Rip and Rebuild: Revisions Part 2

Welcome back to Rip and Rebuild: Revisions Part 2! If you missed part 1, you can find it here.

Today we’re talking:

Nuts and Bolts

Nuts and Bolts: How to put it all together

OK, you’ve finished the scene cards, now what?

First, you separate them into stacks: plot and subplots. (Note: remember to make sure they’re numbered before you start getting them out of order.) Holly Lisle has some neat little forms in her course where as she goes through the stacks, she writes out what is missing and broken in the scenes. While this is where I first use the Snowflake software.

In Snowflake, I type in the SFR (Sentence for Revision, see part one) summary sentences to the plot in the place where you plug in your sentences, and it generates a synopsis for me. Then I do the same for each subplot.

If you don’t have the Snowflake software, you can write out sentence by sentence in your word processing program OR you can use Holly’s method, having a sheet of paper with a column for what is missing in the scene, a column for what is broken in the scene and a column to write out what scene these problems occur.  (I’m not even going to attempt to draw a table in WordPress, sorry, but it’s easy enough to generate a table in a word processing program if you want to get fancy). The choice is yours, which method you use, the synopsis or the table or paper and pen. Later, Holly uses a synopsis in a different manner so I’m veering off from her course here a bit.

I use the synopses of the plot and subplots and read them for continuity and yes, I do mark what seems broken or missing and make notes to myself for what might need to be cut or where it needs more information to make sense. I just mark it up with a pen.

Again,  analyze your plot and subplot(s) in any manner in which you feel comfortable. Now, set your notes and the cards aside.

Next, with your theme, GMC’s, and SFR cards, you’re familiar enough with the intricacies of your story that you can now work on The Sentence. And I will tell you, I say The Sentence with a sound of awe and reverence in my voice.

Again, it is the same sentence template that you used for the Sentence For Revision. Only this time, it needs to be around 30 words, be as polished as you can make it…and encompass the whole book!

I want to quote from Holly’s course How To Revise Your Novel© here because what she says is so RIGHT.

“The easiest way to wrap your head around The Sentence—the single sentence that defines your story—is to write that single sentence first. Writing the one-sentence story before you write the story is part of the process of Thinking Sideways [another Holly course]. It helps you stay on track during the first draft, it prevents a lot of pointless digression, and it results in a finished first draft closer to the book you want to have written. The process of writing and using The Sentence before the first draft , though, is worlds apart from writing one based on a completed first draft.”


“If you ARE one of the folks who didn’t start your story with The Sentence, you now face the unenviable task of taking a hundred-foot-tall, three-hundred-year-old oak tree and squeezing the essence of that behemoth back into the seed.” ~Holly Lisle, How To Revise Your Novel ©

Me again. I guarantee you she’s right, and I start my books with The Sentence now.

Okay, to refresh your memory, The Sentence is:

Protagonist with a need vs. Antagonist with a need in an interesting setting with a twist.

Delving a little deeper…

Protagonist: Don’t use the main protagonists name, but try for two or three words, adjective(s) plus noun. I used mafia daughter.  I know, I know, if you’re writing romance there’s a hero and a heroine. You have to decide on one for this process. Which one has the most growth, or the most to lose or gain? Start with that one. Incidentally, Holly’s course has an excellent way to analyze and sharpen your characters but that’s too in-depth for this post.

Antagonist: again, this might not be a person, but if it is, try to describe in two or three words as above.

Conflict: this is the “with a need”part — what the protagonist needs vs. what the antagonist needs.

Setting:  yes, setting matters although I didn’t use  setting extensively  in The Good Daughter.  I reasoned that most everyone had an image of the NYC area in their mind, and I did try to use specificity for some of the places to give more of a sense of setting. Think about this for your book, and remember it is Your Book so do what is best for you.

Twist: Just like your scenes need a twist, so does the book. The big twist should be the reason you write the book…and  analyzing the twist from each character’s POV, it was the twist of Marisa risking everything she knew that helped me focus on her as the main character and gave me direction for the rewrite.

To make The Sentence for The Good Daughter, I have:

Protagonist with need: Mafia daughter seeks vengeance
Antagonist with need: The mob who killed her cop boyfriend to silence him
Setting: Transplanted to New York from Italy
Twist:  The mob boss is her father and to destroy the mob will destroy the only way of life she knows.

The Sentence for The Good Daughter:

An Italian transplant to NYC mafia daughter seeks vengeance against the mob who killed her boyfriend to silence him, but the mob boss is her father.

27 words. As a first attempt it’s rough, and I’m reasonably sure I need some hyphenated words in there, but it comes in at word count, at least!

