Teaching Revision: Final Revision Prompts of 2019


Continued from https://pleiadesmag.com/teaching-revision-even-more-revision-prompts/, here are some final revision prompts for 2019. Add them to the prompts here: https://pleiadesmag.com/teaching-revision-all-of-the-revision-prompts-so-far/

I’m teaching revision again, this time for a senior thesis workshop, in which students are workshopping novels, plays, TV and webisode scripts, whatever they are working on for their final creative writing thesis. Each week, one student workshops their entire manuscript and a revision of part of it. In their submission packet, they also include a four-page synopsis/treatment, notes on their writing and revision process, and any other process work. Since this is their sixth workshop course as an undergraduate, they are setting the rules for their own workshops, so they submit a list of five rules for workshop (such as table-reading a certain section or mapping points of excitement or raising one’s hand or so forth) and any questions they have for the workshop to consider, especially in our letters to the author. At the beginning of their workshop, they also present on five books they have read that have influenced their project and how, to give us further context for workshop and to prepare them for a critical paper they need to write for the course. At the end of their workshops, they state what they will do next in revision, and I incorporate what they have said into a few options for revision that everyone in the class must choose from. One revision per week, reviewed in groups of three and sent to me and their partners with process notes. I’ve recycled a couple of revision exercises from earlier courses, but mostly made up new ones to suit the particular needs of whatever manuscript we’ve seen for workshop that week. Here are the 10 final revision prompts to close out the course. That makes about 70 total revision prompts here on the Pleiades blog.


  1. For each story, chapter, or act, write two different endings (or add the one you’re missing): one that directly concludes things in action and theme and is completely clear about what to take away/what the meaning is (e.g. a speech from a character that says what is going on, or exposition from the narrator, or a twist ending or a solution to the problem), and one that is specific but ambiguous about how it concludes action or theme and what the meaning is (e.g. a description of an object or setting, the introduction of something new, an ending that cuts things off before any conclusion, etc.). Finally, try writing an ending that does both—such as a speech followed by its contradiction, or exposition followed by a description, or a twist that doesn’t conclude but only adds a new problem, etc. Out of the three of these, what would you keep for your endings?

  2. Get a bunch of post-it notes or notecards (or etc.). Now find a large blank surface—a wall or floor or larger table in the library or an empty classroom or something. Each post-it or notecard represents one page of your manuscript. On each post-it or notecard, write down the themes that you see on that page. So for page one, if you see themes of family, home, hatred, belonging, etc., write all of those things on the post-it. Put the post-it/notecard on the wall/surface. Now, repeat for each page and put the post-its up so that you can see them sequentially. Maybe in columns? Columns for each chapter/act/story/episode? If you have highlighters, you might want to highlight with the same color the same themes. Now look things over and see the patterns: which theme shows up the most? Do certain themes show up only in early parts, or later parts, or only sporadically? Think about how to balance things or organize themes better in your manuscript. Bonus points: also write down characters that appear on the pages, settings, plot points?, etc.

  3. Go back and cut. Cut at least three whole scenes or stories. Now steal your favorite parts from what you’ve cut—this is the opposite of kill your darlings: save your darlings!—and use the saved parts in other scenes or stories.

  4. First, identify the desires of your main character(s) in the situation/relationship they are in. For example, Harry Potter is in the grocery store shopping for food when he thinks he sees Voldemort enter and start shopping for his food. Harry Potter suddenly is thirsty for some snake liquor, since he is done with all of this and just wants to drink this repeating scenario away. Second, identify how those desires play into the larger desires that are at work in your manuscript. Harry Potter’s desire to drink snake liquor is connected on a larger scale to the desire to be free of his responsibilities/duties as hero boy. Third, introduce conflict to the immediate desire that says something about the larger desire. For example, the image of Voldemort accuses Harry Potter of being a drunk and says it’s not even worth fighting him, and Harry Potter’s response is to smash the liquor and bring the snake to life, finally facing his responsibilities after all, while putting his immediate desire on hold, only to realize that this is not really Voldemort but a figment of his trauma-ridden imagination. Extra points to think then about the consequences of this, and how it will affect future scenes. For example, this reaction reminds Harry Potter of who he is and gives him renewed confidence, symbolized through the little snake pet he now carries around with him, until someone kills it or something, etc.

  5. Write a scene in which your protagonist does something that morally they would rather not do. Give them outside reasons to do the thing—justify, as much as it can be justified, what they have done. Now deal with the consequences and think about what the consequences mean about theme—for example, the person who has to kill their best friend because their best friend was about to kill a baby, suddenly means that the manuscript has to deal with themes of loyalty and betrayal, among others.

  6. Write a scene or backstory in which your cruelest character cares for someone or something. If you are able, create a callback to this scene/backstory in a later scene in your manuscript.

  7. Have someone sum up the events of your manuscript, whether a narrator or one of the main characters or an outside character or etc. What would they say about all that has happened? How would it be different from what the other characters would say about all that has happened? You might not necessarily include this in the manuscript (you probably won’t) but let this be a guide that can help you revise with certain characters’ perspectives on events in mind.

  8. Have each of your primary characters make evaluative statements about the other characters. For example, have a character’s mother say the character has always been too whiney or have a character’s best friend say she has always been kind of bossy or so forth. Find places to put these statements in dialogue, either spoken to other characters or spoken to the characters in question themselves. How does this affect events that happen afterward? How does this affect how the characters act around the person who judged them? How does this affect how your audience might see your characters? How can it lead your audience down the wrong path or reveal something to your audience that the character doesn’t know about themselves?

  9. If you are following a structural pattern, alternating between characters or past and present or fight scene and calm scene, or going from one character to the next to the next, or working your way back from the end to the beginning, or etc., do something to disrupt this pattern. Let one of the scenes break out into chaos and destroy the pattern. Or add a scene that doesn’t follow the pattern at all. Or move one of the later scenes up to the beginning (or possibly vice versa).

  10. List all of your chapters or scenes in an outline form. For each one, identify what your goal/purpose is for that chapter/scene. Remember to keep in mind small arcs and large arcs (the arc for that particular chapter/scene and how it affects the larger arc of the entire manuscript). For example, is the purpose of a scene to take the character from feeling as if they have conquered their problem to realizing that the problem is actually much larger than they thought? Write down the goal/purpose, and then write down the action that carries out that goal/purpose. Here is an exaggerated example for the purpose above a character in the desert dances in the rain they have created with their rain machine and brags to all of their doubting friends, only to find that the rain turns into a flood and everyone falls into serious danger. Now go back to the chapter/scene itself and emphasize its purpose.

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