Layers of Revision

Most of us are familiar with Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. Very basic needs form the foundation of his triangular hierarchy and only when they are achieved can one can move upward, one level at a time, through safety, security, belonging and self-esteem until finally personal creativity is realized. Then, voila, one achieves what Maslow called self-actualization.

The latest issue of Writer’s Digest (September, 2015), an article on revision equates Maslow’s hierarchy (loosely) to the problems we face when revising a story (okay, you knew we would get around to writing sooner or later. Well, we’ve arrived).

In The Great Revision Pyramid, by Gabriela Pereira, it is suggested that the shortest distance from first draft to a finished book is by systematically covering all the layers, in order, in a hierarchy of revision. One layer per revision.

Layer one, the narration. This corresponds to Maslow’s base level of food, water, shelter and warmth. In revision we must tackle voice and point of view first, and get them right, before going on to the next layer.

Layer two: the characters. This includes your protagonist, antagonist, and supporting cast. Know your protagonist almost as well as you know yourself. Know your antagonist as well.

Layer three: the story; plot and structure. I was glad to see that this layer was in third place. That’s where I am in my very long, very sporadic revision process. I’ve got layers one and two done (Maybe. Ask my writing group to verify that), only four and five to go!

Layer four: the scenes. Scenes include world-building, description, dialogue and theme. That sounds like a whole pyramid in itself.

Layer five: cosmetics. This layer includes spelling and word choice. They can be fun. It also includes grammar and punctuation; two banes of my existence. However, one writer’s bane is another writer’s raison d’etre, so I’ll not say anything further. If and when I get to layer five I have friends and family in reserve who can fix my shortcomings.

So, there you have it. In a nutshell. Revise, rewrite, one layer at a time, starting at the base layer, and you’ll soon be at the pinnacle. Soon is a relative term, as you know.

Ms. Periera’s article was a great source of inspiration. If you’re not a fiction writer there are also, in this issue, revision techniques for non-fiction and poetry.

Happy revising!

About Eleanor Ingbretson

Native New Yorker. Transplanted to New Hampshire years ago, but still considered a flatlander by the neighbors. Writer of fantasy and mystery and whatever else takes my fancy.

Posted on July 13, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Eleanor Ingbretson

    Argue away. I think one begins with a character and imbues her with her voice, capabilities, dreams so she responds in ‘character’ to the situations that cross her path. No?


  2. My copy hasn’t arrived yet, but I plan to argue vehemently with this article. I don’t see how you can craft characters, express the situation from their (or his or her) pov, and find their voices until you know what kind of external and internal dilemmas you want to use them to show. By which I mean plot. (Am I misunderstanding ‘voice’ here?)


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