How to Revise

how-toYou’ve just finished your draft and you’re ready for what’s next, but maybe you’re not so sure what to do next. First, congrats on finishing a rough draft. It isn’t easy. The next step is to revise your draft. Now some people use revising and editing synonymously, but the two are actually separate processes. Revision is big picture level changes such as filling plot holes and strengthening weak writing. Editing is sentence level concerns such as grammar and flow. Revision comes first in this process, so let’s look at how to revise.

First you want to give your WiP two to a month long break. It’s crucial to be able to view your draft with fresh eyes to see what’s working and what isn’t. It’s not easy, but shelf that draft and try not to think about it.

Second, revise before you edit. It’s so tempting to try and fix all those red lines and nitpick about commas, but there’s no point in polishing a scene that needs to be cut in the end. Or rewritten. Don’t focus on the details. Not yet.

Third, revise in layers. Focus on one problem at time instead of wasting energy jumping from task to task in one go.

Finally, get organized. Make a list of problems to tackle and prioritize those problems. Tackle the big problems first and go task by task. Being organized about your revisions will help things go smoother and faster.

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Here’s a list of problems to fix:

  • Does this scene advance the plot, develop characters, or react to a previous scene?
  • Are there any plot holes or inconsistencies?
  • Does this dialogue advance the plot or develop characters?
  • Is there more than just dialogue? I.e. body language, gestures, action tags, exposition, etc.
  • Does this show instead of tell? Avoid words like thought, felt, saw, heard, etc. Also avoid naming emotions like happy or sad.
  • Remove adverbs and adjectives and replace with stronger verbs and concrete nouns. Instead of he said quietly use he whispered. Instead of he ran quickly use he raced. Use specific nouns instead of general ones. Use daisies instead of flowers and a red Mustang instead of a car.
  • Are your scenes in the best order? Should they all be chronological or jump around in time?
  • Is there continuity?
  • Is your theme clearly developed? Is it placed throughout the plot.
  • Is your foreshadowing developed? Did you plant enough clues without giving it away?
  • Does each character sound like themselves? Make sure that not only each character is unique compared to the other characters, but make sure that everything they do is also true to character.
  • Is your pacing on point? This should not be an issue if you have strong story structure and are hitting each plot point for the structure you’re using. Here’s more on the Third Act structure, Five Act structure, Fichtean Curve, and Hero’s Journey.
  • Are your character arcs developed? Remember that each story needs change and so your characters need to grow and change throughout the story.
  • Are your subplots developed? Are they placed throughout the story and successfully resolved?

Remember that good writing is rewriting. First drafts are rough and are meant to be, we make them stronger in revisions and polish them in editing. What are your best tips for rewriting? Share them below and happy revising!

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J.K. Allen

Columnist/Illustrator at Our Write Side/OWS Ink, LLC
Julia Allen received her BA in Creative Writing and English from Michigan State University. She did her senior thesis in poetry under the tutelage of Diane Wakoski, but has been focused primarily on fiction as of late. Common writing themes that can be found in her work address identity and the type of strength that can be found in ordinary people. Julia is currently working on a Young Adult fantasy novel and can be found at local cafes in her hometown when writing, and painting, drawing, or reading when not.
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