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?

Tags: editing, revising, rewriting

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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.
Revising after a year is great! You'll be coming at it from an audience's perspective rather than the author because you've been away for so long.

This is what I do - it's not the professional way or anything, it's just the method I find works best for me. (Although I have to say Mark's advise is excellent!)

When I'm revising, I look for conciseness. A reader's mind will drift if you don't keep them interested, so keeping the language clear cut and flourish-free is one method I've found works. Just look for any words that don't need to be there. That's always the first thing you do, because after a few readings of it you'll be reading it from your own voice and you wont see the useless words for what they are.

Read a sentence out loud, then read it again, thinking to yourself, 'Now are there any words there that I can do without?' You'd be surprised how often people use fancy and meaningless words because they want to make their writing sound impressive; but all it does is clog up the pages and give the reader an inferiority complex.

Example: "In spite of the fact that he..." could easily be "although he".

Make every word earn it's place on the page and you'll find your writing will move a lot faster.

"It was not long before she was sorry for what she had said" - "She regretted her words" - Which was better?

After that, address characterisation. So much of a reader's interest rests on your characters engaging them. Look at each character and think, 'Did I portray him properly?', 'Can I make her violent nature clearer to the audience?' But for the love of god, don't just add a few paragraphs about each person! Don't tell your audience that Mary Sue is a golddigger, show them by dressing her in expensive clothes, or having her speak with reference to how much things cost, etc. If you simply tell a reader the information, they lose the fun of discovering a character's personality and faults for themselvs.

Once conciseness and characterisation are taken care of, address any plot holes or ommisions you might like the reader to know. Chip in little details to bring life to your settings, your props or your time period. It's the little details that turn a mediocre story into a gripping yarn.

Good luck!


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