Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Getting Ready For Revision

by Susan Berger
(I took these notes at the 2008 BEA Writers Conference. I finished turning my NaNoWriMo novel into a readable first draft. So now I am going to follow this advice. Wish me luck)

Print out a fresh hard copy. Put it in a binder. Make a title page. Write a great blurb (or put the name of an author you love and pretend you are reading their book.)

Read like a reader. Take minimal notes. Fight the urge to edit

5 Symbols you can use:
  1. Smiley face: Like it a lot
  2. Check mark: Story Dragging
  3. ( ): Clunk writing. Metaphors they don't work. Sentences that don't make sense.
  4. O : Material missing.... Transition point? Explanation?
  5. ? : What was I thinking? I am Confused!
Now it is time for analysis:
Does my story make sense?
Do the Characters act like real people.

At every significant juncture in the story look at the viewpoint of every character and let them make thee best move they can from his or her point of view.

Are there any coincidences that HELP the lead character? This is not generally a good idea. Coincidence should HURT the lead character.

Are the stakes high enough? Is "Death" overhanging. Either Physical, professional or psychological or emotional Death?

Societal stakes: Does what happens to the character affect the people around him?

Do the scenes flow or are they choppy?

Does the story feel organic?
Are the transitions clear?
Helpful thing to do: Create an actual physical calendar. Put in the plot points.

Do my main characters "jump off the page"?
Write simple stories with complex characters. The key to originality in fiction is not the plot, but the characters. 
Follow the character's passion. What does he yearn for?

Helpful thing to do: Create an off camera scene. Put the character in an uncomfortable place. See what she/he does

Is there enough "worry fodder"? We want to care about these people.

At what point could a busy editor put my book aside and not come back to it?

"A great story is life with the dull parts taken out."

Write a summary (2000-3000 words.) Change what you need to make it compelling.

Now you are ready for the second draft. Rewrite according to the new story.
Helpful thing to do: Go to a bookstore and read all of Dean Koontz's opening paragraphs. I would add to that: Read the opening of Ellen Raskin's "The Westing Game." I went to Barnes and Noble and spent an hour reading opening pages. I do this for both picture books and novels.


  1. Sue,
    Great revision tips. Something that's useful is using a text reader. You can hear things you'd gloss over when you read to yourself. I use Text Aloud by Next Up I have to cuz I can't see well. I've found it has improved my writing.
    J. Aday Kennedy
    The Differently-Abled Writer
    Children's picture Book Klutzy Kantor
    Coming Soon Marta Gargantuan Wings

  2. Great idea to revise as the reader, not the writer. Thanks for the helpful notes.

  3. Sue, thanks so much for the great tips. They are sure to be a lot of help, especially when stuck.

  4. I frequently use this symbol: @#$%&*!!


  5. These are great. I really like them. Thanks for sharing.


  6. Thanks, Janet. Great idea about the text reader Jess, especially for picture books. I find reading aloud really changes things. Thanks also to Julie, Nancy, Lupe, Hildy and Cheryl. Yes Lupe -&%$#@ is an excellent representation of what I often feel while revising

  7. Pretending someone else wrote your manuscript is a good idea - except if you think it's really bad - you might not finish reading it.


We love hearing from you.