Monday, November 2, 2015

That Revision. Again.

By Susan J Berger
I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this year. My priority this November is Revision.
I am in awe of Karol Silverstein whose first draft of Cursed was impeccable. Kate's Hero is in fifth draft. I used NaNo last year to do a revision during which I lost the first forty pages of a previous revision and re-wrote extensively to make up for that loss..
I sent it out to a beta reader feeling o-so-proud and found I had a lot more revising to do.
Plus I have another ms in second draft.

My Revision Steps

Step one:
Spell check and punctuation check. I am a terrible typist.

Step two: Kill the unnecessary words:
The Craft of Writing  Fiction says there are five words you can always cut:
I checked these words first.
just,  70 (just has always been one of my personal favorites to over-use.)
really – 19
Quite -7
Perhaps 13
That  392 (Noooo!)

Rebecca Laffar Smith at the Craft of Writing Fiction has a caveat re the word that: This word needs careful consideration. It’s not always one that can be cut without thought like the four above. In that sentence, and this one, the word “that” is used to define the subject of the sentence. But sometimes, even when used in this way, it is not necessary.

“DIE, REPEAT WORDS! DIE!”  Ask any author I have edited and they’ll most likely roll their eyes and tell you how I chased after them with a knife, threatening to stab every ‘that’ I saw unless they did it first. Okay, guilty. ::grins:: I’m pretty much murder on repeat words and phrases. Nothing flattens an author’s creative voice worse than those repeats. They need to be the first to go. Make a list, run a global search on each, and get rid of them. Biggest and most frequent offender: the dreaded ‘that.’ About 90% of the time the word isn’t necessary. Chop it out.

Other repeats to look for: so, was, little, bit, then, take, came, went, looked, stepped, moved, saw, watched, felt/feeling, rather, somewhat, large, but, small, up, down, over, under, just, though, however, because, very, really, truly.

Especially with directional words up, down, over, under, you can clear out most. Think of it in terms of how the body moves. When you sit or sink onto an object, you can only sit/sink ‘down’ unless for some reason you want to specifically sit ‘up,’ (obviously you can’t ‘sink up’) in which case you are better served using ‘straightened in her chair’ instead of ‘sat up’ in her chair. In a bed it can go either way, your choice, sit or sit up. But if your character sits on a chair, they only need to sit. Same with stand. You can only stand ‘up.’ So your character only needs to ‘stand.’

Are you confused yet? Now you know how editors sometimes feel. But hey, look: easily 50% of repeat words already gone because you cleared out ‘that’ and its cohorts, plus ‘unneeded directional words!’ Excessive coolness.

I followed Char’s list: What I found:
was – 557  (AAAARGH!!!!)
up - 215
looked  171
but 163 (oi!),
down -125
then 75
so 107
take  106
felt/feeling – 96
over – 89
small - 48
very -43
little - 48 (cut it to 14)
bit - 47 (cut to 17)
came – 41
This is my book and I want it to be the best book I am capable of writing and that includes nit picking the use of every over-used word listed above on a case by case basis.
I am not as worried about the rest of her list. 
went - 29,  stepped - 17, moved - 17, saw - 17, watched 14, rather -14, large - 14, under 22, though – 9 because – 31 truly - 1  however – 1 somewhat -0 (Yes!)
Step three.
Read your book out loud. Yup. Sit at your computer or print out a copy. It's amazing what I discover when I perform this step. (You will have to print another copy after you read your story out loud and the odd blooper or shaky writing shows up. Which I why I prefer to do the read-aloud at the computer.)

Step four
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 I make notes for myself.
What, if anything did I find missing?
Did I stay in POV? (I am currently on a POV edit on my fifth draft.)
At what point could a busy editor put my book aside and not come back to it?
What do I need to change to make it compelling?

Now you are ready for the next draft. Rewrite according to the new story. (Please let this be the definitive draft.)
Write On!



  1. Loved it - it all makes sense. I use autocrit and it is great. The hard part is to write for the reader and not the writer. I've written all my life, mostly for business and not for fun. Now I'm into my forth year of writing for fun, fiction and non fiction. It is a whole new ballgame for me.

  2. I've been told the same thing by editors--trash "that". I do, whenever possible. However, I consider it one of several I call "invisible" words. I'd be willing to bet the farm NO reader gives it a thought.

  3. I'm a Soul Mate Publishing author, so I know who Char is. On my WIP, I've been putting those words in and seeing how many times I use them. Ugh! The only thing is, I don't agree with 'saw', 'but', 'then' 'so'. It's like saying take out all 'and' and 'the'. I use 'that' too much and am taking them out when they aren't necessary--and I agree, most aren't. BUT (see, I need the word there), she is advocating taking out words with few substitutions. For example 'felt'. What would you say instead to convey the same meaning? 'Looked' is the same. There's 'gazed' and a couple of others, but how does an author say someone looks at something without using the word? It's nearly impossible to come up with synonyms for some of these words. I'm going to try it as an exercise in learning to write better. Unfortunately, I can't go back through my four already-published novels, BUT (how can one NOT use the word 'but'?????) I can do my best on my new novel.

    1. Patricia, I think you have to look at your use on a case by case basis.
      For instance. We are sorry for the inconvenience, but I am afraid we will not be able to accommodate all of you. (I could remove that but and make two sentences without losing anything.)
      True love might be a dead issue, but there was still the hope of magic. (Here I do not want to lost the word but.)
      So? Don't know. Most of my uses of "so" are in dialogue and I want them for flavor. Some of them can go.

  4. Hi Sue, Thanks for reminding us about the pesky words we often overlook. Good luck with NaNoWriMo. :)

    1. Thanks Joanne. Think of me toiling and removing instances of "that."

  5. Another oh-so-useful post. Also watch for double verbs in a sentence. If you character does this and that, do you need both?

    Write on!

  6. Judy Enderle sent me a link to an app called Hemingway -
    You can put your entire book in there and it will give you stats. I love it.

  7. Thanks, Sue. Definitely a post to bookmark!

  8. So helpful Sue, saving this list! So easy to slip and forget about this.

  9. I've just spent two days trying to eliminate those pesky words in my new novel which is only half written. Oi! Thanks a lot! There were so many "was" & "that" my head is spinning, but I halved them. Even so, I want to thank you for this useful blog, it's a godsend. I'm feeling word powerful.

  10. My first step in revising: Procrastinate reading Facebook.
    Paste This If You Like Me

    1. "Like" BTW I am down from 392 uses of the word 'that' to 99. Yay me.


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