I’m constantly surprised at how iterative a novel is. Does this happen to everyone? I wrote the dang thing, revised it, tossed it out to beta readers (all this over the course of years, mind you). And I’m finding that, for this project, incorporating beta-reader feedback means layering in characterization and backstory that didn’t make it out of my head and onto the page the first go-round. I write on the spare side as it is–and already chucked the floppy aimless scenes during the first revision–so I’m not dealing with cutting down prose, as you often hear people talk about. I’ve also had to rewrite scenes from different POVs, which drives me batty, and have generally been neglecting short stories and the other novel.
I’ve ripped this novel apart and patched it back together so many times, but this feels like a different beast entirely. Even before putting fingers to keyboard, I gathered all the feedback and notes together, and just thought about the novel for weeks. Because the draft I have right now is fairly polished in terms of prose, my goal is to make this last pass of edits with surgical precision, disrupting as little as possible from the working parts of the story.
The process has gone something like this:
- Think furiously about my game plan.
- Read notes, compile meta feedback into a quick-reference document. Keep comments ordered by critiquer. Highlight the ones that resonate.
- Transfer novel to iPad in ebook format, so it feels like I’m reading an actual book rather than a manuscript–and to prevent massive rewriting at this stage. (Hat tip to Phoebe for the suggestion).
- Before each editing session, I reread the master feedback document. Well, at least every couple of sessions, to refresh.
- Read the novel, making annotations as needed.
- After I’ve gone through a solid chunk of the novel this way (usually a third), I then bust out my laptop and make edits to the actual manuscript. Up to this point I’ve only incorporated meta level comments. The idea is not to get bogged down in the line edits, and to keep in the forefront my overarching ideal for the story.
- Finally I fire up the individual beta-reader versions of the manuscript and go through line edits.
- Repeat steps 5-7 with rest of the novel.
In addition to the POV changes mentioned earlier, I realized I had a fairly mustache-twirly antagonist, and have been working hard to make him more realistic. I found some of the exercises in Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook to be immensely valuable in this regard. It was also quite the revelation to see that my tendency to shift POVs was directly proportional to how much suffering a character was experiencing. And I know better than that! I know that when writing third person limited, a typical technique is to select POV based on which character is in the most pain. But I must have had my blinders on in previous passes. Or really, I wasn’t ready to write that scene the way it needed to be written. And that’s okay. That’s what revision is for, right? Now, finally, the scene is fixed, and the story so much stronger for it. I love my beta readers.
What have your experiences been in incorporating beta-reader feedback into a WIP?