Sunday, May 24, 2015

Review: Rock Your Revisions by Cathy Yardley

(Contains affiliate links)

In my recent post about my revision process (you can find it here if you missed it), I mentioned that there were several books that helped me along my fiction revision path (which turned out to be very different from revising my previous non-fiction). I’m going to do a series of reviews on the ones I like, starting with one of my very favorites, Rock Your Revisions: A Simple System for Revising Your Novel, by Cathy Yardley. 

Rock Your Revisions has been a life-saver for me; it helped me stake out an effective approach to my revisions, and then walked me through each portion of them. I’ve come to think of it as a user’s manual for fixing your novel, like the kind of user manual that walks you through repairs to your car. 

Maybe it’s only me, but a manuscript can be intimidating, sitting there all bulky with lots of pages and chapters and paragraphs and sentences—where do you even begin? Page by page, looking for every possible issue as you go? How would that even work? How do you keep track of everything you should be checking for? And what if all you can figure out is that a scene or section isn’t quite working, but you’re not sure how? 

This book helps with all of those issues.

Built into the structure of the book itself is a plan for tackling your revisions and breaking down the nightmarish big-picture into manageable chunks. Because you can’t keep track of everything at once, so don’t even try—instead, do it in stages. The book takes you through a three-pass process of revising your novel one step at a time, and as it walks you through, it helps you diagnose problems you might not be able to recognize. 

The first revision pass takes you through structural revision; this looks at the between-scenes structure of your book, or Yardley refers to as ‘framing your house’. Here you’re going to look at your story structure, your characters and your storytelling devices. Within this section, the book continues to walk you through step-by-step to help break down this revision pass(of course you don’t have to follow it if you don’t want to):  

Pass 1: Structural revision pass
Quick read
Scene Chart
Characters (Story-level)
Plot Points and Story Arc
Characters (scene-level)
Scene flow and escalating conflict
Talking head avoidance devices
Opening Scene
Closing Scene
Creating the first pass plan

The second pass is the scene revision pass; as Yardley puts it, in this section, you’re going to make sure every room in your house has a purpose and is furnished in a manner that serves that purpose. Here you’re going to make sure that each scene is structured well as its own unit (has a goal that you’ve acieved), that everything flows, and that the contents are compelling to your reader (you don’t bore them with too much narrative summary, etc.):

Pass 2: Scene revision pass
POV revisited
Dialogue check

Finally, the third pass is your fine polish pass, where you decorate your rooms, make ‘em nice and pretty for your visitors. Here is where you do the equivalent of line-editing. This pass is represented by a single chapter in the book, broken down into different issues like checking for repetition, checking for typos, and the like. Yardley assumes that you mostly know the drill here—after all, you’ve been doing this sort of revising most of your life--but gives a good reference for more help in this area: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King (which I will be reviewing next time, because I love that book, too). 

In each sub-section throughout the book, Yardley defines the important concepts you need to know, shows you what you’re looking for via examples, and gives you ‘assignments’ at the end to allow you to put the advice into action. Her explanation and examples are clear; some advice books I’ve read will give you 2-3 pages of a book or story to read to illustrate a point, and by the time you read it, you forget what you were looking for. Her examples are concise and user-friendly. 

Most of all, I love this book because it has a flow-chart nature to it; overall, as I’ve already mentioned, but even when it comes to individual issues. For example, in one sub-section about making sure your characters are behaving consistently, she gives a diagnostic tool to apply for each scene in turn (I have paraphrased this somewhat for space reasons; she explains as she goes): 

(1) Identify the POV character in a scene.
(2) Identify the scene’s goal
(3) Check this goal against the overarching Goal-Motivation-Conflict of the POV character.
(4) If there is a mis-match (if the scene’s goal conflicts with the GMC), adjust your scene. 

For me, this syllogistic trouble-shooting approach is perfect. Sure, somethings I can figure out for myself. But sometimes I may know I need X, but I have no idea how to get X. This helps break it down in a way that clicks with my mind. It makes things crystal clear for me, and gives me an action-oriented way to diagnose what's wrong with the scene, and how to solve the problem. 

