What I really liked about the query tracker post on writing a synopsis that I mentioned under Synopsis, was that I thought there was some really good revision advice in there too — namely, the idea of writing a 2-3 sentence summary of each chapter (which process immediately reveals if the chapter isn’t actually doing anything!). I think that’s a great place to start your revision.
The process of doing that should throw up any weak scenes. There’s an article in Writer’s Digest that discusses how to strengthen your scenes. They suggest you start by picking the 10 weakest scenes in your book (even if you don’t think they’re actually weak), and then assess each one for its purpose. Then cut or strengthen as required.
But do remember that the purpose of a scene doesn’t have to be action! You need time to reflect too. There’s a very nice example in this article which shows the importance of a scene in which nothing happens. It’s not always about advancing the plot; character development often requires quiet scenes.
Alexandra Sokoloff has a good article on editing. I especially liked the advice to do a dedicated pass focusing on the crucial genre element (whatever your genre is), and do other dedicated passes concentrating on: the “desire line” ( ask yourself for every scene: “What does this character WANT? Who is opposing her/him in this scene? Who WINS in the scene? What will they do now?”); emotion (what do I want my readers to FEEL in this moment?); and sensory (make sure you’re covering what you want the reader to see, hear, feel, taste, smell, and sense). She also has a checklist of story elements that she uses both when planning the story and at revision time.
I find Elizabeth Sim’s Writer’s Digest article on putting suspense in your story quite inspirational. I particularly like the idea of plotting according to Heart-Clutching Moments.
Livia Blackburne has some useful thoughts in her blog post about how she’s going to approach her second novel differently, including:
- spending more pre-writing time on characters
- focusing more on how to make readers care rather than how to keep readers hooked
- thinking about character arcs and relationship arcs as well as plot arc
- incorporating more setting – “I’ve since learned ways to include setting details in non-obtrusive ways. For example, in props used by the characters, and small details thatfill the beats between bits of dialogue and action”.
James Plath has 21 issues you might want to consider if your manuscript still isn’t quite right and you’re not sure why.
Nathan Bransford has a good revision checklist.
Janice Hardy has a list of the aspects of a novel that you should work through when revising.
QueryTracker has a helpful article on getting rid of clichés – not simply dialog, but also clichéd actions
Fixing the writing
Holt Uncensored has a good post on the Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do).Note particularly: repeat words; sentences that are flat, and words that don’t add anything.
Write it Sideways talks about filter words — those that unnecessarily filter the reader’s experience through a character’s point of view. For example, using verbs such as: to see; to hear; to think; to touch; to wonder; to realize; to watch; to look; to seem; to feel (or feel like); can; to decide; to sound (or sound like). There’s a text example showing filter words, followed by improved version. But note sometimes filter words are ok: Susan Dennard of Let the Words Flow writes that we should use filter words when they are critical to the meaning of the sentence.
Writers Digest on 4 Ways to Make Every Word Count:
- Delete redundant modifiers: When editing, look closely at your modifiers and make certain they don’t repeat the meanings of the words they modify. If they do, delete them.
- Eliminate unnecessary categories: When a word implies a category, you don’t need to write both the word and the category.
- Consolidate redundant word pairings
- Steer clear of indirect statements: Avoid indirect statements using the word not. Instead, use it to express denial or to create antithesis
If you need a reminder about what to leave out, read this Writers Digest article.
StoryFix has critiqued a full manuscript, providing 26 single-spaced pages of feedback, and (with the author’s permission of course) put this critique online. Very educational.
Advice heard: Start your story where your character’s conflict and your plot’s conflict collide.
A book excerpt that describes the ten components of the opening scene that you need to consider.
Interesting comment on the common advice to start a book in the middle of action: “This shows me that the writer could be weak in a number of areas. First, she may not be clear what the overall story problem is, so she is beginning with a “gimmick” to hook the reader in that she is unsure the overall story problem will. Secondly, this alerts me that the writer is weak in her understanding of scene and sequel novel structure. … So when a writer begins her book with Biff hanging over a shark tank surrounded by ninjas, two major steps in a scene have been skipped.” Also: “internalization … has its place … [but usually as] part of what is known as the sequel. … Also, beginning with the protagonist “thinking” is very self-indulgent. Why do I as the reader care about this person’s feelings or thoughts about anything? I don’t know this character.
Livia Blackburne talks about a good twist ending and how the writer pulled it off
Doyce Testerman in a post about when to describe a thing and when not to quotes this text from the Tao te Ching:
We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.
We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space that makes it livable.
We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.
– Tao te Ching, verse 11