Posted by: nancycurteman | January 20, 2013

#Revising and Rewriting a Novel is no Mystery

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akillerideaRevising 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.

Preliminary Preparation:
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.

Scene Review
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.

Writing Craft
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.

Line Editing
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.

More Tips:

Writing is Rewriting is Revising: 7 Ways to Do it
Developmental Editing: How to do it
How to Edit Your Mystery Novel



  1. Looks like you left out one of your own steps. I’m assuming you PRINT OUT your book, and work on paper (as it is difficult to add post-its to a computer screen. ))

    Good list of steps!


    • Richard, You’re right. You do need to print out a copy. However, one could do this read-through on the computer or using a pdf on a tablet or smart phone. In this case you would mark pages with a bookmark or highlight the page.


  2. Sounds like a great deal of thought and writing. Glad you enjoy it! These tips are very helpful for me too! Thanks.


    • Evelyn, I’m glad some of the tips are helpful. As I indicated above, this is a way that works for me. For some, editing on the computer works best.


  3. Super article. Thanks.


  4. I forgot to ask How many days (working-hours) does that first read-through with yellow stickies take?


    • I do this first read-through at the rate I would read a regular novel. If I find I slow down or my mind wanders, it takes less than a second to stick a post-it on the page. How long it takes really depends on how fast you would read a novel for pleasure. You’re really putting yourself into the shoes of your future readers. You’re not editing at this point, just noting your reactions to what you read.


  5. Reblogged this on The Writers' Room.


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