How I Revise My Manuscripts

I opted to miss the A-Z Blogging Challenge this month so I could focus on rewriting my novel. URTH was the first novel I’d written since I got serious about trying to get published. I wrote it 3 years ago, edited it, queried it, then set it aside when I realized I should probably move on and write a completely different story.

Last month, I re-read URTH in its entirety, after 2 whole years of letting it marinate. It’s amazing how much one’s perspective changes over time.

I’ve learned a lot more about writing in the past two years, and set URTH aside long enough to gain distance from it and view it with editorial eyes.

I had edited URTH 8 times and thought it was publishable and query-ready. Boy was I wrong. My novel was rich with details.  TOO rich, in fact. There were too many subplots, and too many characters with names. My main characters jumped from one setting to another, overcoming problem after problem.

I made the usual mistakes first time writers make: I had so many ideas when I first started and I tried to stuff it all in one book.

I re-read URTH again. But this time I took notes, keeping the following questions in mind:

CHARACTER

  1. Which characters are important to the story and which characters can I do without?
  2. Do my characters show their strengths as well as their flaws?
  3. Do their characteristics show clearly through their actions and dialogues?
  4. Are my main characters active in their decision-making, or do they passively let things happen to them?
  5. Are my characters sympathetic, relatable or likeable?

 

CONFLICT

  1. Does my story have both internal and external conflict?
  2. Are these conflicts tackled clearly in every scene, pushing the story forward?

 

PLOT

  1. How do I simplify this (convoluted and complicated) plot? Can I restructure this story to make it flow better?
  2. What plot points or subplots are most important?
  3. What scenes can I cut from the story?

 

SETTING

  1. What story settings do I find most interesting or intriguing?
  2. Are these settings relevant to the story?
  3. Do these settings show enough world-building to make the story more believable?

POV

  1. Did I choose the correct POV?
  2. Do I shift POV’s midway through a scene?

 

THEME

  1. Is my story too preachy?
  2. Does my story have an overarching theme?
  3. Does this theme help tell a good story, or does it get in the way?

 

After making notes, I went to work on a new story outline.  I removed unnecessary characters, subplots, and scenes, leaving the ones that actually work in moving the story forward.

I rearranged scenes to create a smoother, simpler flow and made a schedule so I could work on at least 2-3 scenes a day this month. I try and push myself to finish more  whenever I can.

I mostly write for my own enjoyment, but I also write with the intent of getting published and someday being able to share my work. So I keep my future readers in mind as I write.

Since I’m writing a Middle Grade novel, I try to avoid too many flashbacks. I make sure the events are described chronologically, as they are happening, to keep my younger readers in the moment. I also avoid using complex words, when simpler ones will help tell the story better.

My aim is to finish 90% of my rewrites this month. Wish me luck!

What techniques do you use when revising your manuscripts? Do you have any revising tips or tricks to share?

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26 Responses to “How I Revise My Manuscripts”

  1. mooderino says:

    Excellent checklist.

  2. Shelly says:

    I use stick notes as I edit and do a read through. They’re good for keeping notes when you need to go back and fix, delete, change, or add something. I’m such a panster.

    Hugs and chocolate,
    shelly

  3. Good luck with the revisions. Taking time away from a manuscript definitely helps. I’ve been revising my first novel on and off for about 9 years and I’ve taken long breaks from it. I used to make every mistake there was but I’ve learned a lot from all my revisions. And to lose being stubborn and cut characters and chapters that just weren’t needed. Keep us posted on how your revisions go.

  4. That’s a good checklist. I’m always light on details the first time around, so in edits I try to insert descriptions that involve all of the senses.

  5. I agree with Alex that I start so focused on characters I am missing descriptions of places and time.

    Having a written list as thorough as yours is a good idea. I will use this when I think my novel is ready to go.

    Good luck this month. I am sure you will complete what you have set out to do.
    Kate

  6. Cassie says:

    Good luck!! You inspire me. I love how you continually push yourself and better your writing with self-imposed challenges and deadlines. I need to learn from your discipline! See you tomorrow :)

  7. Good luck, Nutschell! I think it’s awesome and admirable that you went back to your ms after so much time had passed. I’m sure the final result will be great.

  8. Jagoda says:

    Super cool site design. Thanks for the great summary of all the important basics. I too am revising a first novel I let simmer on the back burner for a while. One of my main tasks in revising is tightening and cutting scenes that don’t move the story forward.

