Issue # 54
November/December 2009

Lazette Gifford, Editor

In This Issue


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Writing 101: So You Want to Write a Novel

Part 3: Revising a Novel

By Valerie Comer
Copyright 2009 by Valerie Comer, All Rights Reserved

You wrote an entire first draft! Congratulations! Whether or not you ever sell this or any other novel, you are light years ahead of the millions of people who say they will write a book some day. It is a huge accomplishment to get to The End.

You may be very disappointed in the execution of your novel. Hopefully, though, you will see at least a few strokes of sheer genius in it. The goal of the revision process is to polish up your story so that it more closely resembles that glorious idea you started out with months back. You can't revise a story that isn't written, but now that you have the bones of the text down, you can sculpt it into a finer form.


There are two schools of thought on when you should start the revision process.

Some say you should allow a cooling off process where you do something completely different, such as plan another novel or revise one that you've previously written. The reasoning is that if you go back too quickly, you will still see the story you think you wrote rather than the one that is actually in your document folder. A little distance gives you more objectivity in seeing the flaws of your work.

Others say it's a good idea to go back through right away and fix the things you already know need fixing, such as adding in mention of that character in chapters two and five so her arrival in chapter twelve doesn't come out of the blue. You now know where some foreshadowing would go nicely, and you may be able to see a stronger place to start that first chapter than where you actually did.

Even if you take time for a quick run through your novel as soon as it's completed, you'll still want to set it aside for at least a couple of weeks before tackling the bigger issues.


Many writers advise printing out the first draft, citing the belief that it's easier to read it as a novel that way instead of as a WIP (work in progress). I usually do my work on-screen, so pick which works best for you.

Purchase a spiral bound notebook (the 5.5x9 inch size is good) for making notes whether or not you have a print-out.


Read through the entire novel in as short a time as possible. Again, writers' methods here vary. Some tell you to do it without a pen in hand. Just read to get your over all impression. If you can take the time to do this step, by all means do so.

Now you're ready for that notebook you bought. On the first page, write Scene 1, Page 1. Read through the scene, then in the notebook write a brief description of it in one or two sentences.

Think about the scene. Is it solid? Will it need a bit of rewriting, such as added description? Will it need a lot of rewriting? Does it wander in no-mans-land and need to be cut completely? Is the point-of-view clear? Write down what you think will need to be done to it to make it pull its part in the story, then move on to the second scene. In the notebook, mark what page this scene begins on, and repeat the procedure. All the way to The End.

This process can take days or even weeks, depending on how much time you can devote to it daily. Remember it's best to compact the time frame so you can keep the entire story in mind more easily. For example, don't work on it for a week, then go on a two-week vacation, then expect to pick up where you left off on your return.


Read through your notes and think about how you can implement the changes you see are needed. Here are some things to consider.

1. Are all the characters necessary? Cut or combine extras.

2. Is each scene in one character's point-of-view? Is it clear which character it is from the first sentence? Is everything consistent to what this character can know and deduce?

3. Does the chain of events seem inevitable? Too predictable? Too improbable? Perhaps you can change the order of some scenes, or show inner motivation to cover the leaps.

4. Is there continuity? Does the MC's eye color remain the same? Does the room/town/country layout remain consistent? Is the timeline logical? You may want charts for character traits, map sketches of the settings, and a timeline scrawled into an old datebook, planner, or calendar.

5. Do you have too much description? Too little? Don't let the story get bogged down in details, but do provide enough sensory input that the reader can feel a part.

6. Have you discovered the theme? This is what the story is intrinsically about. Are there places you could deepen this theme?

7. Is the length right for the genre? Find out what publishers are looking for in novels similar to yours. If your first draft is too long, think of ways to tighten it up. If it's too short, be on the look-out for threads you can expand to bring the word count within range.

8. Are all the threads tied up? Make notes of thoughts you've introduced but never followed up on, and make plans to either cut them out entirely or to find a way to weave them back in and tie them off within the story. Don't leave them dangling!


Now it's time to implement the changes you've discovered to be needed. Open the document and re-save it with a new version title so that you can always find the original in case you wish to revert sections.

Start with the global issues. If scenes need to be completely ripped out or moved from one location to another, do this first. Make notes in that spiral-bound notebook of what you've done.

Take a close look at the first scene. If you're sure you're starting the novel in the right place, start into tweaking it. If you've thought of a more dynamic opener, write a new scene from scratch.

Following your notes in your spiral-bound notebook, go through the entire novel, first applying general fixes to each scene, then line-by-line. Some writers do all this in one pass, others will take two passes to implement these changes. It may even take three or more, but the goal is to smooth the process as much as possible so you don't get bogged down.

When the big fixes are in place, it's time to focus on each sentence, each paragraph. Some things to watch out for are:

1. Passive wording. Instead of saying the character was doing something, look for sharp, specific verbs that paint clear pictures.

2. Repeated words. Watch out for over-used words spanning several sentences and paragraphs. These have a way of sneaking in. Reword sentences and/or use synonyms to break these up.

3. Confusing pronouns. Could there be any doubt as to which she you are referring to?

4. Dialogue tags. Watch the rhythm of dialogue. Eliminate tags (he said/she said) wherever possible and still maintain clarity. Add action beats in place of many tags.

5. Sentence/paragraph structure. Make sure you use a variety of sentence lengths, and that some are simple and some complex. Likewise watch paragraph structure, so that the amount of white space on the page varies.

6. Weasel words. Words such as just, really, very, and suddenly are rarely needed. Look through your own work and make a list of words that crop up as padding, then use your word processor's find feature to locate them all and see how many can be deleted. I'm betting at least 95% can go.


After you've made this the best manuscript you can, it's time to get someone else's opinion. You can find critique groups in your hometown or online. Offer to trade someone your novel for theirs. Two to four critique partners are ample. It's fine if half of them are readers who know what they like in a story, but getting the input of another writer can be invaluable.

In any case, weigh the advice of your crit partners against your vision for your story. If what they say makes sense, make the changes. In rare occasions your reader may be out to sabotage you, but expect that they have your best interests at heart until proven otherwise.

Getting critiqued hurts, even when you know the only way to strengthen your writing is to hear the negatives as well as the positives. Know that opening that email will be painful. Don't respond to the critiquer until your emotions have died down and you've had a chance to absorb the information critically. Then thank them for their time and ask any specific questions you can think of.


Revising normally refers to massive changes such as I've discussed in this article. Editing has to do with the fine-tuning, like rewriting a single sentence for clarity or to improve the grammar.



Coming up in the Writing 101: So You Want to Write a Novel series is the final installment: Submitting a Novel.


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Editor: Lazette Gifford

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