Novel Revision: 4 Goals to Polish Your Story

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It seems like all I am doing is printing out my WIP right now. Of course. Revising a novel is always a circular process.

Get it Right the First Time

Some authors get it right the first time; others claim to get it right the first time. For experienced writers, who are used to editing, it may be possible for a first or an early draft to be near perfect. Lucky you!

Creep up on Right

I am fairly experienced at novel revision and editing a text. But editing my own work is a matter of circling back, round and round, in a seemingly endless circle. I make changes here or there, but it’s hard to keep track of the flow of the story. Do those changes really do what I hope they do? Have I gone too far or not far enough?

The only way to know is to read the story again from the beginning. Or later in the novel, I can pick a chapter to read from, but it needs to be 2-3 chapter ahead of what I just edited.

Consistency. I am looking for consistency in voice and tone, and those can only be assessed when you look at longer passages.

Holes. I am also looking for holes in the story. If I indicate in Chapter 8 that a beggar is one-legged, does he suddenly grow a leg in Chapter 12. Again, I need to look at longer passages for these types of details.

Tension. I am always checking to make sure the story’s tension is as high as possible. Maybe a stronger verb will evoke stronger emotion, or maybe slight rewording will help. I’m at a fairly late stage of revising (it’s gone through several major revisions already and I’m confident of the overall structure by now) so I doubt it will need major re-structuring. Instead, this is probably some early polishing.

Pacing. I am also monitoring myself: do I get bored at any point? Where did I stop paying attention to the words? If I bore myself, then I will bore the reader. Yes, I realize that part of the boredom is that I’ve read this novel upteen times. But there are parts that I happily read multiple times; and there are parts where I struggle to read it again. It’s those places that I evaluate for pacing issues: can I omit something to speed up the story? Can I reword it to speed it up?

These are not conscious, check-off-a-list things I do, just what I try to keep in mind as I endlessly print, read, edit, print, read, edit. . .

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1 Comment
  • Beth Mac
    September 2, 2011

    Thanks for your post. I liked what you said about circling. I heard an interview with Richard Peck, and he said that he writes each book six times. Also, I think he mentioned that after the first write, he throws out the first chapter and rewrites it without looking at the old one.

    Circling, circling, circling…