Do you really have to revise your manuscript?
Yes, you have to revise your manuscript. Many, many, many times. You can either accept that fact of life now or you can:
A. Send out your first badly written, error-filled, dreck of a first draft and watch the rejections pour in and/or listen to the sound of crickets when professionals in the industry won’t even bother to dignify your hack of a manuscript with a response.
B. Give up now, deciding that becoming a fry cook on Venus would probably be easier than this whole writing thing.
If you’re still reading, that means you’re willing to do what it takes to be a real writer.
REWRITING IS WHAT MAKES YOU A REAL WRITER.
Hear it, learn it, live it.
Though hashing out a first draft of a novel is hard work, rewriting is truly what makes you a REAL writer. It separates you from the hacks. Anybody can write down a story, slap on a title, and rush to try to sell it. You’re better than that. You’re serious about your craft.
First drafts are often awful. That goes for New York Times bestselling authors and people who are just starting out. Rewriting is what makes any piece of writing great. No exceptions.
On the plus side, if you love writing, rewriting really can be fun. Stop rolling your eyes and making snarky comments. I promise, it’s not like when your math teacher told you that math can be fun. I don’t care if she did bring a pizza into class that one day. Fractions still suck. This is different. It’s really very rewarding to see your work get better and better. If you love your characters, think of rewriting as getting a chance to spend more time with them. Though going over each sentence, each paragraph, and each word a bunch of times can be exhausting, it’s a great feeling when you finally get it right. Trimming paragraphs, carefully selecting the right word, and developing that perfect line of dialogue will tighten your work and turn a rough draft into a piece of really great writing.
Do the work. It’s worth the effort.
If this sounds like too much work, do it anyway. If you still hate it, you can always quit writing and do the fry cook thing. The one thing you CAN’T do is get out of rewriting and revising your manuscript numerous times if you want to make it as a writer. Lots of wannabe writers choose to stay in denial about this fact for years before they finally give in to the truth and realize that, no matter how carefully they outline their story and characters ahead of time, rewriting is crucial to success as a writer. Lots of writers waste years of their precious time denying the necessity of rewriting their work. You’ll be way ahead of the curve if you skip those years and get right to work.
I said GET TO WORK!!
Checklist for Revising
** Wait at least two weeks after you finish a draft before you start revising.
** Read the whole novel from start to finish and record your gut reaction. Don’t censor yourself and try to be as honest as possible. Were there parts that bored you? Did a character get on your nerves or not seem fully fleshed out? Note what you think needs to be fixed but don’t try to fix it yet. Just jot down notes and keep reading.
** The next step is macro edits. You need to fix the big things. This can include fixing things in the plot that don’t make sense or are just not believable, strengthening the characters, and cutting parts of the novel that are redundant or just unnecessary. It helps to have a specific goal in mind for each rewrite. For example, for this first rewrite the goal is to strengthen the main character’s motivation. The next draft might be to fortify a specific relationship between two friends or maybe the goal is to add more suspense. The final revisions should be the ones where you really focus in on specific details like grammar and punctuation.
** Did you jump into the story right away or did you begin with lengthy description or boring exposition?
** Does your opening scene begin with a problem for the protagonist? Does it open *with* the protagonist? The story should almost always begin with the main character.
** Do we know what your characters are after and why? Remember that the more a character wants something, the more compelling the story will be.
** If at all possible, provide at least a hint of what is to come in the opening even if you can’t reveal the whole problem just yet.
** Cut out anything that doesn’t move the story forward or reveal character.
** Be sure to clearly describe your characters so your reader can see what you see. A few concrete details are better than a lengthy description.
** Remember that action can usually reveal character better than a physical description. When the phone rings, does the character rush to answer it or does he roll his eyes and ignore it? Little actions can say a lot about a person.
** Did you set the scene so the reader knows where the action is taking place?
** Reveal setting through the character’s eyes and viewpoint (whoever’s POV you are writing in).
** Be sure that important events in the story are revealed in a scene. A scene means people in action. You don’t want to gloss over the good stuff by simply telling us about it. Conflict is the heart of a good story and scenes are the only way to elicit an emotional response from the reader.
** The characters should enter the scene with a goal, struggle for it, and then end up either achieving little or none of it. Otherwise, why should we keep reading?
** Save most of the backstory, exposition, and character thought for the “sequel”, which follows the scene.
** Are you going too easy on your characters? Make it difficult for them to get anything they want.
** Make sure each chapter ends with something to keep the reader turning the pages.
** The POV you chose should be clear and consistent throughout.
** With first person, try to sneak in some kind of physical description, though it can be tricky.
** If you chose Third Person POV, where you pick one character’s viewpoint, be sure you only show what this character sees, hears, feels, and knows.
** Multiple POV allows you to reveal action that doesn’t always take place within sight of the main character and enables the reader to experience the emotions of more than just one character. Be sure to make it clear when you are switching to another character’s POV, either by adding multiple spaces or starting a new chapter.
** Omniscient POV is when the writer sees and knows all and therefore can show the thoughts and feelings of all the characters. Be sure to be clear about whose consciousness you are in at any given time. Be wary of too much “head-hopping” when the POV changes too rapidly, which can be annoying and difficult to follow for the reader.
