Revising and rewriting a novel is no mystery if you go about it methodically. Yes, it’s a lot of work. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it’s a critical part of an author’s job. Revising and rewriting is my favorite step in creating a novel because I come up with some of my best scenes during this segment of producing my story.
I begin my revising and rewriting process by sticking my novel in a drawer or in a computer folder and not looking at it for at least three weeks. Just before I start actively revising and rewriting, I make a complete copy of my manuscript and store it on my computer and on an external hard drive. I will continue to make copies on a regular basis as I make revisions. That way, if I cut or add something I shouldn’t, I can always return to the previously saved version.
The next step in revising and rewriting my novel is to sit in a comfortable chair with a packet of post-its and do a full read-through. I want to get the feel for the basic impact my novel might have on a reader. I place a post-it on any page where
• I start to skim the page
• my mind wanders
• I can’t find a connection to a previous story event
• character motivation is missing
• I find boring or meandering spots.
I keep these pages marked without revising and go on to scene review because it may happen that I will cut a whole scene that includes some of these pages.
Now I do another read in which I examine my scenes. For each scene, I write a one or two statement of what it’s about. This needs to include a clear goal and outcome. When I finish this, I will end up with a complete list of scenes. I look at each two-line summary and ask does this scene
• move the story forward?
• show or reveal character and character motivation?
• present important new information about the story or a character?
• reveal a plot or character emotional turning point?
• introduce or deepen a story problem?
• have conflict?
• connect or transition it from a previous scene?
• end with a question or problem?
If I can’t answer yes to at least one or two of these questions for each scene, I look at the scene with a jaundiced eye and will either revise it or cut it.
Next I look at more detailed writing craft. I use highlighters and pencils to mark problems in the areas listed below
• Are the details consistent?
• Do people speak and behave in the same way throughout?
• Are there characters that do not contribute to the storyline?
• Are there long, slow “ho hum” sections?
• Is there too much description and interior monologue? Too many qualifiers (adjectives and adverbs), and useless phrases (As you know, In fact, still, just)?
• Is there enough foreshadowing to make the reader say at the end of the novel, “Yes, I remember that!” In a mystery novel, these are usually clues.
Here is where I will do some heavy revising and rewriting and try to add even more emotional and physical conflict or suspense. I will also add more sensory notes if possible: sounds, smells, feelings, and sights.
I check for periods, question marks, quotation marks, capitals, spelling, paragraphing, word usage—in short, did I use good English grammar.
Revising and rewriting a novel is no mystery if you use a methodical approach.