writing process: major revisions

May 3, 2010

6. First read-through: major revisions:

The first draft of anything is shit. ~ Ernest Hemingway.

After taking a break, I read the whole story, not stopping to fix small things. The first read-through is mostly for the big picture: plot holes, character development, scenes that might need to be cut or re-arranged.

I try to be merciless when cutting scenes, but sometimes, we writers just fall in love with a clever scene, even though it doesn’t contribute to the plot. In the first draft of Second Nature, I had a scene in which Jorie plays poker in a casino. It showed off how clever and cool-headed Jorie is – and it also showed off all the information about poker and poker strategy that I had acquired in days of research. But the scene slowed down the pace too much, so it had to go. Ouch.

After that first read-through, I do several more, each time focusing on one aspect of fiction, e.g., dialogue, pacing, etc.

I also do a scene breakdown. Each scene gets a line in a table. Here’s scene one of Hidden Truths as an example:

scene chapter content POV place, time pages goal conflict result scene    purpose
1 1 Rika & Jo hurry to the mill Rika Boston, Feb. 27 (Thursday) 1.5 Make it to work on time Jo is sick They’re late show Rika’s loyalty

It helps me see the big picture without getting distracted by the prose. It’s easier to see plot holes if you have the story on a few pages. It also helps me keep track of passing of time, consistency, and accidental “head hopping.” In Hidden Truths, I suspect it will show me that I have too many POVs.










Scene purpose




Boston, February 27 (Thursday)

Rika & Jo hurry to work

1 ½

Make it to work on time

Jo is sick

They are late

Show that Rika is loyal and has a hard life



  1. You are such a nerd 🙂
    in humble adoration…

  2. If it gets me humble adoration, I’ll happily admit to being a total nerd 🙂

  3. Since I do a lot of notes like that before I begin, I don’t tend to do that after the first draft, but a cold read-thru, forgetting for the time being that I am the author, is an important step. I have only had one manuscript undergo major revisions, and the single scene adjustment caused a rewrite of the entire last six chapters. I don’t intend to get into any problem like that again, so I do all my planning up front.

    • Oh, don’t I know what you mean! Because I skipped a few steps in my plotting this time, I had to rewrite three chapters of Hidden Truths and I’m still not done revising the end.

  4. Awwww, you’re a geek! This fellow geek absolutely LOVES your scene breakdown table.

    Hmm, now I have a strong urge to create a graph showing pages per scene, and I’m not even a writer.

  5. You could join my “creative staff” as my official “writing graph creator.” But can you then make it a graph showing WORD (not pages) per scene? 😉

  6. Oooh, I like my new title! Although I guess I have to produce a graph first before using the title.

    • Yes, unless you want your title to be “imaginary writing graph creator,” I need proof of your graph-creating skills first 🙂

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