Revising your manuscript can be a difficult task. Where to begin? What to look for? What to cut?
In his recent newsletter, author Bruce Hale featured some great tips on revision. I asked Bruce if we could share those tips with our readers and he agreed.
5 ELEMENTS OF A SUCCESSFUL REVISION
So you’ve finished that first draft and let your story marinate in
its own juices for a while, and now it’s time for revision. Only
question is: where to start?
With a picture book, that’s not too terribly daunting. But with a
longer novel, you’d be well served to devise a strategy before
plunging into those narrative thickets that can swallow the unwary
writer. I suspect everyone has his or her own favored approach to
revision. Here’s the one I’ve found most useful…
1. FIRST READ
First time through, the hardest thing is to *just* read your story
and take notes. No line edits, no grammar corrections, no
paragraph revisions — just reading. But if you want to be able to
see the whole forest, instead of the individual trees, this
approach is vital.
By all means, take copious notes. “Tighten the opening on page
43;” “wonky sentence on page 12, first paragraph;” “fix the plot
logic in Chapter 18.” These are all helpful. And they prepare the
2. FIRST REVISION
Once you’ve waded through your story and taken copious notes,
congratulate yourself. It’s not as bad as you thought, right? (We
hope.) With this optimistic thought, it’s time to roll up the
sleeves and plunge into wholehearted revision.
The first time through, work on larger issues: plot holes,
character inconsistencies, gaps in story logic, slow scenes that
need to be trimmed, and so forth. You can always do the fine
Revise sequentially if you can, rather than skipping around. For
any sections that require you to write new material, use the same
method you would in a first draft: write it fast and sloppy. After
all, you can always fix it in the NEXT revision.
3. READ-ALOUD REVISION
Taking the time to read your work aloud may seem redundant at this
point, but it’s necessary. You won’t believe how many errors
you’ll catch. Homonyms, awkward phrasing, missing words, echoes
(unintentionally repeated words) — all these will pop out at you
like Halloween skeletons at a haunted house.
This is the revision where you can really focus on the sound and
rhythm of your writing. Listen for those areas that sound clunky
and don’t really roll off the tongue — that’s your cue to break out
the belt sander and make things smooooth.
4. DIALOG REVISION
Once the story is as good as you can make it, and you’ve read aloud
to catch hidden glitches, it’s time to turn the microscope on your
dialog. First, make sure each character speaks differently. Have
them use different idioms, word choice and catch phrases —
otherwise, they’ll all sound like each other (or like you).
Top-notch authors like Elmore Leonard vary their character dialog
so deftly, they don’t even need attributions (he said/she said).
It’s that clear who’s speaking. In real life, we all have our own
ways of putting things. So just make sure your fictional
characters possess that same distinction.
5. FINAL CHECK
Before I send my story off to agent or editor, I usually try to let
it sit for a week or so, then do one last read-through, to make
sure all my changes fit, and to smooth out any remaining rough
edges. This is an ideal time to search for words you overuse.
(And we *all* overuse certain pet words.)
For example, I know that I tend to drop in “just” and “only” too
often, and I tend to have too many characters shrugging and
nodding. A quick search for these words shows me where I’ve
overdone it, and a quick fix guards against too much sameness in
Writing on the Sidewalk