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Revision Half-Marathon - 13.1 Revision Strategies to Get Your Novel to the Finish Line with Kate Messner

Creative Lab Syllabus


From big-picture assessments dealing with theme, world building, and character arcs to fine tuning your pacing, language, and voice, this roll-up-your-sleeves and rewrite workshop will get you started on a baker’s dozen revision jobs to craft your story into the best version of itself. You'll leave with an overflowing toolbox of revision strategies for your current WIP and beyond. 


This Creative Lab will be most worthwhile and productive for those who bring a completed rough draft of a novel or a partial draft that is well underway. Please bring your novel, either on your laptop or printed out with plenty of space for notes, as well as a notebook, pen or pencil, and your laptop if you wish. Please also bring one or more mentor texts – beloved and well-crafted published novels that feel the way you’d like your finished novel to feel, whether that’s heartwarming, terrifying and thrilling, hilarious, magical, sad, mysterious, or something else. 


  • Introduction (5 minutes)
  • One-sentence story statements to guide revision (10 minutes)
  • Identifying your character’s knot (15 minutes)
  • Guided writing to deepen character development (15 minutes)
  • Learning from Mentor Texts – Character Introductions (10 minutes)
  • Rewriting Time: Using best practices to rewrite a character’s first appearance (10 minutes)
  • Sharing, discussion, and Q&A (15 minutes)
  • Coffee/snack/stretch/bathroom break (10 minutes)
  • World Building and Revision – Story-specific to-do lists (10 minutes)
  • Learning from Mentor Texts – Language and Pacing (10 minutes)
  • Rewriting Time: Using sentence structure to enhance mood & pacing. (10 minutes)
  • Small-group discussions: Identifying moments of tension, building suspense, and raising the stakes. (15 minutes)
  • Big-picture Revision Charts – Overview (10 minutes)
  • Work time on big-picture charts (20 minutes)
  • Final Q&A (10 minutes)
  • Creating post-conference revision to-do lists (5 minutes)


  • Participants will:
  • Identify the heart, or spine, of their novel to guide revision
  • Discover the “knots” that influence and complicate characters’ choices
  • Analyze character introductions from successful MG and YA novels 
  • Practice guided free-writes to elicit deeper character development
  • Revise a first-impression passage, making use of best practices for characterization
  • Identify a world-building to-do list, specific to a novel’s fantastical or realistic setting
  • Analyze pacing decisions in mentor texts as well as manuscripts, with an eye on identifying and addressing pacing issues
  • Identify passages where language helps to drive mood and pacing in mentor texts
  • Rewrite scenes with varying sentence and paragraph lengths to achieve mood and pacing goals.
  • Collaborate with colleagues to identify and strengthen moments of tension in stories
  • Create a big-picture revision chart to identify plot holes, map character relationships, and discover opportunities to strengthen themes.
  • Make a post-workshop revision to-do list to guide next steps after the conference.
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