I am about to start revising my first novel, which I finished writing almost a year ago. The problem is, I don't really know how to revise a story. Okay, I know how to do it, but it's always been poems or short stories, and I've never much liked the process. Part of it is once the story is told, my interest moves on elsewhere.

And in all my writing classes in college, we never talked about revising/rewriting. It was just, "oh, you've got the first draft done, now revise it for next week." And that's as far as it went. No one ever went over how you actually go about revising a story.

Sure, it's easy; you just go through it and fix the errors, the plot holes, etc. But what's the actual process like? Do you start by looking for grammar and syntax problems, or do you start with overall elements such as theme and plot cohesion and organization? Or do you just read it through once without looking for anything in particular? It's these questions i want to ask you. How do you all do it? What is the actual process like? I know there is not just one way to go about revising, but what works for you? And what hasn't worked for you?

One last thing. Does anyone know of any books dedicated to revising/rewriting?

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Self-editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne & Dave King is really good (they have it at Amazon) in terms of a how-to book.

There are all sorts of tricks for edits/revision - some writers will read their work aloud (makes those awkward phrases stick out like a sore thumb), some will change the font so that the ms looks different (keeps the eye from racing over an error that you've obviously already missed), some edit on computer, some on paper.

I tend to read through with nothing in particular in mind, but very slowly (aloud is really helpful). That way I pick up on most of the grammar/spelling errors as well as the 'clunkers.' The problems with plot, etc. usually emerge then, too. You're lucky that you finished the novel a year ago. Time away from the piece can give you some distance and perspective that is hard to get when you're editing on the fly.

Good luck!
Thanks for the advice and the book recommendation. The reason it's been a year is because up to this point I've lacked the courage to read it.
I agree with Angie. Read it aloud after letting it "sit" for several months. It's amazing what you can find even though you looked at it many times. I haven't tried changing the font, but that sounds like a good idea. I also have several people I trust to read it for me and offer suggestions, find problems, etc. They often tell me I rushed the ending, so I re-read and iron out those problems before sending the novel on its way.
Well, what I do is read the whole thing and anytime my, "interest moves on elsewhere," I start cutting stuff out. I almost never add anything.
So you don't change or re-word anything?
Oh sure, I change all kinds of things, but mostly I just cut. I want to use the fewest words possible to tell the story. Actually, I want to make sure the characters are telling the story so I pay a lot of attention to POV and voice. Things get re-worded to get clearer, but never clever-er. I really like the Elmore Leonard advice, 'If it sounds like writing, I rewrite.' That read it out loud advice is good, too.
I agree with Angie 100% about the Browne/King book; I was about to endorse it myself when I read her comment. None better.

I'm very anal with revisions, so I'm recommending this, just answering your request for what we do. I get my first draft down as well as I can, so I have something to work with. Then I go through it multiple times, working on one thing with each pass. First will be descriptions and setting; then characterizations; dialog of one character at a time (I have an inventory of where every character appears, then work on only that character's dialog until I'm finished. Then I go on to the next. This allows me to get deep into the character and not be distracted by anything else, so his voice is consistent throughout. The current WIP is multi-POV, so I'll do another similar to the dialog draft, each character's POV chapters all together. Then it sits for six weeks or so before I pick a weekend (preferably a three-day) to read the whole thing. No edits, just read it and take notes, checking for plot holes and continuity. Then I work on the notes. The last pass requires me to read a couple of chapters, edit what I read yesterday, and line edit what I read the day before. After that, I type THE END and call it done.

I never wrote that out before. Frankly, it looks like a description of a mentally ill individual. Well, you asked for it.
I've never heard of this method. Sounds interesting. Thanks!
LOL! That's a fantastic summary of editing/revision madness!
I'm gonna have to give you 100 points for making a Simpsons reference. Thanks for the detail.
I think you have to start by rereading the whole thing.
There's no point tinkering with finer issues until you're sure the story hangs together as a book.
If it doesn't you need to fix that.
Assuming it does I then go through it page by page by page by page by page - you get the picture. Anything that clunks and I mean anything gets the bullet.
Better out than in as my kids say after a particularly loud fart.
I also have to fill in the gaps. By this I mean all the square brackets I left when I was chucking out the first draft.
These can range from -
[insert chapter about Romania]
[this is crap]
[was he eight or nine in the last book?]
[who the hell do you think will want to read this shit?]
HB x
Nice to know I'm not alone and that just about every writer out there is constantly wracked with self doubt. My, we're a crazy bunch ;-)


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