However, I refined it.  And left out the setting in the rewrite. (don’t throw things at me!) In reality, this mob book could be made to work in any city with a mob presence. This is not the case in every book, and I did research and use setting, but I didn’t use it to the extent where it could be another character in my story. So it got nixed in this rewrite, and also note, this Sentence came in over 30 words. (I’m ducking, I’m ducking—but really I tried!!)

The kinda-bending-the-rules Sentence:

When the mob kills her cop boyfriend and ruins her chances for a new life, a mafia daughter vows to bring them down–at the risk of destroying her family and the only life she’s known.

But it worked for me. So now that I have my Sentence, I grab my synopses with the notes, make sure the note cards are back in numerical order although not yet bound, and start analyzing each scene.

As I go through each card, I use my notes off the synopses, and analyzing each card in depth…noting what is missing, what doesn’t belong, what is broken…ALWAYS comparing whether or not it fits in with The Sentence.  When I find something that needs fixing, I grab a colored card.

Let me take a minute for an aside on the colored cards here. Holly has a fantastically organized system for using the colored cards…which stayed in my head all of five seconds. But only because I have the attention span of a flea. No, nix that, a flea has a longer attention span, at least if it’s on a nice plump dog. If you are a newbie at this writing and revising thing, a course like Holly’s How To Revise Your Novel or How to Think Sideways is worth it if you can scrape up the money. I say this, not because she paid me—heck, I never met her, but because I did scrape up the money for both courses and they were amazing.  Her courses are well thought-out and organized and full of terrific, thought-provoking, story-improving, life-changing information. (yes, I’m a total fan girl)

But since my very first words, according to my parents were, “I’ll do it myself”, and because I have the aforementioned short attention span, plus I get easily bored, I always manage to wing it, even when there are stellar instructions. (Of course this often causes me trouble, but I seem to learn best by messing up first.)

Back to the notecards, if I find something is missing and I have to add a scene, I grab one in the red family, red, pink or orange (if all those colors are not in the red family, I apologize, I’m not an artist). This is a visual reminder that I’ve got a lot of work coming up when I make it to one of those cards.

If I come across one of those Frankenscenes and it has to be cut into several scenes, I grab a different colored card, say yellow, and write the new info on however many cards I’ll need for the new scenes. If something is broken, I choose a blue card. Why? Broken and blue start with a B? Blue’s my favorite color? I don’t know, I just used blue. And on the blue card, I’ll write the original sentence from that scene and then how it needs to be fixed and then trash the white card. (Note: be sure you keep a numbering scheme going—as I add cards, I’ll use the card number plus a letter of the alphabet. For instance if I have to add a new scene right after card number 4, I’ll number that card 4-A.)

If a scene doesn’t work, or it’s not a scene, then I draw a big X through it and leave it in the stack so my numbering sequence doesn’t get messed up.

And basically that’s it. I go through card by card comparing, adding cards, X-ing cards, making notes on cards and when I’m finished with the stack, I bind the cards, clip my notes together and…the work begins.

What? Wasn’t that work? You bet your sweet patooty it is! Eye-crossing, hair-pulling, brain-fogging work. But it’s only just beginning because now you have to go back and fix the manuscript. If you’re like me with The Good Daughter, that’s pretty much a whole rewrite.

I guarantee you now that I start my story with The Sentence and I have a Sentence for each scene. This gives me some direction, while also not being too rigid to stifle creativity.

Oh, and as mentioned in the previous post, here’s a picture of my index card notebook. I love my index card notebook!

Hope this has helped you with your next revision project. Questions? What revision tips do YOU have?

For more about Diana Layne or to keep up with her releases, please visit her website


34 responses to “Rip and Rebuild: Revisions Part 2”

  1. Margie H says:

    I think today’s post was even more useful than yesterday’s! I don’t know how to thank you for providing such valuable and vital information to authors at all skill levels!

    • Diana Layne says:

      Oh, thank you, Margie! I am so glad you found it helpful. Although these two posts are long, it was incredibly hard to condense the process as much as I did! Was worried it wouldn’t be helpful.

  2. Okay, you have me thinking about my process. I’m locking myself in my room today, pull out some notecards and see if I can wrap my brain around this. WINK

    • Diana Layne says:

      There is a learning curve, Autumn, but it’s so much easier now! And revisions are even easier if you do all this Before you write the book, lol.

  3. Liz Talley says:

    Okay, I’m starting small and doing 1 notecard for each scene. I’ll put notes on the cards in regards to what I want to change.

    I’m also going to write THE SENTENCE. I’m on chatper seven of my new wip. The branches aren’t so thick, so I may have a shot at pruning into the nutshell needed.

