Rip and Rebuild: Revisions Part 1


Does the thought give you nightmares, make you break out in a sweat, make your head pound like when you’re in a room full of screaming kids? (Sorry, I’m a mom of six, I’ve dealt with a lot of screaming kids.)

If you haven’t been through a revision and you bravely, even defiantly state, “I’m not afraid,” I offer you a quote from my favorite two-foot high, green Jedi dude, “You will be. Oh. You will be.”

Because when I use the word revisions, I’m not talking about editing, which is making new word choices or rewriting a few sentences, or rearranging a few paragraphs. No, I’m talking about totally ripping the manuscript apart and rebuilding because sometimes, like with remodeling a house, it’s necessary to rip out those walls and rebuild.

Why would you need to do this with a manuscript? Maybe like mine, it’s been sitting under the bed waiting until you learned more about the craft. And then when you pull it out, you realize the vision you had when you wrote it would no longer work. Or you’ve finished a manuscript but you know there’s something not quite right and it desperately needs repair work.  Or, in a happier scenario, you’ve gotten an R&R from an editor (revise and resubmit letter) and you need to figure out how to make the editor-requested repairs.

With The Good Daughter I did this sort of major revision. It originally came in at 120,000 words. I cut 40,000 words in the revisions. Intending to indie publish because it still didn’t fit the “guidelines” for a true romantic suspense, I sent it to an editor who thought it was then too lean and suggested places where I needed to flesh it out; as a result I wrote almost 15,000 new words.

If you, too, have a manuscript that needs to be ripped and rebuilt, here is the method that worked for me.

The Problem:

First, I had to decide what I wanted from this book. Theme helped me do that. Fortunately once I figured out what theme was, I realized I had one, whew.  I venture to suggest that if you decide on a theme before you actually write the book, then you might not have so much to revise later? A lot of these methods actually work better before you write the book, but if you’ve already written it, they’ll work too. It’s just more work!

Back to theme. There are those who say theme should be stated in one word. In that case, The Good Daughter’s theme is: Justice.  Others say theme is a concept, not a word.  For instance, Holly Lisle, in her course How To Revise Your Novel© says, “Your theme is the central idea of the story that you’re demonstrating by writing your story. It is the philosophical and emotional foundation of your book.”

If I were expanding my theme to the “philosophical and emotional foundation”, it would be: Justice is in the eye of the beholder. I even called the book Eye of the Beholder for a while, and former contest divas might remember seeing it final a few times.

But, if you don’t have a theme, or don’t know what it is, well, that’s stuff for another post. And even though I lucked out and instinctively wrote around a theme, The Good Daughter originally was big, rambling and self-indulgent. I had a lot of fun writing it, and when I have a lot of fun writing, I tend to get wordy.

So I had a theme, but I had to tighten. There were two main characters in this story, but the other two characters were just as important. What? Am I saying I had four main characters? Yep. Still do, although the focus has shifted from the original version. Still, The Good Daughter is not a typical romantic suspense.

In realizing that each character was quite important and had a symbiotic relationship to the others, I knew I needed to pick one and focus. Who had the most to lose if they didn’t succeed in stopping the mob? Unfortunately, all of them had a lot to lose. That question didn’t work.

Time to try another question. Whose life would change the most if they succeeded? No doubt about it. Marisa, the mob daughter’s would. She was risking her family and her whole way of life.

This realization provided a problem. Originally, Sandro and Nia’s story was the main plot. That’s because a soccer game sparked the idea for the book, and they were the soccer players (don’t worry if you hate soccer, there are no soccer games in the book). But there was no conflict between them. They deeply loved each other; they simply had to find a way to get back together for their life to be perfect.

I was told a long time ago, practically my first RWA group meeting, that if you have two characters who love each other and the plot keeps them apart, it would not work as a romance. (Though I do love Sandro and Nia’s love story and if you agree and want to read more, I’m putting together a short story for them.)

And though, as I said, this book does not follow a typical romance pattern, I realized if I used Marisa as the focus character and paired her with the FBI agent Dave—suddenly the story got more interesting.  Definite sparks with those two. Dave didn’t trust Marisa. Marisa didn’t trust Dave, and as typical in a romance (I do meet some expectations!), there are unexpected and unwanted sparks between them.