    BTW–thanks for visiting my blog–I’ve moved you out of the spam folder and ensured you’d never end up there again. Do you know about hyperlinking your signature? I just learned. See, here’s mine:
    Jagoda

    Let me know if you’d like to know how to do it–I’m happy to pay it forward after another A to Z’er showed it to me.

  9. L.G.Smith says:

    Yeah, great list of stuff to keep track of when revising. I’m not nearly so organized. But I do believe in letting things sit to gain perspective. It’s amazing how things jump out at you when you’ve taken time away from a project. Makes it so much easier to be objective and fix it.

  10. Luck, luck and more luck to you! I recently made a comment how I feel like I’ve revised my novel so much, I feel like I’ve written six books instead of one.
    Jenn @Scribbles From Jenn

  11. I’m doing the same, taking out a drawer manuscript and rewriting it. I have another drawer manuscript that was packed with so many ideas that I can make several books out of it.

    That’s a fantastic list of important points and questions.

  12. A great checklist to work through. Isn’t it strange how something that was so perfect 2 years ago can have so much wrong with it now? I’ve done it myself, but it’s also a good feeling to know you’ve grown so much as a writer that you spotted the problems yourself without anyone else having to tell you. Good luck with the last 10%!

  13. ML Swift says:

    Nutschell…I LOVED this post! Great things to ask yourself for a revision. I will definitely bookmark and refer back to this. My ms is MG/YA, so I can certainly take home those last suggestions. I’m letting it stew right now. And good luck with URTH!

  14. Julie Luek says:

    I did every newbie mistake in the book with my first (and only, thus far) attempt at a fiction book. I am letting it sit and may or may not pick it up again, but I’m quite sure, if I do, like you, I will shake my head at what I thought was a workable novel and either abandon it completely or rewrite it. How wonderful you’ve progressed so far in two years!

  15. Trisha says:

    Good luck with your revisions! I’ll bet 2 years made a great difference to how you saw the story.

    Someday when I get back to my epic fantasy no doubt I will have the same experience.

  16. Trisha says:

    Can’t see my first comment when I refresh but hopefully it’s there! 😉

  17. There is SO much value in setting aside our work for a while. My problem: coming up with too many new ideas and leaving my novels on the back burner for years. This summer, they’re my priority. And they need a lot of work…

  18. Karen Lange says:

    Oh, great stuff! I agree, it is a good thing to step away for a while. It’s always interesting too, to see how my writing has grown or changed, depending on how long I’ve been away from a piece. Always something to learn or adjust, isn’t there?

  19. Nas says:

    First thing I check when I edit is head hopping withing a scene. Then I go slowly doing copy editing and line editing.

    You have worked out a great system to revise and edit.

    All the best!

  20. Emilyann says:

    It looks like you have a great system in place. I can really relate. Putting work aside for a while and coming back to it really helps one approach more from a readers perspective. I will keep this in mind while reworking my works.

    Another thing I have heard and noticed is that it is common to have to start further in than the first chapter (and get rid of it, reworking important details into later chapters). Have you experienced that?

  21. Wanda says:

    Time away can definitely give us a fresh perspective. I didn’t participate in the A-Z challenge this year either. Not because I was focusing on writing a book but didn’t feel I could keep up with the pace this year.

  22. Jeff Hargett says:

    I went through a similar process late last year on my first, with a keen eye toward character and word count. I eliminated or merged almost a dozen characters and trimmed more words than I care to mention. Setting it aside for a period of time beforehand is a requirement of revising well, at least for me. And I like the questions you asked about your manuscript.

  23. Akoss says:

    I love your list and I’m so glad you decided to go back to that first novel.
    Good luck with the revision.

  24. Carina Olsen says:

    This is an awesome post. Thank you so much for sharing 😀 I don’t write, but this seems like an awesome way to revise :)

  25. Good work, Nutschell. Keep it up. Sounds like you have some good momentum. I am excited for you!

  26. Jodie says:

    Good luck on the novel! It must be a lot of work for a writer, sometimes it’s a lot of work just reading one :) I have a question, what’s a middle grade novel? For middle schoolers, 7-9 grade, ages 12-14 years of age? I never heard of that, just children’s and adult books. Thanks.

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