order. If the next items seems quite different from the first, I separate it by several line breaks. If it’s similar, I keep it together with the first item. As I move through, I create groups based on similarities until I start to see plot threads.

For example, in Blood Dawn, there are a lot of notes about the politics relating to House Keldar and House Trwll’s motives, and this rears its head in numerous places, rife with contradictions that got comments from all my beta readers and my editor. So as I sifted through I put these comments together. Likewise, there’s a lot of confusion about Manwen’s role in the King’s Army and the purpose of war.

Once I’ve got a good sense of the groupings, I name each of these plot threads and separate them, just as I did with the character. I try to break this up as much as possible.

3) Craft issues

Some of the harder comments relate to issues of craft. This is the simplest to sort of the three and really should not have a lot of detail (since a lot of problems relating to craft can be resolved in applying the moderate feedback step I mentioned last week).

What remains here should be broken up like an inventory. However, one-off issues that aren’t hard should be separated from much deeper issues that are going to take a lot of time.

I break the craft issues note into two notes, one for deep and one for easy. If the deep file has more than one major issue, I split that up into a note for each issue and name it accordingly.

An example of deep: In Blood Dawn one of my editor’s comments was that I have a lot of narrative in places where dialogue would serve better. This is not specific to one scene. Likewise, one of my beta readers made a similar comment, but shared a different perspective on it, with some example parts. I collected a few other disparate notes that belonged here from specific scenes too. Together, these comments make the “convert to dialogue” note.

An example of something easy: “oh” — a word I use too much across my point of view characters. One of my beta readers suggested cutting it back so it’s unique to some character voices. This is not hard to fix, but it’s best left as a separate task. So in the easy list, it’s something I can get to in check-list fashion, using a simple “find” feature to weed through the manuscript and find everywhere I use it, then make decisions on how I want to alter the voice where appropriate.

And now, make the road map

There is one final step now that all comments have been divided up as finely as possible. No, it’s not rewriting. I try to hold off on that until I’m no longer looking at abstract comments and instead I’m looking at writing instructions.

So that’s exactly what I do next: take all the notes in each of the given categories, and convert them to instructions at the header of each relevant scene.

As a first step, I nail all the easy craft issues first, because those don’t require as much focus. I also save the deeper craft issues for last because they require a complete manuscript comb through with just that focus for each item.

The road map I get comes from the character and plot notes I arrived at. Doing this requires lots of care and reflection because I want to make sure I’m not boxing myself into a corner in case the act of rewriting presents better ideas for how to tackle a specific issue, so I don’t get rid of my original notes — but I will only refer to them if I ever plan to take a different route, just to make sure I remember the context.

From here, it’s time to rewrite. That process is as wild and free, once more, as writing the first draft and I like to approach drafting this way all the time. There’s a lot of surprises already waiting for me in Blood Dawn’s manuscript based on the road map I have in place and I’m excited to begin — and to come out with something that’s improved on the first draft dramatically.

Did you enjoy this post? Please, if you are a writer, tell me about your process of revision and what you think about this approach. If you want to see a video tour of my actual manuscript demonstrating some of this process, sign up to my newsletter where you’ll see it in the May 13th letter. Sign up here.

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About John Robin

John Robin is an epic fantasy writer, professional editor, and lover of imaginary worlds. He write stories about magic and myth, human suffering and the power to rise above it. He loves world building, coffee shops, mathematics, chess, and is an avid author community builder.
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2 Responses to Making a revision road map: turning beta and editor notes into a next draft plan

  1. Pingback: Developmental editing — how you can’t live without it, and how to make it affordable | John Robins Blog

  2. Pingback: How to do a developmental edit yourself — a self-editing guide for writers | John Robins Blog

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