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How To Revise Your Novel

A good novel is often revised several times before it’s ready to be submitted to a literary agent or editor for publication. As daunting as this seems, revision (or self-editing) is simply part of the process of taking that first draft and turning it into a polished and coherent novel and, hopefully, one that will make you a star. Here are some tips about how to revise your novel.

If the revision process seems intimidating, break it down into manageable steps. Some writers make one thorough sweep, and others make multiple passes, concentrating on different areas each time (characterization, plot, theme). However you work best, take the time to find those weaknesses that could halt the flow of your plot or take credibility away from your main character.

Set a date. Give yourself a firm deadline, and break down what steps you need to take and when. Stick to your deadline.

Take a break. Now, walk away from your masterpiece, and let it sit untouched for at least a week or two, longer if you can stand it. Get some perspective and find a more objective view.

Print it out. Have a double-spaced copy of your manuscript in hand, with two-inch margins for note-taking. A spiral-bound notebook and a few pens of different colors can help you stay organized. For example, use a red pen for deleting words or sections, a blue pen for additions, and use the notebook for more detailed revisions or notes to yourself. (TIP: Like to proofread? Find out how you can start your own business by becoming a professional proofreader.)

Revision. As you go through your novel chapter by chapter, ask yourself the following questions:

1) Story line
• Is my plotline solid all the way through?
• Are there any holes that leave the reader confused?
• Is the story set in an appropriate time, place, season?
• Is my conflict resolved at the end?

2) Point of view
• Is the point of view effective in telling my story?
• Is the point of view consistent throughout?

3) Characters
• Do my characters stay consistent throughout the story? If not, have I developed situations that account for any changes in personality?
• Are my characters flat or one-dimensional, or are they believable and richly developed?
• Are my characters unrealistic or stereotypical, or are they realistic, with flaws and idiosyncrasies?
• Do my characters evoke emotional responses from the reader?

4) Scene
• Are my scenes predictable?
• Do I provide concrete details or vague generalizations?
• Do they contain a good mixture of dialogue, action, narration, and insight?
• Is each scene relevant to the story (moves the story forward) or could it be considered filler?
• Are my scenes bogged down by too much narrative (“telling”)?

5) Dialogue
• Is my dialogue practical and does it accurately reflect the character speaking?
• Is the dialogue essential to the scene?
• Is my dialogue weighed down by “he said, she said” construction?

Line-by-line editing

Once you’ve resolved plot, character, and scene issues, make a final pass through your manuscript with an eye toward the basics: punctuation, grammar, word choice, and sentence structure. Run a spell-check and keep an eye out for embarrassing typos as well. (At this stage it is often helpful to have a well-versed grammarian and objective reader take a stab at this. Writer’s Relief proofreaders have been helping writers perfect their manuscripts since 1994.)

• Have I repeated a favorite word or phrase too often?
• Is my sentence structure varied and interesting, or do I use the same length and phrasing throughout?
• Do I rely on clichés?
• Have I used gender-neutral language?
• Have I stayed consistent regarding hair color, age, dialect? Are my characters’ names spelled consistently throughout?

And, finally, once you’ve made these revisions, take a little break and then reprint your masterpiece (with one-inch margins). One more pass through should reveal how effectively your revision strategy has worked. When satisfied take time to revel in the moment. You’ve accomplished a monumental task!

Once your novel is revised, it’s time to start writing query letters and researching literary agents. If you could use some help with those tasks, Writer’s Relief is standing by. We’ve been helping writers proofread, format, prepare, and submit their manuscripts since 1994.

3 Responses to How To Revise Your Novel

  1. Great tips! I employ the multi-colored pen approach with a fresh notebook at my side, but I didn’t think about making the margins bigger for more notes. I’ll need to do that on my next project.

  2. It was Great! I copied it all! I like your format and brevity. You covered it all. Another idea would be to give varied queries as examples. I understand that if the query is not good,you lose the sale. I do like the way you did it Thanks so much. Geri

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