Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Reading Your Novel Backwards

Hello lovely blogger friends -

I’ve been a horrible blogger, I know. It’s just that I’m still in the revising cave – it seems I’ve got a permanent residence here now. But since moving into my new revision digs, I’ve had many revising revelations. It seems with each project, and even each round of revisions, I seem to discover something new.

So my topic this week is REVISING BACKWARDS! I know – it sounds crazy. And honestly? It very well could be.

But here’s the thing. I’ve always had a pretty good time with revising the Big Stuff. You know, plot, continuity, consistency, pacing. But what was lacking, round after round of revisions was the mechanical stuff I was trying to iron out: sentence structures, crutch words I didn’t see, character voice inconsistencies, etc.

And that’s when I realized I was getting lost in the woods of my drafts. Because I knew the story so well and because I was so focused on the “read-through” and trying to see everything at once, I was missing some of the little stuff, which let’s face it, if that stuff doesn’t work in the end, it can very much become the big stuff and make or break your ms.

So now I’m reading backwards! Not really backwards, exactly, but yeah, backwards.

I started at the last chapter and am going chapter by chapter, from end to start.

Yes, I am aware this means I am adding a step and will have to do another read-through the right way when I’m done. And yes, it is slow-going, because I’m seeing so much more this way and rewriting much.

But doing this is helping me forget about the story and focus on the words, to concentrate on the structure of individual sentences and character voices and throw plot development, pacing and flow out the window (for now).

Looking at each chapter/scene alone, instead of part of the whole really helps to isolate the scene and to find what works and doesn’t within that confined space. Once each is polished, I’ll string them all together again and get back to looking at the whole and focusing on the big picture.

How about you? Have you ever read your ms backwards?


  1. I'll try anything once. God knows I need to look at this WIP with a fresh perspective. Thanks for sharing! :)

  2. I think this is an awesome idea. I'm going to need a major pass for voice/sentence structure/etc on my current WIP, so this sounds like the perfect thing to try!

  3. I like the idea of running through the ms concentrating only on words and sentence structure. Forgetting about plot for one entire draft is extremely appealing to me. Thank you for the post.

  4. I haven't tried this, but I think it's a great way to pull apart the wip and make sure each chapter works on its own, and to keep from getting caught up in the story as you edit.

  5. Another suggestion is to change the font of your MS. Seeing it in a different type face also helps you to see it with fresh eyes.
    On the topic of reading it backwards - artists do something very similar. They either turn a painting upside down and look at it for proportion, placing et.c, or else view it through a mirror. It really does make you see imperfections you were previously blind to.
    Grace x

  6. Hmmm... If I wasn't so sick of the revision cave myself, I might attempt this. Maybe next time around!

  7. This is an awesome idea! My final read-through was like that, too---all about the structure and the words. Reading aloud worked well for me for that. But, like you say, it takes FOREVER because you actually see all the little things that need fixing. That's a good thing though :)

  8. This time around no need. I'm switching up chapters and deleting whole sections.The story is still pretty fresh. On the next go, I might very well try to read it backwards. Thanks for the great idea. (Hugs)Indigo

  9. I definitely revise out of order -- just like I write the chapters in the first draft. I enjoy working on it bit by bit. Good luck to you!

  10. Wow what a great idea! We get so close to our manuscripts, and I think any technique that can allow us to take a step back is really useful. I just started editing my WIP...I may use this tip as I go forward.

    - Ashley

  11. I really like this tip, Jenn. Will give it a whirl when I'm down to the nitty-gritty.