I’m preparing notes for a workshop this afternoon, so I thought I’d share them as a blog post. If you’ve written a first draft of a novel, here are some ideas on how to revise.
After writing a first draft, the challenge is how to polish your good idea until it sparkles irresistibly, attracting the attention of an editor at a publishing company.
It’s not enough to have a good idea. It’s not even enough to write well. A piece of writing that you want to submit for publication needs to be the very best you could ever possibly write – then you need to find a way to make it even better.
How do you do that?
- Take a break from a story. It easier to “re-envision” a story when you can read it the way a first-time reader would.
- Get feedback. Writing workshops and writing groups offer a way to get constructive and positive feedback on how to develop your craft.
- Edit yourself. Analyze problems in your story then rewrite in the same intuitive, instinctive way that you wrote your first draft.
Expect to revise a story multiple times. The revision process is a series of rewrites that brings the work closer and closer to a polished piece.
Here are some ways to revise a work-in-progress:
- Show, don’t tell. Dramatize key moments through action, dialogue, inner monologue, and body language, rather than telling through exposition and summary.
- Reveal character with every word. The reader is looking for clues about each character; so cut any text that isn’t revealing character.
- Trim the fat. If you can convey meaning in ten words instead of twenty, do it.
- Avoid bulky description. Don’t pause a scene to interject lengthy description, explanation, or back-story. Instead, weave short descriptive phrases or sentences into the action and dialogue.
- Avoid “yo-yo” emotions. A character’s emotions need to build in a steady and realistic way. Watch for places where a character’s emotions are inconsistent.
- Determine your character’s “dramatic need.” Dramatic need is defined as what your main character wants to achieve by the end of the story. This need drives the forward thrust of the action. It can change throughout the story, but it should be clear to readers at all times.
- Understand your characters. When you find a place in your story where a character’s actions are not believable, analyze your character’s motivations by asking “why,” then rewrite to clarify.
- Ask yourself: what is the story? Answer this question in one sentence or one paragraph to bring focus and clarity to your story.