Therefore, I had to rewrite the story with Marisa and Dave as the main characters, making their story the plot and moving Sandro and Nia’s story to a subplot. Easy, right?

Yeah. Not so much.

As for you—where is your book? What was your original vision? Did you miss the target or did the target change? Do you have the right characters in the lead?  What do you want to accomplish with this revision? Now is the time to decide.

The Tools: What you need in order to rip

A Sampling of the Mac Power Tools

In addition to theme, I used these tools:

Sentence for Revision
The Sentence

(Note: none of this software is necessary, you can do the same with Word or another word processing program, I just like gadgety-type stuff.)

WriteWay Pro software: I like this because I can split the book into scenes and write stuff about each scene. Does a lot of the same things as Scrivener, but I have a PC and was used to WWP by the time Scrivener for PC came out.

Snowflake software:  very handy for writing synopses and proposals. And I will admit I subscribe to Randy Ingermanson’s Advanced Fiction Writing E-Zine  and used his Snowflake method before there was the Snowflake software. I bought it when he ran a special on it.

And last:
White notecards (lots, it was 120,000 word book)
Colored notecards

Moving on. Next, I wanted GMC’s for my characters. I needed to make sure that I was clear on what they all want. What is GMC? Goal, Motivation, Conflict. I thought Debra Dixon had saved the world when she came up with this concept. And yes, I’ve been hanging around RWA that long. Longer, even. By the way, do not look for this book on Amazon, sheesh, it’s $292  for a new copy. Seriously, it’s a small book. Go to Deb’s website. Much more reasonably priced.

A quick summary of GMC for those who might be unfamiliar with the concept:  Your character wants [fill in goal] because [fill in motivation] but [fill in conflict]. Here’s what I came up with:

Marisa’s GMC: A mafia princess wants to stop her father’s crime organization, because the path of destruction is wide and deadly and personal, but to do so would change her life.

Dave’s GMC: An FBI agent wants to stop the mob because that’s what he does, but he can’t do it this time without stepping outside the lines.

Sandro’s GMC: A blackmailed soccer player wants to rescue his wife because she is being held prisoner but he doesn’t know where the mob has taken her.

Nia’s GMC: A mom soccer player must escape the mob because she is afraid her husband will get himself killed trying to rescue her possibly leaving their son an orphan, but these are bad guys with guns who won’t think twice about murdering her.

This helps me make sure I have goals and conflicts for each character. This is helpful at the very least so your CP (critique partner) can’t relentlessly grill you, like mine once did, and leave you stuttering, b..b..because I want it that’s why. Nope, not a good answer. So come up with GMCs and keep them in mind for later when you have to come up with The Sentence. Also, notice I tried to describe each character in two or three words. Using these descriptive words instead of their names, helps make sure I have a clear image of the role the character will play—and will help later when you write a query and synopsis.

Next, and this is gonna be fun. Not.

The notecards.

First the white ones.  You’ll be using one per scene. I, and Holly, suggest you punch holes in the cards and find a way to bind them. You can bend a paperclip to thread through the hole, or use yarn. I recently discovered an index card notebook (was the highlight of my day!)—I’ll post a picture of it tomorrow.

Now that you have the holes punched in the white ones, you’ll go through each scene and write a summary sentence about the scene. (Note: number each card, because later you’ll get them out of order) The summary sentence will work better if you use Holly Lisle’s Sentence For Revision (later, we’ll use The Sentence, too, which is one of the coolest tools I’ve ever used).

Here’s the Sentence For Revision (SFR): Protagonist with a need vs. antagonist with a need in an interesting setting with a twist.

Incidentally, I asked permission to use SFR and The Sentence from Holly’s copyrighted courses.

Now, I’ll go into more detail in tomorrow’s post, but for now, realize that antagonist does not necessarily have to be a person; instead it can represent something that is in opposition to your protagonist, providing conflict.

I learned in a scriptwriting class the 7 basic conflicts: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Himself, Man vs. God (or supernatural), Man vs. Machine, Man vs. Destiny, Man vs. Society. I mention these so you can realize that each scene can have conflict even if it just has one person in it.

