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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WOW! I'm speechless!
Not sure this will help you much. I'm about to start the editing process, but my novel has already been partially (chapter by chapter) edited as I was working on it. I get feedback from readers, so generally the slow sections are gone and the plot hangs together reasonably well. Also, the copy-editing is done.

However, like everyone else, I want to cut some more, I want to strengthen dialogue, I want do clarify remaining plot issues, and generally tie together any remaining loose ends. For that purpose I started keeping notes during the last quarter of the novel. Then there is the "find" feature to make sure any later name changes have been made throughout. In addition, I do a considerable amount of stylistic polishing at this point. That unfortunately will insert more typos into an already edited ms.
It's hard to coach on this because I'm always revising, I'm never satisfied. There is the obvious that you have to fix, of course. Since I don't "look ahead" while I'm writing, preferring to wing it, there are the continuity problems to fix--flashbacks to explain story that didn't exist when I began it, ect---but I revise every time I write. Before writing the next chapter I look at the previous one, substituting better words here, rearranging sentences there, editing grammar and filling in holes. Yes, it slows me down, but it puts me in the mood and links the chapters.As for losing interest in my story once it's on paper? That will only happen when it's perfect. Hate it sometimes? Maybe. But I still want it perfect.

To me it's better to make it a part of your writing process than to race through and than to suddenly say...REWRITE! Also find yourself an editor, volunteer or otherwise, someone you trust not to change your story but brave enough to help you improve it.
I tend to approach my first draft manuscript as if it were smeared in weasel shit.

I rewrite/revise all the way through the thing in one pass on paper with a red pen. I go through every single para, sentence and word, cutting and hacking away with gay abandon (usually between 15% and 20% of the text will be cut). I pay particular attention to the way the words work together (or more frequently how they don't), fiddling the order of sentences, or more often completely rewriting them. I deal with character, continuity and plot all at the same time, because I find it impossible to ignore one aspect in favour of another when I'm reading the horrible thing.

Any time I think I need a new scene, I write it on the computer then and there, print it out, and added to the pile in the right place. Though I have seen me scrawl six or seven pages worth of new stuff on the back of the pages as I go. I usually go through two or three red pens in an edit, and virtually nothing gets left untouched.

Once that's all done, and my stack of paper looks like a red-ink bloodbath, I type up all the changes, giving them another edit as I do so. Usually that's about a fortnight's worth of work, and I do this full time.

All in all I take about as much time on the revision as I do on the actual writing. I know it's obsessive, and I'd really like to be more relaxed about it, but I just can't do it.
The rewrite is where books get made. Anyone can string sentences together to chart out an idea.
I go at it just the opposite from the way most of you writers are describing. Speaking as a publisher/editor:

I find I can't get a realistic overall look at a book when I'm distracted by errors and less-than-perfect writing. First I go through with the correction pen, fixing spelling, punctuation, tense, construction, and awkward wording. Once the book is cleaned up, then I can read it comfortably as a whole with an eye for cutting, rearranging, and the various balances. That's when I can get the feel for what's boring, what character is flat, and what soaring writing deserves to be showcased.

I wouldn't try to change a writer's approach, though. The characters, plot development, and pacing have to be your foundations, so naturally they are priority. The housecleaning comes later, when you need to it be readable to someone else.
I can't read a book without a pencil in hand. Even though it has already been published. Compulsive-obsessive, I guess.
I suggest Todd Stone's excellent book, Novelist's Boot Camp. Todd suggests taking "passes" over your work. One pass might be for grammar, another for punctuation, and so on.

But I think the bigger problem is...you need to stand back and ask yourself if the book "works." That's a toughie. I try to make sure all my characters maintain their own inner logic. I read my dialog out loud because that's how I catch clunky wording. I amp up the emotions. And finally, because I'm picky, I look for inconsistencies like misspelling a character's name or putting a period after Dr Pepper. (There isn't one after the Dr)

I also think you need enough time to read your work all in one sitting because that's when you find weird stuff that doesn't make sense, but you THOUGHT it did. Or you'll see a strand you dropped.
I think that's good advice, going through for specific items each time. I do it myself. One way I have of keeping my characters true to themselves after evolving throuhg the first draft is to give each character, even minor ones, their own pass through. It's a good way to keep their dialog consistent, and to incorporate little distinguishing features into Chapter 3 Ii hadn't thought of until Chapter 47 in the first draft.

I also do the one sitting thing, though it's more like a one weekend thing than one straight through sitting.
A lot of good advice out there.

If you feel intimidated when you start revising (and I know I did!) start with something small...typos and grammer. This may seem like grunt work, but it's essential and doesn't force you to look at plot and character development (that comes later). Believe it or not Spell Checkers do not catch every typo!! I found one or two that the spell checker didn't see.

Also, some words that are spelled correctly don't necessarily belong in a sentence. "Where did he go?" is not the same as "Wear did he go?", one of my mistakes I caught.

By the time you finish this, you've re-read your entire novel without realizing it. Now, as you begin to read again, you should notice some characters who may be weak and need bulking up, or a side plot that maybe doesn't work. If you didn't have an outline before, you can always start one at this point...just to keep the storyline straight. You can even make it into a flowchart if that helps. By the time you go over it again, you will probably see some things to fix.

Good luck!
I thought I read on John Scalzi's site that he credited his editor for making it look like he could spell. Anyway, with stories like his, long may he publish!

Have you read his ANDROID'S DREAM? I have it but haven't read it, and surely he's got something good coming up after that.
Books on revising/rewiritng. Elizabeth Lyon has a new book out "Manuscript Makeover" published by Perigee/Penguin. I'm working on a review of it now, but to every fiction writer, I say, GET IT. It's an essential for everyone facing what you're facing, a first draft and needing to revise.

Another good place for revision help is www.autocrit,com

My approach to revising is to view it as 3-drafts after the first.

2nd draft--revise the story. Cut out everything that isn't necessary--back story, lengthy descriptions, characters who don't amount to anything, subplots that go nowhere, seeds that didn't find fertile ground. Steven King says the second draft should be 10% shorter than the first. I do a word count and set a goal of cutting out 10% of the words. The other thing to do is reorganize the plot elements so they fit the three-act structire, so the tension continues to rise and the middle doesn't sag.

3rd draft--revise each scene for maximum impact. There's no sense revising the scenes before you revise the story because some scenes might be eliminated in the story revision. I still try to cut words, but I also look on the third draft as the time to add or increase the emotion. For me, that usually means adding sequels to the scenes. My first drafts tend to be big on scenes but lacking sequels. Sequels are where a lot of the emotion gets added.

4th draft--revise at the sentence level. There's so point in revising sentences until you have revised the story and scenes. At this point, I try to tighten the writing, eliminate weak words and anything that sounds like writing. I look at varying sentence structure and length. My overall goal, as in the previous drafts is to cut words.

I can't say I've ever been successful in accomplishing a revision in three drafts. It might take me two drafts, not one, to revise the story until I'm satisfied. It's also true that one cycle of rewriting has never been enough. My current book, which is making the rounds of publishers, is in the thirteenth draft--one first draft and three cycles of revising.


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