This is Part 4 of a series on revising the first draft of a novel. Read Part 1 to find out why it's important to take a break from your first draft before you revise it. Read Part 2 to discover why a messy first draft is a good thing. Part 3 teaches you how to take stock of what works (and what doesn't).
Step 4: Find your Vision
"Strategic planning is worthless -- unless there is first a strategic vision." -- John Naisbitt, American writer and thinker
If you've followed steps 1-3 of the WEbook Guide to Revising a Novel, you should have a good handle on your book as it exists today -- warts and all. You may be tempted to get right in there and start applying liquid nitrogen to those warts. But then all you'll be left with is a toad with no warts. Why settle for that when you could have -- oh, I don't know -- a griffin, or a jackalope, or an animatronic space monkey?
In other words, they call it revision for a reason. Now that you know what your book is, it's time to create a vision for what your book could be.
There is no simple formula for discovering the greatest potential inherent in your first draft. You cannot plug in character A's strength rating, divide it by subplot B's development score, and multiply the whole thing by the square root of plot twist C. Instead, you must draw on the mysterious forces of inspiration and vision that led you to want to write a book in the first place. Luckily, there are a few signposts that can help you find your way in the dark.
Below, you will find eight questions that will guide you towards your greatest vision. Before you get started on the questions, establish some ground rules to help you get the most out of this process.
Forget what you think you know. Let go of any preconceptions you have about your book. Presumably, you started your first draft with some more or less definite ideas about plot, character, and/or premise. (Even if you started with nothing, you probably developed some ideas along the way.) Throw them all out the window. You may end up back where you started, concluding that yes, in fact, this is a realistic first-person narrative describing a lonely housewife's journey from depression to international pop stardom. But in order to find your vision, you must create space for the possibility that your book could in fact be a third-person narrative exploring the perspectives of twelve different roadies backstage before the once-lonely housewife's final arena concert.
So many possibilites, so few lifetimes. Once you open yourself up to the possibility that your book could be something other than what you originally imagined it to be, you may find yourself overwhelmed by all the somethings other it could be. Don't despair. Focus on finding the most promising path for your novel, and leave the other possibilities for another day -- and another book.
Keep it positive. Remember when you read through your first draft and took stock of what worked well? Let those bright lights guide you to your vision. As you reflect on the questions below, think mainly about the elements of your draft that stand out as great, successful, and/or energetic.
Grab a pen. Carve out some time in your day to sit down with a pen and a notebook. Devote roughly ten minutes to each of the questions below. If you need to, you can come back to some of the questions again -- and again -- until you're satisfied. You can also jot down other questions that occur to you as you answer these. Remember, you should answer these questions not necessarily about your first draft as it is, but about your book as it could be and as you want it to be.
Document your vision. Spend as much time as you want brainstorming about the questions below. When you feel that you have a solid grasp of the greatest possibility for your story, take one piece of paper and collect the downpour from your brainstorm into a single bucket. Write 2-3 sentences summarizing each answer. (If an answer covers more than one character, it's okay to devote 2-3 sentences to each character.) Incorporate your favorite ideas from the final question ("What if...?") into your answer to question # 7.