Here’s an interesting article about Conflict if you want to read more.

And the twist portion in the SFR is the one thing that changes everything in a scene.

If you don’t have conflict, and nothing changes, you don’t have a scene. Which is exactly why you’re writing down a summary sentence of each scene—so you can see what you have.

One more thing about this summary sentence: Holly teaches to set up your Sentence for Revision in this format:  PACTS.


If going through your scenes, you find for example, a scene with no twist, just write down: [no twist] and move onto the next scene. Resist the temptation to do editing now (although I admit, I circle typos or something that sounds stupid, sometimes big somethings that sound stupid). You don’t want to get caught up in editing, though, because at this point you don’t know if you’ll end up cutting that word, sentence, paragraph or scene. Wait until later.

Also, make note that in doing the scene cards, you might have *more* than a scene, for example, you might have protagonist vs. antagonist plus twist, twist, twist…in other words, you have a lot going on in the scene and it rambles from one thing to another with no real focus. Holly calls these scenes:  Frankenscenes. (cool term, huh?) Make note of your Frankenscenes on the scene card; they will have to be fixed.

Yes, going through your manuscript scene by scene is boring and tedious. Do it anyway.

And that is enough for today. If you’re anxious to learn more, I invite you to check out Holly Lisle’s website.  I have taken most of her courses and read most of her books, and I have notebooks and notebooks full of information. It has been invaluable. At this time, she’s planning on cancelling her courses: How To Think Sideways—last registration for the year long course will end March 31, and How To Revise Your Novel—last registration date not set. Although, if I understand correctly, she’ll be switching the courses to e-book format.

Also Randy Ingermanson’s website, to read more about the Snowflake method. As I mentioned, I subscribe to his newsletter, and I print it out most months to put in a binder as well. I never fail to learn something new. However, I am NOT advertising for either one of them or the software mentioned. These are just tools I used to learn how to do revisions and I’m happy to share my knowledge.

So what do you think? Already way too much work? Or something you think you can use? I tell you, though, I’ve revised several books, and this, for me, is the fastest way to get a cohesive finished product. Questions on the process so far?

Be sure to come back tomorrow for part 2 to learn the Nuts and Bolts: How to put it all together.  As always, feel free to check out my website!


49 responses to “Rip and Rebuild: Revisions Part 1”

  1. Joya Fields says:

    Wow! I’m going to print this out and save it. I struggle with GMC on each and every book. As a pantser, I didn’t think I needed it. Then I found out (the hard way…revised two books in the way you mentioned above)that if you know the theme and GMC ahead of time, the book comes out a lot better during the first draft.

    Thanks very much for sharing your hard-earned tools and best wishes for continued success. 🙂

    • Diana Layne says:

      Thanks, Joya! And just wait til you add The Sentence to your arsenal, lol. It gives you a direction and yet it’s not so rigid that you feel stifled, at least that’s what I’ve found.

  2. Liz Talley says:


    I couldn’ve used this a week ago. Too bad I handed in my revisions yesterday. LOL.

    I like the notecard thing (can’t even believe I’m saying that) but I like a sentence summary for each scene. That’s got to be helpful when you’re evaluating the productivity of a scene.

    This last revision I had to do was hard. I had to rip out some scenes, write new ones, and rewrite most all of them because my characters were passive. It was pretty tough and I sweated a lot. A lot. But I think I got them ironed out. I knew my character’s GMC but they were tossed into circumstances and had taken a “wait and see” attitude, allowing everything to happen, but not doing anything to take a direction. It was actually realistic, but reality doesn’t always make good fiction, right? So I had to give them new goals and allow them to react to what life tossed them, rather than sitting like bumps on the log saying, “Maybe this or that? I do want you. I don’t. I’m confused” and stuff like that.

    Can’t wait for tomorrow 🙂

    • Diana Layne says:

      Yep, I was thinking that when you said you sent off your revisions, lol. I’ve so been there about ripping and new goals and it is tough. This is what I’m doing to some older manuscripts that I don’t want to see die, like The Good Daughter. For new ones, I’m stuck right now because while I have my sentence for the story (I use this for first drafts now, saves tons of rewriting) I neglected to do scene cards, thinking, oh, I know these characters (they were from another story.) Nope. Not so much.