    Thanks for this. I’m not a notecardy person, but I do like having a framework for my story that I can touch and manipulate (sounds dirty, doesn’t it?)

  4. Elise Hayes says:

    Fantastic post, Diana. I’ve always done revisions by just leaping in from the first scene and figuring out what needed to be reworked/axed/added/etc scene-by-scene. What you’re suggesting is a whole-book analysis first, BEFORE diving into the revisions–and that’s a mighty interesting approach. I’m going to have to think about that…

    And I’ve also started working on The Sentence for my WIP. Your tips about the components of it were great. I HATE trying to cram my 400 page story into a single sentence, but now I feel I have tools that would let me do it. Thank you!!

    • Diana Layne says:

      I think of it like using a map instead of a GPS. With a GPS you only get a turn or so ahead info while with a map you can look at the whole route. Having gotten lost with my GPS a few times, I like to have a map with me now, lol. Good luck!

  5. Elisa Beatty says:

    Okay…I’m off to try to do a Sentence for my WIP…scary and hard, but I love the one you came up with for The Good Daughter! Makes a fabulous blurb!!!

  6. Another great post, Diana! One of the things I learned late in my career is the importance for having a kick-ass one-sentence, high concept pitch. Not only does it make the story more marketable. It makes the book easier to write.

    • Diana Layne says:

      Yeah, this was pretty late in my career, too, lol. Yep, I use all these techniques before I write now. Maybe tedious and time consuming but I write much faster when I have an idea of where I’m going. I do incorporate that Snowflake method when I start working on a story though, I just make sure my sentences are very focused. (well, in theory anyway, there are times (like now, cough cough) when it’s tougher than others.

  7. Diane Kratz says:


    Thanks for putting this all together! Very helpful for the writer. I forward this to my critique group!
    Very Nice,
    Diane Kratz

  8. Mind.Blown.

    I love this whole approach and am jumping in feet-first to attack it with my WIP this weekend.

  9. All I’m going to say is Wow. My head is spinning, my mind is blown, and I need a nap just thinking about this! *G*

  10. Kelley says:

    Totally wow. There’s so much to love in this post, I don’t know where to start. Suffice to say, I intend to take a look at my WIP on Sunday using what you’ve got here, Diana! That is after I start your book which I’ve already downloaded. Thanks for a great two day crash course in revisions. 🙂

    • Kelley says:

      Btw, have you ever used Shirley Jump’s Rule of Six? I’m taking a class w/her right now and I can kind of see how these to techniques might enhance one another.
      Anyway…thanks again. Fantasmic stuff.

      • Diana Layne says:

        Thanks for the download, Kelley, tell your friends, too, lol. Yes, ma’am, I have taken Shirley Jump’s Rule of Six. It is a fabulous class, but tough! to think of six things though I do try!

  11. Lyn says:

    WOW! From me as well! I’m another who goes through my MS about a dozen times working scene by scene – but this sounds much more methodical. I’m off to town as soon as I can to buy myself some index cards – if I can’t find an index card notebook!

    • Diana Layne says:

      Lyn, even if you find an index card notebook, buy extra index cards and a hole punch, you’ll go through a lot. 🙂 Actually I snatched two notebooks because I tend to work on more than one thing at a time (that short attention span thing, y’know. 🙂 ) Thanks for stopping by!

  12. More great info, Di! Having hubby bring me some index cards when he returns from the States next week, just for this purpose. Thanks so much!

    • Diana Layne says:

      From the states? They don’t have them where you live? Tell him to bring a lot, lol. Although you’ve sold so many books, you obviously have a system that works for you, but hope this adds to it! Thanks!

  13. Leslie says:

    Weighing in late, but enthusiastic, Diana! Loved the instruction and downloaded your intriguing book. A win-win day.

    • Diana Layne says:

      I’ll be here all weekend, Leslie! And the book will be free all weekend too, so tell your friends! Thanks for stopping by, I’m glad you found something that could help you!

  14. Once again, Diana, thank you for all of this great information. Today I took at look at — and then downloaded! — the Snowflake Pro program. And of course, I have Holly’s revision course and all of the great worksheets from there. Now I’m ready to begin the revisions and thanks to you, I feel much better about the depth and scope of the revisions I’m about to tackle.

    There’s just one little problem … The Good Daughter is on my Kindle and it’s teasing and taunting me … 🙂

    • Diana Layne says:

      Ha! Sheila, thanks for dl The Good Daughter! You’ll have to work out some reward system to combine work and pleasure–unfortunately I tend to be OCD and barrel through with one or the other, can’t seem to divide my time. I hope you enjoy the Snowflake program, I love it! It looks a bit overwhelming at first, but it’s not, it’s quite flexible. Good luck!

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