How to Tackle A Major Revision

There are tons of theories, tricks, and methods for how to revise a novel. But sometimes novel revisions can seem so huge that it’s impossible to apply any strategy. Major plot reconstruction, new or different points of view, changes in setting, cutting or deleting characters, or any kind of alteration to the core of the novel can feel less like improving and more like breaking it—which makes it incredibly daunting to start!

Make a list.
No good revision starts without a battle plan. Pantsing may work for drafting (and, okay, for some revising), but if you’re doing some major alterations, keeping track of your to-dos in writing is immensely useful. If you’re working with a freelance editor or good beta reader, you may already have an edit letter with your book’s issues spelled out, so you’ve got a jump start on making a list of things to address in your revision. If not, think hard about what you know you need to fix first, and write all that down—then reorder as you see fit. Chances are, the thing that’s bugging you the most will be the biggest problem to tackle.

Save everything.
The beauty of working digitally is that you can have almost unlimited versions of the same story. Make sure to keep your drafts distinct—save a copy of “draft 2” and make any changes there. That way, you can always revert to the “original” version if you don’t like the changes you made (which hopefully will make you feel bolder in terms of risk-taking!). You can even draft up alternate versions of single scenes or entire endings. If you use Scrivener, use the “snapshot” feature to save different versions of scenes and avoid the headache of multiple project files.

Tackle one problem at a time.
And do your best to do them in order of biggest/most major to smallest/least significant. Major, universal changes—to things like setting, narrator character, point of view (i.e., first person to third person or vice versa) or verb tense—should be up first, since they’ll affect the revisions of anything else you’ll write. Then, once you have your priorities, work on one issue at once, and get it as completed/resolved as possible before moving on. Too much jumping from problem to problem can lead to loose ends, dropped threads, or inconsistencies—which ultimately just means more revision. If you absolutely must change it up while you’re revising, make some kind of note so you know where you left off on one issue.

Diagram everything.
Okay, maybe not everything. But if you feel yourself slipping into a creative vortex of words and paragraphs, changing gears to a more left-brained approach can help you refocus. Big revisions require bird’s eye views of the entirety of your novel, not just individual scenes. So get some quantifiable stats on your manuscript to inform your revision process. You can count up words—for example, in a novel with multiple narrators or protagonists, figure out how many words (or what percentage) of the manuscript each one takes up. You can make charts, like rating the tension of each scene on a scale of 1 to 10 and plotting it on a graph—then tweaking where it looks like things are lagging. You can make a character sheet mind-map style, with characters connected based on their relationships, or you can make a simple family tree. You can even just draw a map of your novel’s setting—sometimes visualizing the world of your book really snaps everything into place.

Get to the heart of your story.
Not all of revision is about the words that end up on the actual page. When revising, don’t get so caught up in doing the major overhauls that you lose sight of the themes and meaning behind your story. What big questions does it answer? What’s the point of what you’re trying to write? What inspired you to start it in the first place? Knowing the answers to these questions will keep you from flagging when the going gets tough.

Don’t copy edit too soon.
Good copy editing is important—there’s no doubt about that. When revising, it’s tempting to start tinkering with proofreading mechanics, but resist the urge! Clean, grammatically-correct prose is important, of course, but if you’re doing a major overhaul, the little changes you make might be wiped out entirely when you delete a scene. So don’t waste your time—and don’t get suckered into thinking that deleting commas and fixing typos is “revising” when it’s really procrastinating making the bigger, more necessary changes.

Track your progress.
It’s easy to feel like your revisions are going in circles—or even backwards. Keep a log of all the progress you’ve made to maintain enthusiasm and momentum—it can be as simple as a journal-style entry about the day’s work, or as visual as a bar graph you gradually fill up, or a list that you scribble on every time you knock out another task. And don’t forget to reward yourself!

Take breaks.
Overworking your brain when revising your novel can cause serious diminishing returns. You can just tap out of energy, and start repeating yourself, rushing, or just doing generally shoddy work. Worse, there is such a thing as too much revisionwork that actually weakens your novel. Revision is a marathon, not a sprint, and rushing it doesn’t do you or your book any favors.

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Seven Subtle Copy-Editing Mistakes You Might Be Making

Copy editing your novel is meticulous, time-consuming, and far from easy. Some writers love getting into the nitty-gritty of their language use, others…not so much. But even if you’re planning to work with a professional editor, and especially if you’re about to start querying your novel, it’s an essential step in preparing your manuscript for a reader. Small, obvious mistakes will yank the reader out of the story and torch your credibility as a reliable, polished writer. In short, every writer should have a basic idea of how to copy edit a novel—and most do! Nevertheless, there are some basic copy editing mistakes that are far from evident at first blush—or even third or fourth blush. Make sure you’re copy editing thoroughly and keep an eye out for these subtle

Mixed metaphors
Metaphors make writing sing; they give it depth, color, and panache. But using a metaphor correctly means more than just picking something that sounds good—an attentive writer will make sure that her metaphors are logical, especially when combined with the rest of the sentence or paragraph. This means going deep on what a metaphor truly means, and not just what we’re accustomed to using it to mean. If your novel includes phrases like “weave together an ocean of options” or “weeding out the bad seeds” take a second look (you obviously can’t weave together an ocean, and how can you weed out a seed that hasn’t even bloomed? Think about it!) If you’re really unsure of whether you’re abusing metaphor, hire a professional editor to give your book an expert eye.