      So the sentence summary IS helpful, especially if you have a method, like Holly’s, to make sure you have the elements there to make it a good scene.

      I love my notecards. There’s a notecard system on WriteWayPro too that I’ve yet to use because I like my physical cards–goodness knows what I’d do if I lost them! making me think I should back up to Writeway just in case, lol.

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Oh, yes…the passivity problem.

      The reminder that each scene not only needs conflict but also needs to PRODUCE A CHANGE is a really important one in the context.

      Something meaningful needs to shift forward, or there’s no point in having the scene. (I need to have this tattooed on the backs of my hands so I see it every minute that I write. Or I’ll tattoo it on one hand, and put Tammy’s “WRITE FEROCIOUSLY” on the other!)

  3. Jamie Salisbury says:

    Great, informative post!

  4. Margie H says:

    Thank you for such an informative post. I just recently discovered that m biggest issue was lack of fully forming my character’s motivation. It is amazing what a difference it makes.

    I too will be printing this as a reminder! Thank you again 🙂

  5. Great post, Diana. Wow! I can’t wait for one of my books to go for $290. Would someone actually pay that for a book they can get for $20?

    My first GH winner, A Little Bit of Deja Vu (which I’m releasing next month), was unwieldy when I first wrote it. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, so I front-loaded it with SIX CHAPTERS of back-story, all vitally important to the plot. It took a lot of revising to weave all of it seamlessly into the book without doing a zillion flashbacks. It’s a second-chance romance, which is really tough to write without a ton of back-story.

    • Diana Layne says:

      Oh, I’m a backstory queen, Laurie! That was most of the 40,000 words I cut re: Nia and Sandro’s backstory. I still love that story though. I still use flashbacks as long as they have a purpose. It’s definitely easier to weave it through for me if I keep track with my notecards!

      I really don’t think anyone would pay $292, really?? ha.

  6. Elise Hayes says:


    Great post!! I do a scene-by-scene map, as well (although I put my notes into a computer chart, rather than notecards) and it’s *enormously* helpful. It really gives you a way of stepping back and analyzing how each scene is working (and how much more work it could be doing).

    Conflict tends to be less of an issue for me (I’m a plot gal, so that comes pretty instinctively), but my weakness is with characters and emotions, so those are what I chart scene-by-scene (i.e., the conflict is there, but how are the hero/heroine *reacting* emotionally to the conflict and what impact is the conflict having on the romance arc?). It’s amazing how often I think a scene is “done”–until I chart it and realize that, yet again, I haven’t put in those emotional reactions.

    Can’t wait to see tomorrow’s post!

    • Diana Layne says:

      Yep, I’m a plotter too. And struggle with the characters and their emotions as well. I do have a post I’m planning on doing to show just how I tap into their emotions. It’s actually a little embarrassing what I’ll reveal, but the Rubies and Ruby followers are all friends!

  7. Greg Carrico says:

    Hi Diana,
    Great post, as always! I am having a major Deja Vu moment. You list some great tools, here. I discovered several of them while revising my 1st novel. I’ve been following Holly Lisle for a while, too. Thanks for putting all of this together in such a helpful format!

    • Diana Layne says:

      Hi, Greg! Love Holly. Although if she sees the post tomorrow, she’s probably gonna cringe about how I hacked the course. (I signed up for both HTTS and HTRYN when they first came open). But what she does works for her, and I took what I identified with and made it work for me and since we’re all different, that’s all we can do. Hopefully those reading this can take a few things away that will work for them, too!

      • Greg Carrico says:

        Ha! I’m sure she’ll understand :). We all take bits of knowledge from each other and apply them in the ways that work best for us. How boring would it be if we all did everything the same way? I use some of Holly’s tools, some of Stephen King’s, a good bit Uncle Orson Scott Card’s, and several others I don’t recall at the moment. And now, yours! Thanks again!