** With the Objective POV, you can only show what can be observed from the outside. Instead of she felt angry and bitter when her Cheetos got stolen, it would be she looked angry or she grabbed her Cheetos back and slammed the door . Objective POV is extremely limiting, but can be useful for stories in which revealing a lot of thought and emotion would give away the plot.
** Read dialogue out loud to make sure it sounds authentic and true to the character. Omit boring pleasantries and unnecessary chatter. Get to the good stuff, the conflict.
** Use said as your dialogue tag about 95% of the time, preferably before the character’s name. People rarely say things like said she in real life and words like grunted, hollered, and muttered can be distracting and unnecessary. Also, people can’t laugh and talk at the same time. Instead of she laughed, write she said, laughing.
** Be sure to use dialogue tags frequently enough so the reader is clear on who is talking.
Style and Language
** Limit adjectives – one is usually stronger than two or three. Sometimes none is the right number.
** Watch for adverbs, especially those ending in “ly”. She angrily and forcefully grabbed the umpire is not as strong as she grabbed the umpire or she grabbed the umpire with great force. Use adverbs sparsely.
**Choose a strong, specific noun or verb instead of several weaker ones. Consider the difference between the word ran and the words sprinted, dashed, darted, and fled. Make each word count.
** Active voice is usually best. Watch for passive voice words like was, were, here, there, and that. There were two drunk guys building a pillow fort vs. Two drunk guys built a pillow fort.
** Keep an eye out for words that you tend to overuse. Do a search to find them and weed them out.
** Omit redundancies like screamed out loud or quickly dashed.
**Watch for “weasel” words that are unnecessary. These include words like about, actually, almost, basically, just, here, there, really, practically, simply, suddenly, utterly. Consider the difference between: When they finally arrived there, it was already too late. She had already gotten a tattoo of a unicorn vomiting a rainbow is not as good as When they arrived, it was too late. She had gotten the tattoo of a unicorn vomiting a rainbow.
** Avoid “filter” words that seek only to distance your reader from your character’s experiences. These include words like: see, hear, think, wonder, realize, watch, seem, feel or feel like, decide, sound or sound like. He felt hot and looked down. He realized his underwear was on fire vs. Heat burned his face and he looked down. His underwear was on fire.
** Seek and destroy long passages of boring description.
** Don’t overuse the past perfect verb tense, as in would or had. When writing a paragraph in this tense, begin in the past perfect : Right before his father had become a drag queen in Vegas, Robert would have long talks with him when they would go to the mall to buy high heels, then switch to past tense – They mainly talked about makeup and glitter instead of continuing in the past perfect: They had talked mainly about makeup and glitter…
** Make each sentence as strong as possible, keeping in mind that the end is the most powerful part. “I’m leaving you for my chemistry professor,” he said as he put down his rapidly melting lab beaker is not as powerful as He put down his rapidly melting lab beaker and said, “I’m leaving you for my chemistry professor.”
** Avoid overwriting. Trust that the reader is at least as intelligent as you are. They will be able to figure out what you are trying to say without hitting them over the head with it.
** Reading out loud is the best way to hear the rhythm of the sentences. “The Phelps family sounded like bigoted idiots” might look okay but try saying it out loud. “The Phelps family sounded like ignorant bigots” sounds much better. At any rate, both sentences are true…
Grammar and Punctuation
** Carefully proofreading for typos and grammatical errors should usually be one of the final steps in revision. There’s no sense in spending a long time perfecting a paragraph only to cut the whole thing out later.
** Use a Comma:
— To separate items in a series: She gathered her baseball,her glove, and her dose of steroids.
— With a small conjunction, such as and, but, for, nor, yet, so, to connect two independent clauses, as in She liked the guy, but she kicked him in the head with her cleats.
— For introductory elements, such as Before joining the circus, he worked as a stock broker.
— With parentheticals (a parenthetical could be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence) He put on his floppy shoes, which were completely unnecessary, for his prostate exam.
— When both the city and the state name are mentioned together, it is considered a parenthetical element. We saw the Orioles kick some major Yankee posterior in Baltimore, Maryland, last summer.
** Use a Semicolon:
— To separate two main clauses that are not joined by a coordinating conjunction. Those in glass houses who throw stones don’t need windows; those in stone houses who throw glass do need shoes.
— To separate main clauses joined by a conjunctive adverb, such as however, consequently, otherwise, moreover, nevertheless. Many people think it is necessary to go to college; however, it’s not so if your dream is work at Chuck E. Cheese.
** Use a Colon:
— For a summary or a series after a complete main clause: They were a ragtag team of misfits: a circus clown, a stock broker, an angry female baseball player, and a guy from Chuck E. Cheese.
** Use a Dash (–)
— For a short summary after a complete main clause: At the bottom of the backpack was a surprise—used chewing gum.
— In place of a pair of commas to set off words, phrases, or clauses that interrupt a sentence with additional–but not vital–information: Of all the well-known Muppets—Miss Piggy, Scooter, Rowlf, Fozzie—great as they were, Kermit made the most money.
Fine, Have It Your Own Way
This revision list was compiled from a bunch of different books and websites and I find it helpful for my revisions. If you’ve got a better way that works for you – go for it! Just make sure you rewrite and revise as many times as it takes to make your writing as good as it can be. Otherwise, brush up on your short order cook skills.