Today I’m sharing a simple novel revision tool that an author recently recommended to me: grading your chapters. This approach can be especially helpful if you feel overwhelmed by a revision; if you’re not sure where to start revising; or if you’re looking to ease yourself back into your story and characters before diving in.
To utilize this revision strategy, first make a checklist of what each of your chapters should ideally achieve. Your checklist will likely include broad story goals such as:
- Main character demonstrates agency.
- External plot moves forward.
- Internal plot moves forward.
In addition, consider your specific story goals, audience, and genre. If you’re writing a mystery, your checklist will probably include finding clues and red herrings. If you’re writing a romance, your checklist will probably include scenes with the love interest. However, try to keep your checklist from ballooning to an unmanageable list of goals. Remember that the purpose of this exercise is not to create an outline or to make the revision feel more intimidating than it might already. As such, consider targeting around four or five overarching goals that are likely to apply to the majority of your chapters.
Once you’ve created your checklist, you can then use it to grade your chapters, using any label that is helpful to you. Chapters that achieve everything on your list could get an A, a 5/5, or a Fantastic; chapters that achieve all but one item could get a B, a 4/5, or a Great; and so on.
As much as possible, try to keep self-judgment out of this exercise. Remember that this is merely feedback about how each chapter achieves your targeted goals—not a measure of the strength of your story, your characters, or your writing. Depending on your story targets and plot structure, it may not be possible for every chapter to achieve every item on your list. However, this tool can help you to identify where to focus your revision efforts; to systematically consider whether each chapter is achieving its full potential; and to hone in on chapters that could possibly be combined, expanded, or cut.
If you are looking for additional revision tips, consider checking out some of my previous letters, including:
- Revising: Where to Begin?
- Novel Revision Tool: Reverse Outline
- Common Revision Areas: Tricky Beginnings
- Common Revision Areas: Meandering Middles
- Common Revision Areas: Satisfying Endings
Your Editor Friend,
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