Monday, December 14, 2015

A Simple Step-by-Step Guide to Revising the First Two Chapters of a Novel

Because the beginning of the novel sets up the rest of the book and, in a way, nearly dictates the everything that happens after it, I've been busy at work trying to revise the first two chapters of my novel. 

I'm pretty sure I have it all figured out.

There is a lot going into the process. This is a character-driven novel and the reader needs to connect to at least one of the characters and be at least interested in the others, while also having an idea of where things could go. Even if that's not where they go, the reader should be able to look back and recall that what happened was evident from the beginning.

At least that's what I'm going for at this moment.
Learn the simple steps to revising two chapters.   Image: "four eyes" (CC BY 2.0) by istolethetv
Today, I am sharing with you my easy 65-step process of re-writing the first two chapters of a character-driven novel so that the mystery behind revising will be revealed.
  1. Stop blogging and any other non-necessary activities so you can put more time into your novel.
  2. Cut out everything from your first draft that doesn't directly lead to the end.
  3. Write the stories of additional characters in your book, including their perspectives on the scenes they share with the protagonist.
  4. Consider what you want your narrator to be able to do as a narrator.
  5. Determine what you want the first chapter to do, what you want your readers to feel or think at the end of the chapter.
  6. Revise your first chapter with added insight from other characters and the narrator and feel brilliant about it.
  7. Take your first chapter to your novel critique group and so they can complain about the narrator.
  8. Take in complaints and then remember that they are a supportive group and are trying to help you.
  9. Consider what parts of their advice will work for another revision.
  10. Get back to feeling great about your chapter and send it to an editor who has worked on amazing books that have earned nationally- and internationally-recognized awards.
  11. Simultaneously feel honored that he is willing to talk to you on the phone for a half hour, and totally confounded because of all the work you need to do—you knew you needed to, but you may not have needed to know it this specifically just yet.
  12. Watch stupid stuff on Hulu.
  13. Read the first chapter of 15 books and take notes on how they are structured.
  14. Wonder why everyone seems to write in first person.
  15. Go to a movie.
  16. Wonder how much any of this has helped you.
  17. Watch something dark and depressing on Netflix.
  18. Consider which of the 15 books you read the first chapter of that you like the most and put those in a stack. Put the other ones in a paper bag and burn them.
  19. Write something brilliant.
  20. Have a glass of wine and dance by yourself all night.
  21. Write something brilliant the next day, too.
  22. That evening, wonder what the hell you were writing.
  23. Send old stories that never got published out to literary magazines.
  24. Go to your writing group and consider working on your blog, even though you're not supposed to because it distracts you from your book. Do some editing work instead.
  25. Read your previous chapter and consider what the editor told you.
  26. Receive surprisingly quick notice that one of the old stories you sent out has been accepted for publication. Try not to be horrified that such an embarrassing story has been published. Instead, be super-impressed with yourself and wonder what has changed in the market that this story would be published.
  27. Send out more stories.
  28. Reread the notes you took during your meeting with the world-class editor. Stare at them for a while, then stare at the wall.
  29. Work on a freelance writing project.
  30. Take a walk.
  31. Watch HGTV.
  32. In your writing group, continue editing someone else's work. Or get back to work on the freelance writing.
  33. The next day, stare at your computer.
  34. Reread the material you think will be included in your second chapter, but keep stopping to talk or do other things so you don't get through it.
  35. Think about the things your novel group said about your narrator and what the editor said about your narrator and how they contradict each other. Consider what you like in a narrator.
  36. Decide not to worry about the narrator until later.
  37. Read an entire book.
  38. Get a fitness tracker and become committed to walking all day.
  39. Clean the house.
  40. Read at least seven articles on the state of the publishing industry.
  41. Play with the cats.
  42. Work on the garden
  43. Make fresh pesto.
  44. Walk back and forth across the house. Walk around the block.
  45. Get jealous of other writers
  46. Go for a run. Count calories and detrmine how much of a calorie deficit you have between your run and your omelette.
  47. Read the second chapter of 10 books to see how they are structured.
  48. Wonder what the big frigging deal is about first-person narrators.
  49. Consider what you want your second chapter to do.
  50. Worry about your parents.
  51. Talk to yourself.
  52. Talk to your friends about your parents.
  53. Drink a lot of coffee.
  54. Read every literary journal you can get your hands on.
  55. Lose 5 lbs in 5 days.
  56. Complain about your parents not taking care of themselves while secretly acknowledging that they are complaining about you wasting your time on writing a novel.
  57. Revise the first half of your second chapter so that you can submit it to your novel critique group at the last minute.
  58. Decide that you like how it's going when you reread it.
  59. Have your novel workshop tell you that the revision has changed the feel—and the protagonist seems like an entirely different person from the last draft or the first chapter—and bring up a ton of really good questions.
  60. Get notice that another of your old stories has been accepted for publication. Congratulate yourself. Maybe your writing does have an appeal to some audience, somewhere...
  61. Feel totally overwhelmed. Wonder how you are going to be able to get everything you want into your novel in an effective manner while still being interesting and entertaining.
  62. Question your sanity.
  63. Begin a new plan for understanding the first two chapters because these are the foundation on which the rest of the novel is built.
  64. Start working on your blog again.
  65. Write the new draft of the first two chapters.

Process delineated! Soon the rest of your book will easily flow from it!


  1. Thank you! I needed a much better defined list for writing methodology! I laughed so hard at this but also took in some very good pointers. My Netflix queue needs work. My Amazon Prime queue needs work. Oh, joy of joys I now have Direct TV and BBCA as well as Hallmark, or "old lady TV" as I have come to call it. I finally wrote a new blog today, not keeping up well at all. I started a new story, or maybe three...must get back to working on them.

    1. I cancelled Hulu and Netflix last week. What was it really adding to my experience in the world? (When the new seasons of Sense8 and Sherlock return, I'll feel like I'm getting something...) Glad to hear that you are starting back up again, Kathy! It can take a while after a big move across the country!

  2. Haha--that sums it all up perfectly! I personally have found that if I'm stuck, it helps to read over what I've written already (if I have), then go take a shower or hop on the treadmill. I usually find as long as I'm thinking about it, it gets those wheels turning more than sitting at the computer does.

    1. Thanks, Stephanie. There is certainly a lot of that--or thinking about it thoroughly and then putting it out of my mind so that things resolve themselves while I am in the middle of a long drive and can't write any of it down...

  3. I just realized I read a list like this several months ago. It was 67 steps, though. This is streamlined.