Editing Fiction - How to Revise Your Novel 

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Today, a student asked me what issues to consider when revising a fiction manuscript. I made a checklist for her, and I thought I'd send post a copy here in case it's helpful to you too.​​​​​​​

When you revise, I'd suggest starting with bigger, structural issues, and then working your way down to the fine points.​​​​​​​

It doesn't make sense to spend hours polishing a sentence if you're going to decide later to cut the whole chapter!​​​​​​​

1) Start with big questions such as:​​​​​​​

• Does your main character have a central goal?​​​​​​​

• Does your story have a central conflict?​​​​​​​

• Does the main character have enough at stake?​​​​​​​

• Does something change between the beginning and end of the story? Do your main character's actions shape the change?​​​​​​​

• Have you chosen the right main character?​​​​​​​

• Have you chosen the right point of view?​​​​​​​

• Have you chosen the right narrator?​​​​​​​

• Have you chosen the right verb tense?​​​​​​​

• Does your main character have clear motives?​​​​​​​

• Does your villain have clear motives?​​​​​​​

• Does every scene serve a purpose?​​​​​​​

• Are your plot complications in the most dramatic order?​​​​​​​

• Are you missing key scenes?​​​​​​​

• Do you show (instead of summarizing) your story conflict?​​​​​​​

• Is your time frame clear?​​​​​​​

2) Then, work your way down to smaller questions such as:​​​​​​​

• Do you use narrative viewpoint consistently?​​​​​​​

• Are transitions and scene changes clear?​​​​​​​

• Do you “show” and “tell” in the right places?​​​​​​​

• Do your characters speak in different voices?​​​​​​​

• Do you weave in enough sensory details to help readers imagine your scenes?​​​​​​​

• Are there points where your story moves too slowly or too quickly?​​​​​​​

• Is your beginning too slow?​​​​​​​

• Does your ending show the result of your story conflict?​​​​​​​

3) At some point, go through the manuscript and look for everything you can cut -- unnecessary scenes, paragraphs, sentences, words. Get rid of repetitions and anything else that doesn't contribute to your story.​​​​​​​

4) At some point, ask someone else to read your manuscript and let you know if anything's clear or confusing. Even if it's all clear to you (because you wrote it, and you know what you had in mind!), it might not be clear to other readers.​​​​​​​

5) Finally, it will be time to polish your sentences. At this stage, it's useful to read the manuscript out loud to yourself and listen for anything that sounds clunky or awkward.​​​​​​​

Happy revising!​​​​​​​

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Editing Fiction - Next Steps

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