  8. Wow, Diana, this is jam-packed with information! As someone who’s currently going through painful revisions (yes, revisions, not edits) with her current WIP, thank you for reminding me I’m not alone. 🙂

    I’m really loving Scrivener at this point. I’ve been using it for a few months with a couple different manuscripts, but it’s truly helpful with the revision process. I’ve started this book three times, each time pushing the action from my last “beginning” further down in the story. So I have a lot of rewriting of scenes ahead, but with Scrivener, I can pick up an entire scene and plonk it down elsewhere very easily. It has built-in notecards where I can summarize my scene. I’m finding it easier to organize my thoughts.

    Thanks again for the helpful post!

    • Diana Layne says:

      My youngest daughter’s dad bought her an air mac for her bday so she could use it to make her youtube vids. (and eventually book trailers for me, bwahaha). Well to make the vids, she has to have a script and scrivener looked like it was a good reasonably priced option for scriptwriting so he bought that. I signed up for Gwen Hernandez’ class so I could learn it and teach her and…well, all those emails are in a folder, I will get to them as soon as I can! But when I used the beta for PC, it did have some really cool features. WriteWay Pro is similar, though it doesn’t have the corkboard, but it DOES export in epub format which Scrivener for PC doesn’t do yet. (tho it does for Mac). Still, I prefer my notecards, even though I think I’ll back up the info in WWP.

      Good luck with revisions–the scene cards really do help!

  9. Alicia Dean says:

    Fantastic post!!! I will definitely use this. I’ve always had trouble getting a handle on GMC, but you explained it very well. And, since I’m reading The Good Daughter (slowly due to lack of time, but loving it), I can easily see how this applies. Can’t wait until the post tomorrow. Thanks for sharing.

    • Diana Layne says:

      Thanks Alicia, and it really does make writing simpler if you do this stuff beforehand! Revising The Good Daughter took so much out of me! But with Pirate’s Proposal, I started out with the sentence and the scenes–although the first sentence I came up with just didn’t work. Given I had to stay within the constraints of our Scrimshaw Doll series, it was kinda hard coming up with a sentence that did work. But when I did, it was a breeze to write and then I only had some light edits! Definitely better to do beforehand, yes! Glad it helped on GMC’s. They were really difficult for me until one day they clicked–mainly I think the click came when I started looking at it from the characters’ POV rather than what I wanted to happen. If that make sense…

  10. I am a huge proponent of Holly’s workshops, especially HTRYN! It’s time-consuming, it’s brutal, and it totally took my writing to the next level. I have two index card notebooks – one for the white cards and one for the colored ones. I’ve put three books through this process so far, and now, I can’t imagine publishing one without it. Although I sure hope I can work up to doing it faster! HTRYN is a complex process – you did a great job of summarizing it.

    • Diana Layne says:

      HTRYN is a great course, yes. Even though there’s still some parts that go right over my head, I still got enough out of it that it was well worth the cost. Have you taken How To Think Sideways? She teaches you how to do all this stuff before hand so heavy duty revisions aren’t needed. As I told Alicia above, I used it with Pirate’s Proposal and once I got the right sentence it was a breeze to write! Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Gillian says:

    An amazing post! I’m really looking forward to studying this and tomorrow’s on Friday evening when this week is DONE. 🙂

    • Diana Layne says:

      Been a tough week? LOL. It has been here. I think I read Mercury is retrograde again, really I don’t even know if Mercury does anything besides being retrograde but I blame bad weeks on it. Hang on just a few more hours!

      Hope you can find something in the post(s) you can use! Thanks for stopping by!

  12. Amanda Brice says:

    What a fantastic post, Diana! I’m about to start revising, so will definitely be coming back to this again!

  13. Elisa Beatty says:

    An index card NOTEBOOK??? I am salivating. Please post info about where to buy one if you can!!!!

    This is great and helpful, Diana! I’m STILLLLLLLL working through revisions on my GH book…and it’s a maddening process, especially when I have so little time.

    Can’t wait for tomorrow’s post!

  14. Beth Langston says:

    I love Scrivener–with my white (or colored) index cards built in. It has made revision so much easier.

    My favorite revision manual is called SECOND SIGHT by Cheryl Klein. It is geared for YA fiction, but I think it holds truths anyone could you.

