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Revise Wise - How to Revise Your Novel

Updated: Mar 19

Revise Wise How to Revise Your Novel by Kristin Noland Speculative fiction editor and crime fiction editor

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Revising isn’t for the fainthearted.

You worked so hard on writing your story and celebrated typing "The End."

Now you must pick it apart.

But take it slow and think about it as taking it apart to clean and polish each piece, so when you reassemble your story, it shines brighter, then it's not so scary.

  • You will be ensuring your character motivations make sense.

  • Your plot holds from beginning to end.

  • Your story's progression is in the correct order, and much more.

This takes multiple revisions.

As an author, it’s not easy to pick out the holes in your story when you created the fictional world and the characters within.

It may even take you twice as long or more than writing the first draft!

So prepare yourself and take your time.

And try not to place quick deadlines or turnaround-times for yourself or your editor, as a rush job won’t give you the results you need.

We'll review seven steps to get you on your way.

1. Give yourself a break.

2. Review the big storytelling aspects.

3. Know your why.

4. Get emotional.

5. Clarify the narrative.

6. Read aloud.

7. Run a search.

1. Give yourself a break

When you finish your first draft, take a break from your novel.

The longer you leave it sit the better, but a few weeks is usually good enough.

Taking a break from it will help you assess it logically so you can pick it apart wisely.

Review the big storytelling aspects

Before you get into crafting beautiful sentences and clever metaphors, check your

  • plot

  • character depth and development

  • worldbuilding

  • pacing

  • structure

This equates to developmental editing.

If you don’t have the best structure, believable character motivations and growth, or solid worldbuilding first, you’ll spend too much time revising things that may need cut from the manuscript.

So start with the big elements of storytelling.

Know your why

It's imperative that you know why everything is in your novel.

From character’s backstories and clothing to plot points and twists, there should be a reason these things appear in your novel.

If there is no ‘why’ behind a scene, a character, or dialogue, then it probably shouldn’t be included.

While readers may not ever get why a character wears only flowered tops, it adds to their characterization.

You know your character chose a certain style based on their passions or personality, and the reader can get the impression through what they wear without being told. In this case, the character loves tending to her flower garden.

A strong story depends on character motivation and conflict.

Every scene and or chapter in your book should answer or relate to the following questions.

  • What do your characters want?

  • Why do they want it?

  • What is standing in their way?

As your story progresses, your characters’ motivations will change with the new information they get, and the obstacles in their path will impact the choices they make, but make sure the why behind their choices makes sense.

Fictional stories need to be believable, especially characters, their motivations, and their choices.

So, find the why behind what’s in your novel.

And if it doesn't serve a solid purpose, think about cutting it.

Get emotional

One thing I notice that’s missing from many manuscripts is emotion.

We react to everything that's said or done with an emotional response.

It’s important for the fictional characters in your book to do the same.

When emotions are shown, through internal reactions, body language, and dialogue, the reader shares the experiences with the character.

Readers will have an easier time empathizing, more importantly, bond with your characters.

And they will understand better why the character makes the choices they do.

Emotion adds layers to your story. It makes things personal and creates more tension. So, make sure your characters feel and respond to what's going on around them.

Clarify the narrative

You want everything to be as clear as possible, without overexplaining (authorsplaining), to have a smooth and easy read.

Readers can be pushed out of the story if it becomes bogged down with details, shifts POVs, or has excessive side commentary.

If you find places where you get bored or your mind wanders, you get confused or frustrated, it’s time to sharpen the clarity.

Too many details make it hard to read, while too little may lead to confusion.

Watch for places where there are paragraphs explaining the backstory of a character or the descriptions of the setting or world the character lives in.

Authorsplaining is what I see most, but there is also a risk of not giving the reader enough information.

In fiction, this mostly happens with worldbuilding and setting.

If you don’t detail enough setting or show the rules of the world you’ve created, the reader won’t understand why something is the way it is or be able to picture where the characters are.

Abrupt POV shifts and perspective shifts can frustrate the reader.

If the narrator has been following one character (the perspective character, and suddenly the narrator reveals what another character is feeling, thinking, or their motivations, this can push the reader out of the story.

You want to keep them in your story for as long as possible, so watch for places where the narrator shifts perspectives.

There is a tremendous benefit to going through your manuscript several times.

The first revisions are to deal with the big issues, fixing plot problems and strengthening characters, but the following revisions should focus on ways to improve the use of language.

One way to hone your focus is to read your manuscript out loud.

Read aloud

You can stare at a sentence for hours and know something isn’t right, but the moment you read it aloud, you know you’re missing a word, or the sentence structure could be changed for clarity.

You will find repetitions of words and sounds when reading aloud.

Awkward phrasings. Missing punctuation. Voice inflictions and accents that are misrepresented.

There is something about vocalizing that forces our brains to work differently so we can pick up on things easier than when reading silently.

While listening, create a list of repetitive words, filler words, and filter words to remove, replace, or rewrite.

Run a search

After you've created a list of repetitive words and phrases, run a search.

Words like feel or felt, saw, heard, smelled, thought, wondered are signs of weak writing. What happens when these words are used is it creates distance between the reader and the story, when what you want is to immerse them in your tale.

When you find them, take a moment, and reread the sentence or paragraph. Ask yourself if you are telling your readers how a character feels or if you are letting them experience it.

If you notice your narrator tells your reader the characters feelings, thoughts, or motivations, find alternative ways to express what the character is feeling, hearing, thinking, or the whys behind what they do.

If a character feels scared, their heart may beat faster, their muscles tense, their body shake. The descriptions of what we physically feel will help the reader feel with the character.

If your character thinks or wonders something, just let them do it. Use italics sparingly, though, as they can be intrusive.

Sometimes it works well to have the narrator simply say what the character thinks.

Instead of, ‘Bob wondered how that was going to help,’ it could be, ‘How was that going to help?’

Don’t feel like you need to fix everything all at once. A good revision at this stage doesn’t make your manuscript perfect; it makes it better.

Give yourself permission to do as many revisions as you want and don’t rush it.

If you are stuck on how to revise or have done all you can, hire a professional editor.

We are here to help you realize your vision for your novel, help you reach your readers, and help you craft an immersive story.

Already know you need some help? Contact me. I work with speculative and crime fiction.

Happy Writing and Revising!

Kristin Noland – Speculative fiction and crime fiction editor

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