I’m back with the second post in my series on revising manuscripts. There are lots of books and online sites that go into greater depth, but these are some ideas I use as general guidelines for my revision process.
1. After you finish the first draft of your manuscript, it’s best to set it aside for a few days, weeks, or months so you can tackle the revisions with a clear mind. When you begin the task of editing, I suggest that you read the whole thing from beginning to end before making major changes in order to give you a sense of how the story fits together. It will help you identify problem areas and notice inconsistencies.
2. By the time you’ve finished the first draft, you should know what the book is about (plot), and the idea you want the reader to take away from reading it (theme). You’ll need to give that information to an agent or editor anyway, so write it down before you start making changes. Use it as a guide to help decide what needs to be cut, or added, to your story.
3. Know what market you’re writing for so you can make sure the manuscript will meet any special requirements for word count or content. For example, if your rough draft is 150,000 words and you’re writing a genre romance, you know you have a lot of cutting to do. If it’s only 30,000 words, you’ll need to add thousands more.
4. Go through the rough draft and jot down a few sentences about each chapter. This will help you make sure the scenes and chapters are organized the way you want them, and you’ll see where you need to make changes. These notes will also be helpful when you write your synopsis.
5. Make sure all story threads are tied up in a way that fits the story. Add layers of backstory, characterization, and action that will give depth to the plot and clarify what’s going on. Remove any scenes that are confusing or don’t serve a valid purpose.
6. Be sure that you’ve been consistent when describing physical attributes; actions are appropriate for each character’s personality; and the dialog is fitting for the person’s age and educational background, as well as the time period and setting.
Some people will rewrite their story several times while others may only write a couple of drafts. The number of revisions isn’t as important as the quality of them. No story will be perfect—someone will always find something to criticize about it. Do the best you can with your revisions, ask someone you trust to take a look at it, and then polish your manuscript before sending it out.
Do you have any tips for revising a manuscript? What method of keeping track of what needs to be changed do you use as you review your writing, or do you change everything as soon as you notice something doesn’t sound the way you want? Do you use a different process when writing nonfiction? How many drafts do you usually write of a short story, or a novel?