Revising Your Work

Now that your first draft is done and you have thought about the organisation, voice, word choice and sentence fluency, it’s time to start making some definite changes to your manuscript. You’ve thought about my previous suggestions and maybe experimented with changing the perspective or the voice and got some feedback from your trusted writing advisers. Now it’s time to go over your manuscript with a fine sieve, looking for clunky phrases or lengthy descriptions where your readers might stumble or shudder.

Read your manuscript out loud to yourself with a red pen in hand (track changes if you are using Microsoft Word on the computer; for other programs pick an option that allows you to keep your original copy intact while making changes). We are not yet worried about editing – this is about making sure your ideas are solid before worrying about spelling and grammar.

Here are a few revision tips that will help you to refine your manuscript and make it better:

Are there descriptions that don’t quite meet the mark? Maybe you have placed a house on a cliff… is this house right on the edge of the cliff in danger of falling off? Or maybe it’s set back a ways so that even if there is a rock fall, the house will remain safe?

Make this clear to your readers, especially if it’s going to be a critical element of the story – for example, if there is a huge storm and the house either falls or becomes in danger of falling similar. We want to know where the house is so we can see in our minds how much danger there is here.

Maybe you feel you’ve said too much somewhere and the tension is lowered. Maybe remove one of the revelations and insert it further into the story, even towards the climax if you dare. Make sure that tension keeps rising all the way to the climax with difficulty after difficulty stretching your characters’ capacity.

Or maybe your problem is revealing something too late and you need to bring this event forward in the story – now is the time to hammer out your plot into a shape that will support the rest of the story.

Is there any extraneous information that you find interesting but that doesn’t contribute to the story? This is the kind of thing that needs to be cut now. You may think this is a subjective opinion, changeable if the extra information is interesting… but it isn’t. No matter how interesting that extraneous information is, it needs to go unless you want your readers asking why you put that in. Adding in extra information gives it value and therefore readers take notice when something is added without a purpose.

Even all the added background information in Les Misérables (yes, I have read that entire fat book by Victor Hugo, slow bits and all) contains something relevant to the story, even if it is only minor. You read the entire background of the battle of Waterloo in the book, all the while wondering how it relates to the story and it turns out that Jean Valjean walks across this one time battlefield with no knowledge that the ruined farmhouse was the site of a major battle.

This is a technique of excessive back story is a rarity in our novels today – people are too impatient for the story to get to the point and conclude. They want action.

Using precise language
Is there the potential to say the same thing with fewer words? Ideas are given power through descriptions of fewer words because readers have more fodder for their imaginations. For example, instead of using, “the light was on”, which is imprecise and unclear, go for, “his still lit window”. Readers today lack appreciation for deviations and lengthy wording of ideas than in the days of Victor Hugo where it was actually a celebrated achievement.

Do you have any tips for revision of a manuscript? Is there something I missed out? Share below in the comments.


4 thoughts on “Revising Your Work

  1. Oops … my own ‘style’ has been accurately (too accurately, dammit) described as “flow of consciousness” — I just let it all fall out. Molten-key syndrome, truth be known.

    But you are absolutely right, revision is the b-all and end-all of good writing. So few of us on the web do it, and most often it shows.

    • That is very true and I will admit that the only editing I do of these posts is when I pass it through a plagiarism checker to make sure I’m not repeating anything I’ve seen or read or discovered elsewhere. It is a generally bad habit, but it tends to be what I have time for – my time is worth its weight in gold these days.

      And don’t be too harsh on yourself. Stream of consciousness is an accepted writing style these days and people now use it as techniques and write whole books like that. It can be a bad thing if not properly edited, but that’s the same as anything.

      Thank you for your kind comments.

      • I often quote others (but give credit when aware). I guess it boils down to allocation of resources, and priorities. If time is worth more than revision, so be it.

        But many on the web—and these days especially in the commercial media (does no-one have a Reading Room or proofreaders any more?)—blatantly ‘bang it out’ and ‘bang it away’ without a second glance. Granny Herald is right up in front, laughable sometimes.

        • I often try to insert links to other blogs and useful resources when I blog, but finding the links again to something I’ve read is a mission in itself. Just the other day I bookmarked over 30 tabs all in one go.

          But yes, I’ve often frowned at the number of errors I see creeping into more professional blogs (and websites) than mine. If there is anything wrong in the websites that I write for my job, it’s not because of me. If there are errors in my blog, I don’t deserve my title of editor or that of proofreader either.

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