Are You Over-Revising? Answer 2 Questions to Find Out

BuriedUnderRevisions-noirLast week I confessed the reasons Why I Haven’t Finished My Novel, and #1 is that I over-revise. To recap, that means when a story isn’t quite working, I change it in huge, drastic ways that make it a totally different story. Sometimes the main character even sports a whole new personality! My solution to this over-revising problem is to Take A Break. That’s what I’ve been doing this week whenever I get an epically large revision idea – I step away from the story for an hour or three. When I come back to it, I ask these two simple questions to test if my revisions are reasonable or overkill:


1. What is the emotional core of this story? Does this revision change that? If yes, I’m over-revising. The emotional core is the reason the character needs to go through this journey. It’s the inner lesson the character learns. It’s how the character changes at the end. Essentially, it’s the Theme (for more info read Does Your Novel Have A Theme?). If you change it, you get a different story. However, you can change plot points and not change the emotional core. But my problem is often my plot revisions do change the emotional core. To stop doing that, I move on to the next question…

2. What story problem prompted this revision? Can it be resolved without changing the story’s emotional core? My first instinct is to directly change the plot point where the problem rears its ugly head, when really I should look for solutions that don’t derail the emotional core. For example, in my current WIP my protagonist’s goal, though important to her, was hard to care about. My immediate response was, “Give her a different goal!” and ideas started flying. But a new goal changes the emotional core of the story and becomes a new story all together. So I stepped back and looked at ways to make her original goal more relatable and sympathetic without changing the story’s core, and found all I needed to do was revise the Set Up / Act I. Same goal + different set up = story problem solved. For more examples of story problems and solutions and how to find them, check out this chart: Story Edit Using the “Save the Cat” Basic Beats.

So there you have it – a little more detail into how to curb over-revising. Your trouble areas and instincts may be different than mine, but the important thing is to figure out why your revisions go off the rails and what questions to ask to stay on track.


Up Next from Heather… Where is the best place to write?

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Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a freelance screenwriter, game writer, and novelist based in Toronto. For more, visit her website at or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

2 thoughts on “Are You Over-Revising? Answer 2 Questions to Find Out”

  1. I think sometimes you just have to stick with an idea and do the best you can with it. I had a novel once where I kept doubting the story line, but in the end I realised the whole edifice would crumble if I kept picking at it, so I just went with it. It seemed to work in the end!

    1. Thanks, Margarita! It’s such a tough thing for me, but I agree that it’s better to have written something not perfect than not to have written anything at all! And yes, I might surprise myself and have it all work out in the end. 🙂

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