In my writing life, I have taken the essential approach of Rock Your Revisions and modified it suit my own style. I don’t follow the exact order she suggests, and I have a few other things thrown in that I know I personally need to address when I revise. But this was the book that helped me begin carving out my approach to revision, and I still go back to it when I revise. I think it’s a great place to start if you’re facing your first revision, and an excellent way for more experienced writers to help smooth over their problem areas.     

Do you have any books or other sources you've found helpful for revision? I'd love to hear about them in the comments if so!

Happy revising,


  1. You know what's a hoot? I reviewed Kathy Yardley's very first novel ever, a romance. I just cleared it out of my files. Small world. She used to live in San Leandro.

    1. Small world--I used to live in San Leandro too!

  2. OK, it seems as if I might be able to leave a post, I've tried before. Anyway, I was thinking about your older post, "How I revise my manuscript," and reading it, it sounded so easy. Your use of Scrivener and Excel almost caused me to believe that there was an easier way to revise and I wasn’t doing it! Fact is, I’m too far gone to learn Scrivener. But I’m a big Excel Fan! Not only that, I’m just plain ole big on self-created aids that will assist me in the revision phase, and I do so love Excel.

    In Excel, I’ve documented the scene titles, scene numbers, the chapter the scene is part of, the POV, where I am in the character’s arc, emotions I want to express, the stronger senses apparent in the scene, the scene’s goal, whether it’s action or backstory, whether it needs further developing, is this information that’s constant, or is it a facet of something I’ve been building throughout the manuscript. It’s excessive, admittedly, but I do so enjoy this part of writing too. I keep it up, or take weekly time out to catch up on it in one wallop.

    Revising this manuscript is going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I have not consistently written in the characters voice, there are large sections written in Deep POV, or first person (figured I could experiment since it was just the manuscript), and for the most part, I simply wrote to get it out of my head – so, it’s not pretty. But I’m a planner and I’m thankful for the Writer’s Guide (my Excel Book) that I’ve caught up to where I am now. There are columns for the day of the week, time of day, whether the line I’m working on is Dialogue (D), Backstory (B) just story (S), etc, I know who’s talking to whom, location, whether the line (of the whole paragraph) is descriptive, action, is it part of a cliff hanger, does it need to be built, is this the beginning of building it, what’s happening, constants, then the columns under Corrections allows me to indicate whether it needs to be deleted, untrue, etc. There are a couple of columns for codes and notes with note numbers to be read on other tabs.

    I have kept this up … I do have to retype all my written work into Excel from Word – but for me, that’s happenstance and gives me an opportunity to create a better working draft copy.

    What’s the revision process actually like? I filter: 1- X character, 2-on Mondays, 3-dialogue only, 4-at the Resell shop, and 5-in the afternoons. Or, just 1- X character, 2- more info. Only the lines that I want to revise come up, of course. If I want to just see all the lines for an inanimate object in the manuscript, I can pull all that up too. Also, a character may frequent a location, or spend money, I do a filter and I can tell and or correct what’s going on at the location, no duplicates, or wasted time just sending them somewhere. I can make sure the character is not broke one day and ends up spending a $1000.00 that night.

    I will engage in the activity of filtering first, work on each character's voice and dialogue, demeanor, tics, and make sure day time stuff happens at those times indicated. I can follow the inanimate objects and making sure they play their parts, that is, the ball has to keep rolling, not stand still then suddenly is located a mile away, deflated.

    Excel allows me to add in stuff, and … well, convinced I love Excel yet??? Once that is done, I’ll read through it aloud. There will be lots of rewriting, I'll be in search of the right word(s). In the end it must roll off my tongue as any good book I’ve read. And, push comes to shove, I might pick up a book on revising.

    This works for me, I require a smooth story. I’m almost embarrassed by what sounds like a timely endeavor, but it doesn’t take much time. I log columns while on the phone, at my easy job, or planned time. I'm constantly reading my work, so retyping it is easy too.

    1. So interesting to hear about your process! I agree, no matter how you go about it, when done well, revisions are going to take time, because you want a quality product! I think whatever method works for excellent and awesome, and I share your enthusiasm for excel. I use it in concert with scrivener, and I love it. :)

  3. OMG, is that a post, or a blog, ha ha ha ha - I could just die!


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