I go through several revisons: One for plot, one for character, and one for prose. Thus, this list. These are obviously my own points of interest when revising – they’re things that tend to pop up again and again which I have issues with. The “you” in here is me – for when I read over this again and undoubtedly add to it as I learn more. 😀 So, with no further ado:
How to revise for plot
Is there a decision in every scene? If not, why?
Without an active decision, made by a the MC, the scene is literally a piece of description. That’s all well and good – but why is it there? Does it advance the plot in another way? Is it set up? Foreshadowing? Reaction (ie, emotional reaction to the events before hand)? Texture? (Texture can be useful too – it helps give your world depth and reality. To be used with caution however.) Does it set up emotional stakes?
Has the character changed or learnt something?
This point ultimately ties back to the first point – if a character learns nothing from his decisions, changes not at all, then what’s the point in making the decision in the first place? The character is still in his comfort zone – his decision has as much relevancy as “what do I eat for dinner tonight?”
Are the plot complications progressive, real, and do they back the character into a corner?
Characters are human. If you can get away with doing A, and it works, you won’t want to go on to do B. So back your character into a corner and force them to do B. This seems fairly straightforward, but you’ve also got to check that the complications pushing your character along aren’t totally out of left field. Otherwise, it gets silly
Do these complications repeat each other?
This means they’re not getting any harder. It also means that you’re running out of plot. Look for this, particularly in the middle.
Are your acts all there and are they nice and logical?
For me an act is an overarching scene essentially. “Character A wants this. A, B, C and D happen to make it hard to get, Character A therefore decides to do XYZ. Character A now has a new goal. New goal = new act.” Decisions should drive the narrative from complication A, to complication B, to complication C ect.
How many plots do I have?
A novel needs more than one, because it’s just tiring to read through a book when all the complications pile on top of you and nothing gets any better. But if your character succeeds, you diminish the narrative tension. The way to circumnavigate this, imo, is to have something go wrong in your subplot right after something goes right in your main plot.
By that same logic though, there really shouldn’t be subplots in a short story. There doesn’t tend to be room for more than one goal, a set of complications, and a resolution. It can be difficult, but try to make sure your complications don’t introduce other goals into the mix. Otherwise you’ll end up with a novella, not a short.
Is it interesting?
At the end of the day, none of the above actually applies if what you’ve written seizes someone’s interest. This is very hard to judge, however, especially as the creator of the piece. Of course you think it’s interesting. You wouldn’t have pushed through that horrible 20k stretch of middle otherwise (and don’t lie, you know it was horrid. The middle is always horrid 😛 ) The only way to figure this one out is to write it, leave it alone for a while, and read it again, as if you’d never read it before. This takes time though, so sometimes you can speed up the process with the angels of this world – beta readers
Picture Credit: Attributed to Tall Chris, used under the Creative Common’s Licence (some rights reserved), original picture found here: http://flic.kr/p/2gena