    THanks for the post, Di!

    • Diana Layne says:

      I do know Scrivener is a powerful program, when I used the beta program for PC I got the notecards all jumbled though and couldn’t get them unjumbled. I guess I’m old…er, old-fashioned. I like being able to lay the cards out on the floor or table…I actually make a huge mess when I’m writing/revising. I also do most of my first draft writing by hand too. With this whole arthritis thing I have going on now(yes, Early Onset, ahem) I had to go out and buy a big fat pen so I could keep writing by hand. 🙂

  15. Okay. I admit it. You are far more organized than I. And far more ambitious. Just thinking about all that stuff you did makes my head spin. I’d have saved the good stuff (probably in a notebook), deleted the darned thing, and started over.

    I use my notecards and filebox with story name dividers (because my characters tend to hop around to stories other than their own) so I have character info on the front and that character’s GMC chart on the back. As for the rest, well, I admit I’d go crazy. If it doesn’t work, I cut it out and rewrite because the good stuff tends to stay with me. I have the basic recipe, so tossing the ingredients together with the flavors I missed the first time tends to work for me. Trying to work with what’s already in the pot just makes me question everything. I even revise by the seat of my pants! Can’t help it. It’s either that or overthink everything into the ground.

    • Diana Layne says:

      see, with my short attention span, I’d never keep everything in my head. I do admire that! And…ahem, I have been accused of overthinking things a time or two, lol.

  16. Rita Henuber says:

    Sorry to be checking in so late. Excellent poat! revisions are not too much work. Any work done to improve a book is well worht the time. Thanks for sharing your process.

  17. Wow, what a fabulous post. Thanks for sharing, Di!

  18. Shoshana Brown says:

    You had me at index cards. (Seriously. I’m a total sucker for any writing methods involving charts, graphs, or index cards.) And, great timing, because I’m in the midst of revisions. Thanks, Di!

  19. Lot of meaty stuff in this post, Di! I’m three chapters into my latest book, so I’ll be using this info when revisions roll around! Thanks so much!

  20. Diana, thanks for mentioning that you were going to do this post today. You’ve given me hope again. Yay!

    I’ve taken both of Holly’s courses that you mention above and absolutely loved them. After reading through part 1 of your revision techniques, I think it’s probably time I reviewed the courses. I’ve detailed my scene on sticky notes, rearranged and restructured the scenes, and now it’s time for some GMC and (hopefully) theme to solidify the idea behind the story. Then I’m going to write up the summary sentence. I’d totally forgotten about that.

    Looking forward to tomorrow’s post. I’m going to be offline for the day but will definitely catch it some time this weekend. 🙂

    • Diana Layne says:

      Oh, Sheila, you remembered! Yes, if this is a book you’ve been working on off and over for years, I’d definitely recommend going through Holly’s course again. And if you haven’t printed them out, get them printed–it’s so much easier going through them in a binder (tho I wish I had an table of contents, lol). Plus with her closing the courses..I think we’ll still have access, but I’m not sure how that will work, I’ve read her posts but info doesn’t stay in my brain long these days. I do veer off a bit from her method, but I got enough from the courses to be very helpful. Hope my methods can help you!

  21. Thanks so much for this, Di! Seems I’ve spent the past two years revising various projects and I think I was doing it all wrong!

  22. Great post, di! Thanks! One I’m going to read over and over because there is so much info to digest. I’m in the first draft stage with the next book, but I know revisions are coming on the last one submitted.

  23. Lyn says:

    Wow! There is so much information here, Diana. I have to admit to doing everything on-line. The idea of index cards just seems too organised for me – but I’m going to re-think and take as many of your ideas on board as I can. I’m revising a NaNo novel, so there is a LOT of work to do. Perhaps getting more organise will make it easier!

  24. I am so glad my group has Cate Rowen in it! Otherwise, I wouldn’t have come to this great site today and read your post.

    I’m working on my third novel and feel like I need to revisit the other two just to make sure.

    GMC is explained so simply! The Sentence is perfect and I’m headed to Office Depot for a index card notebook right after I get through with this post. Thanks, I’ll be here tomorrow!


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