Simplify Novel Revision with These Best-in-Practice
Novel Revision is Key Aspect of Writing
Novel Revision is a key process of novel writing, but to the detriment of many an aspiring
author, it is often overlooked and/or misunderstood. Having knocked off that first draft of a
novel – the one you’ve already spent hours, months, sometimes even years writing – you might
think that the really hard work is done. But it is not done. In many ways it’s just beginning. The
reason we have a manuscript “first draft” is that there are subsequent drafts.
For some, the second draft means running a final spell check, cleaning up punctuation, and they
may go as far as removing some of their overzealous adverbs and adjectives. They then declare
their work a finished novel.
But not so fast. There is much more to novel revision than spelling and grammar. Much more.
Revising a manuscript is a big job, and one that an aspiring author cannot afford to skip.
Objectivity – the Key to Novel Revision
The new writer tends to be overly attached to their writing and is reluctant to remove any part of
it. This is the first thing a novelist must overcome. Novel revision calls for objectivity – it’s not
an easy thing. Sometimes we think we’ve written the perfect snappy line of dialogue, the most
beautiful scene, and there’s no way you want to edit it out of your novel.
Advice: don’t be too much in love with your own writing. If something isn’t working to either
move the story or reveal more about your characters – get rid of it. You don’t have to press the
delete button, forever banishing your beloved words into exile. Create a document where you
keep just this sort of thing – beloved writing not yet used – just cut it from your manuscript and
paste it into that document. You may find another use for that sweet baby in another novel.
Novel Writing Tip: The new writer tends to be overly attached to their writing and is reluctant
to remove any part of it. This is the first thing a novelist must overcome.
Novel Revision After the First Draft
Novel revision means starting at the beginning and reading through the manuscript word by
word, line by line, paragraph by paragraph and chapter by chapter looking at a lot of things at
once. Revision is a complicated process, but knowing what to look for certainly helps.
To facilitate the revision process, start by making three lists with the following headings:
3. Plot Tracking
As you go through your manuscript you will pay attention to each of these items and either make
instant corrections for easy items or make notes that you’ll use to correct the manuscript at the
end of the revision process when you can observe your manuscript as a whole (vs. looking at
each word, line, chapter). Let’s look in more detail at how paying attention to these 3 items will
help to revise a manuscript.
Novel Revision – Characters
Look at how each character is introduced – as you read it in the manuscript, not as the sketch of
character traits you initially defined for the character. Using your Character List, write down
how you’ve described the character’s name, appearance, primary traits, etc. Do this for each
character as they are introduced. Your Character List might look like this:
Novel Revision Character List
Haley Cavanaugh – born 1988, 5’7”, brown eyes, honey-gold hair, single mother of one
child, whose father left without a good-bye, working her way through college with part-
time jobs; determined, resourceful, organized. Mistrusts relationships and is afraid of
being hurt again.
James Burns – born 1979…
As you continue reading, make notes of anything that conflicts with that initial description.
If a character is initially described as perky but later in the story you’ve written scenes
that show him/her feeling depressed on any number of days, that might be inconsistent
with what your readers have come to know about your character. This is something you
will consider revising.
If you state that your character is 37 years old but you have a 35th birthday party for the
character, you will need to figure out how old your character really is and write it
Point of view is another element to watch out for – make sure that the character whose
Point of View you are using is only relating information that they could know through
their history, sight, perceptions or discussion with other characters, etc.
It’s all about keeping track of a character’s identity and ensuring its consistency throughout the
manuscript. I once wrote a novel where the character names were so similar to each other (in my
mind anyway) that I had attached certain dialogue to the wrong character. Having found the error
during revision, I was able to correct it. If I hadn’t done so, I would have had some very
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