"It's impossible to discourage the real writers; they don't give a damn what you say." Sinclair Lewis

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Revising Your Manuscript

by Sandra Lord

I believe we all agree a writer resists rewriting. But most of us do not create perfect drafts the first time around, or on the second. Some writers revise their first draft starting at Chapter One and working through chapter by chapter to the end. That’s fine, but here’s another method for you to consider.

Many of us mull our story over in our minds long before approaching our computer. Before you write the first draft, keep your options and imagination open--can you change the characters, point of view, setting, situation or problem, conflict, or mix and match any of the above and make a better story? Now write your story--to the end; then stop. Don’t revise in between. Keep those creative juices flowing.

Now you’ve finished the first draft. Let the manuscript cool off, then come back to it and read it through and look for its strengths and weaknesses. Pinpoint major matters that need attending to first. Jot notes in margins on any big problems or new ideas that crop up. You may get ideas for new characters and scenes, plot may have to be rearranged, or the ending needs to be changed.

Deal with any character problems before you begin a general revision. Does you hero or heroine change in the course of the novel? Have they unusual traits? Take a hard look at your antagonist. Is he/she morally bad? Is he/she humanized? Look at your minor characters. Is there a credible conflict between protagonist and antagonist? Next, evaluate the scenes. What one is the most memorable? What made it so? What scene is the least memorable? Can you cut it? Continue this process until all the remaining scenes contribute significantly to the novel.

Now look at character’s motivation. Is it provoked by circumstance or planted ahead of time? It’s easier to established motivation by planting it ahead of the scene where the action takes place. What are the three most important actions in the book? Look at other significant actions. Is any action out of character for the heroine, hero, villain, etc.? After a section of your manuscript is revised, print it. You’ll need a clean copy for your general revision that will come later. Look at page one. Is there a hook? Do you, as a reader, want to go on to page two? If so, it’s time for the general revision where you take your clean copy and work through the manuscript chronologically. Your first objective is to tighten the manuscript. Watch for between-scenes material. Cut words, phrases, paragraphs, pages--all that are not absolutely necessary. Vary sentence lengths to avoid monotony. Avoid redundancy--saying the same thing twice in different words. Pick the better one and cut the other.

Check dialogue sequences. Is your dialogue natural, realistic for your characters? Have you used enough dialogue? Check for tag problems. Watch for “he muttered”, “screamed.” Substitute “said” if you need a tag. If only two people are talking, you do not need tags. The reader can keep them straight. Use as few tags as you can get away with. Eliminate unnecessary words, e.g., the boy nodded his head (what else do you nod?). Eliminate weasel words such as about, finally, here, just then, suddenly, etc. Check for overuse of adverbs, past perfect verb tense; any participial phrases.

Work with a clean manuscript for your next read-though. Look for words that jar you--take you out of experiencing the story. You may need to revise your prose for more punch. If you’ve done everything you can to perfect your manuscript, print it out and read it through again. No problems? It’s ready to go. Good Luck!


  1. Sandy - great set of suggestions. Writing is one thing, but revisions are an entirely different animal. Takes a lot of skill and patience to have the "good stuff' finally see the light of day. Richard

    1. Good suggestions, Sandy. You know the old saying: "To write is to rewrite." We all have our own systems. For me, I just start to read the story over again. When I'm not looking for specific things that are wrong, they soon show up. Then I start the fix. I usually fix as I go. Sometimes it takes four or five readings ... maybe more before I get it to where I'm satisfied. Then I hire an editor. :)

  2. Love your post, Sandy. Great suggestions. I need a step by step way to revise that will fit my nature. When I was in gradeschool and coloring pictures, I was compelled to draw a sun in the top right hand corner. I tried not to once but couldn't. The sun HAD to be in that corner.

    What's this got to do with writing? In a way, a lot. If there is a word I need to find, or a place, I can't leave a space and continue. I HAVE to find it while it's on my mind. I have to put that sun in the corner. So the result is, I'm revising a little as I go.


  3. I enjoyed your blog, Sandy. You basically gave us a checklist to follow before we put our manuscript out there. Good job.

  4. Such good advice, Sandy. Revising for me is more fun than the first draft, which is usually pretty hard to iron out. But subsequent drafts are when you can start layering on all the good stuff.

  5. Great reminders for the revision phase of writing! Thanks, Sandy.