Shelley Widhalm

Revision Part II

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on January 20, 2013 at 11:00 am

The novel is written and, if you’re like me, you want to set it aside with the belief it’s ready to go.

But, for most writers, revising is a crucial part of the writing process.

My writer friends advised me to set aside my novel for a month or even three months to give distance and a keener eye.

I’ve done that and now it’s time for the fun stuff.

Revising or editing a manuscript, whether it’s a novel, short story or collection of writing, is not a one-time thing and requires several drafts toward the final draft. Each time you revise, you get closer to the story’s core and essential components.

It’s best to start with the overall structure before getting down to the sentence level.

To do this, there are many approaches to take, so many that you could spend months just reworking your drafts. I think it’s best to pick and choose what works best for you.

I compiled a list of revision and self-editing tips for looking both at the big picture of the manuscript, as well as the small picture, or the details.

For the big picture revision:

• Revise the manuscript for overall structure.
• Ask if the opening scene grabs the reader.
• Cut any unnecessary scenes and strengthen weak ones. Look for scenes where there is not much action or characters do a lot of talking without conflict. Look for too many similar scenes in a row. Make sure each scene has a clear objective for the character and that there is conflict, or opposition, to the objective.
• Check that the setting is not just an external location but is integral to the story.
• Do an edit for language and imagery, as well as for tone, mood, cadence and voice.
• Make sure all the plot threads come together. Does the story have a beginning, middle and end? Are conflict and tension sustained throughout the telling? Does the story build with tension at the end of each chapter? Is each scene personal for the main character?
• Make sure the characters are realistic with good and bad features and that they are distinguishable from one another. Are they fully fleshed out with personalities, backgrounds and unique physical characteristics? Does the reader care about these characters?
• Ask if the dialogue is realistic and if the characters speak in ways that are distinguishable from one another.
• Make sure there is subtext, something happening beneath the surface of the text. The subtext could come from a character’s hidden agenda, the setting as foreshadowing or an image carried throughout the story.

To get down to the details in your editing:

• Omit needless words to get to the essential core.
• Identify areas where transitions are needed.
• Look for misspellings, lapses in grammar and usage, consistency in verb tense and anything that is missing. Also look for sentences that don’t make sense.
• Whenever possible, use the active voice and avoid the passive voice, such as “there was …”
• Replace adjectives and adverbs with nouns and verbs.
• Vary your sentence structure.
• Avoid repetition of words, facts and details.
• Do a fact check on weather, season, month, chronology of events and setting.
• Identify passages that are telling, instead of showing, and decide if they should show, instead of tell.

  1. Great post. It’s the big picture stuff that can be the most difficult – trying to see the forest through the trees. I think too often I get caught up in the editing.

  2. Excellent post! Really connected the attention to detail needed to maintain continuity in the overall structure of the piece.

  3. Lots of good advice here. Thanks for posting this.

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