Deep Revision

This is the handout I shared with novelists who came to my presentation on Deep Revision at the 2015 PNWA conference.

Most important advice Donald Maass ever got: “Consider your reader.” That’s the goal of revision: thinking like a reader.

Ways to see your book as a reader does: put it away for a long time; print it single-spaced, landscape orientation in two columns; send it as a PDF to your e-reader; read it out loud.

Ways to get feedback: find beta readers, hire a developmental editor (

At the first stage of revising, I find it most useful to do the exercises in Donald Maass’s The Breakout Novel Workbook and/or use the snowflake method developed by Randy Ingermanson.  Once I’ve worked through those exercises, I should be able to answer these questions correctly (hint: the answer is given for you).


Does your main character confront a big problem and resolve it through his/her own efforts?(yes)

Does the novel begin with the character in action? (yes)

Does the main problem encountered by the protagonist involve high stakes (physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual death)? (yes)

Does the story move forward through a series of increasing difficulties? (yes)

Are there other layers of the plot causing trouble for the protagonist (for instance, a relationship, a job, housing, a hobby)? (yes)

SUBPLOTS: Are the secondary characters also confronting & resolving problems? (yes)

VALUES—Are all opposing sides of your main value present in the story/embodied? (yes)


Is the protagonist active? (yes)

Does the protagonist have a flaw? (yes)

Does the character develop and transform throughout the manuscript?(yes)

SECONDARY CHARACTERS: Can you answer the same questions for them? (yes)

ANTAGONIST/BAD GUYS: Does your villain have redeeming qualities? (yes)

NAMES: Are they consistent (for time period, culture) and unique? (yes)


What is the typical point of view used in your type of book?

Have you considered alternative points of view?

Have you chosen the best point of view for your story? (yes)

STRUCTURE (often signaled by point of view or time shifts)

Is your story told from beginning to end?

Are there flashbacks? Do they reveal relevant information at pivotal points? (yes)

Have you considered other structures? Braid, Circle, Frame

Does your story use a structure that helps amplify the story? (yes)


Can you compress the story into an even tighter time frame? (yes)

Do you have a graph or chart showing the time frame of your story? (yes)

Does it take a long time to move your characters from scene to scene? (no)


Do you have a scene list? (yes)

Do you have scenes with one character thinking? (no)

Do you have scenes that take place in the kitchen, or show the characters drinking tea (no)

Do you have scenes that take place in a car, on a plane, on a train? (no) (only OK if something significant to the story happens while they are traveling)

Are the settings of your scenes varied? (yes)

Do your scenes vary in tempo? (yes)

Does each scene set up a new complication until the end?  (yes)

Do you end chapters with the characters going to sleep? (no, never!)


Do you include sensory details (sight, sound, feel, taste, scent) and color words in scenes? (yes)

Do you introduce historical and foreign terms in context and only when relevant to the story? (yes)

SUSPENSE (is not confusion)

Do your characters have secrets from each other? (yes)

Are you confusing confusion with suspense? (no) (your reader should never be confused; your character can be)

Is there an unanswered question on every page until the end? (yes)

Is there some urgency to the action? (yes)


Are characters explaining to each other what they already know? (no)

Are characters active while talking? (yes)


Are you done with the deep revising? (yes!)

Now you’re ready for line editing, making sure each sentence is crisp and clear. I suggest doing this in successive passes, searching for common problems and correcting them. Or you can hire an editor to do this for you.  Working with an editor can be illuminating as you will see how they fix common errors you make. If you are on a limited budget, you might ask an editor to do a sample edit of a few chapters and make a list for you of problems to look for throughout the mansucript

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