Illogical word order
Similarly, drafting a novel doesn’t necessarily mean you’re thinking all the way through the way you lay down information in a series. Elements in a list need to proceed in a logical order to make sense. For example, the sentence “we’ll give your book our insight, hard work, and attention” isn’t correct—you have to give the book attention before you work hard on it and provide insight. This is a truly common error (made even by some freelance editors) and can be hard to spot, but it’s worth fixing every time.

Confusing description
Writing character description or writing setting description is like filming a movie: the camera has to move logically from point A to point B. Too many jump cuts and you’re making it impossible for your reader to follow. Describing a character with “blue-streaked hair, red combat boots, a pink plaid skirt, and deep red lipstick” is confusing: you’re darting from her head to her feet to her hips to her head again. Work top down or bottom up; scan over the scene like a camera.

Commonly misused phrases
“A hare’s breath.” “For all intensive purposes.” “I should of known better.” “Sneak peak.” “Deep-seeded.” If any of these look familiar, your book could no doubt use another go-over. Even smart writers slip up on these—but that doesn’t mean these commonly misused phrases should make it into your final draft!

The Department of Redundancy Department
Phrases like “very unique,” “collaborate together,” “true fact,” “end result,” “final outcome,” “free gift,” and so on are needlessly wordy—the kiss of death for clear writing. Strike out any adjectives that don’t truly modify; only keep them if they change the original intended meaning of the word.

Stealth cliché
It’s easy to think of phrases like “pitch-black,” “blood-red,” “dead as a doornail,” and “thick as thieves” as almost entire words in themselves: we use them together so frequently that they’ve practically inseparable. But they should be separated: clichés like this cause the reader to speed up, glossing over rather than truly reading, and absorbing less of your story. Whenever possible, break up clichés with more unexpected descriptions to force your reader to pay attention. Good writing doesn’t have to be needlessly complicated, but it should be complex (and non-generic) enough to provide texture in the reading experience. Eliminating these tired phrases will go a long way.

Bad dialogue tags
It’s a truism of editing that the word “said” is far and away the best choice for 99% of dialogue. That said (hah), there are times when you may wish to opt for a slightly more descriptive dialogue tag. But besides making sure it isn’t distracting, you also need to ensure that it makes sense. A character can’t “hiss” a phrase with no S sound—think about it—and it’s impossible to “laugh” a line of dialogue. Be on the lookout for tags that don’t make sense—and again, when in doubt, swap in “said.”

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5 Signs You’ve Revised Your Novel Too Much

Everyone knows revision means CHANGE—sometimes deleting characters, merging subplots, or even ripping your novel up by the roots and starting again. But how can you tell if your revision is changing too much in your story? Here are 5 warning signs to be on the lookout for.

1. Your characters are becoming inconsistent.
If personalities are changing from scene to scene, that’s a bad sign—you’re hopping around too much and not considering the throughline of your character’s growth arc. But a revised character can also become incompatible with the plot of a novel, especially if the stakes or motivation hinge on something personal: a revenge plot, for example, won’t make any sense with a character who’s mild-mannered. This is especially true for romance: if one character changes, their love interest needs to adapt to remain compatible with them.

2. You’re losing sight of your novel’s genre.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with blending two genres (who doesn’t love a good romantic thriller or humorous fantasy?) but if your edits are making your novel unrecognizable to fans of the genre, you’re not going to hook readers. It’s not about being cliché, but rather about catering to the expectations of your book’s readership, and delivering the satisfying plot tropes and characters that make them fans. Have a reader take a look at your manuscript and help you decide if it’s still got a hook.

3. You’re adding words.
Sometimes revision does involve lots and lots of new scenes, especially if the plot isn’t hanging together. But if you’re ballooning up more than a few thousand, or to over 100k words total, you might want to re-examine what you’re adding. Is it necessary, or just more fat you’ll need to cut.

4. You’re deleting too much.
There’s a flip side, naturally: sometimes, in a rush to get your novel as lean as possible, you end up cutting plot points or details that are necessary to make the whole thing make sense. Removing too many plot dominos can lead to the narrative falling flat, or falling apart. An outside reader will be able to tell you whether things are still lying logically.

5. You don’t care about the book anymore.
Revision is a long haul, and if you work your manuscript over and over and over, your writerly passion can die away. You’ll never finish a project that you don’t care about, and if you hack away at it too much, no matter how focused you are in the beginning, you’ll end up losing steam by the end. Bottom line: any revision course that sucks away your inspiration isn’t the right one for you book. Take a break, maybe work on another project, and revisit when you’re feeling more fresh.

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