More Editing and Revision Tips for Your Work

Updated on April 2, 2018
Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe is an author with three novels under agent and small pub consideration. She's been self-editing for years and knows what works.

Ready for more tips?

If you’re bored with the first draft of your work, or impossibly stuck, take a hard look at the premise, the characters, the inciting incident, the motives behind the story. Before you invest weeks, months, or years into your manuscript, you may need to significantly shift many of the work. You may abandon it or shelve it for a later time. If your story continues to follow you around or fascinate you, your novel deserves your attention and effort on the page.

It’s your job as the author to make your story compelling to the reader. Once the all-important first draft is on the first page, you can be more manageable by editing and revising your work aspect by aspect, instead of tearing into the text like a whole graph. Go through the entire draft with one aspect in mind (like pacing for example). Then go through the whole thing looking at another aspect, such as voice. Repeat until you’ve examined the text for each aspect.

Make detailed notes on the manuscript and revise after completing all passes or make changes to the text after you go through each aspect. Here’s a list of the eight aspects in an intentional order, but you can mix it up. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the very idea of editing, start with an aspect that seems easier than the other. You may just come to love the process, believe it or not.

Handy Checklist for Every Scene

The 8 Aspects to Self-Edit

1. VOICE—Agents and editors look for a compelling VOICE over just about every other element when evaluating a manuscript. In memoir and personal essay, do you have a consistent tone? Does it feel like YOU speaking, or some other person? Does it feel authentic and honest? In fiction, do you have a compelling narrator? Does your characters speak in a way that feels true to their personas? Don’t forget that SETTING is often a “character” of the story and must be portrayed in an evocative way.

2. NARRATIVE ARC/PLOT—Every story, essay, and memoir has a narrative arc that the reader wants to follow. It can be a quiet one in some cases, but in all cases, something or someone needs to change from the beginning to the end of the work. Is there an arc? Are there dead spots in the text that move slowly? Why?

3. TENSION/CONFLICT—If the author isn’t actively engaged in the subject or wrestling with some issue on the page, the reader will lose interest. Again, this doesn’t have to involve fireworks or epic events. In essays, it can be a quiet insight gained, or a new question created in the narrator’s mind. It can be a small discovery. The longer the reader’s investment of time, i.e., a novel or book length memoir, the more will be at stake on the page.

4. STRUCTURE—Structure can involve many decisions. Point of View (POV) is a big one (first person, second person, third person intimate, omniscient, or alternating back and forth between two characters’ POV, for example.) Most memoirs, but not all, are told in first person. The iconic television drama "24” provides an instructional example. It was structured around each episode moving minute by minute through 24 hours of unfolding action, when structure can mean a kind of framework for the story. In the classic novel Flowers for Algernon from Daniel Keyes, the diary entries have brilliantly presented the main character as he evolved into a genius through scientific intervention, then back into severe intellectual decline. Many memoirs start the reader at a critical point in their lives and then go back in time to describe what led up to it. Some books are physical journeys, braided with the deeper story, such as Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. Have you chosen the best structure for your story?

5. LANGUAGE—Are you using cliches? A string of adjectives, when one well-chosen descriptor will do the job? Are you employing adverbs in dialogue, when it’s the dialogue itself than should be delivering the tone and emotion felt by a character? Do the words fit the action and character’s voice? Are you using passive voice too often? You can provide a better choice for your example to explain why active verbs are very often much better than passive verbs. (Think “she walked” instead of “she was walking”.) To make your writing concise, consider where can you tighten and delete words, so that you aren’t saying the same thing several different ways. Does the writing have a certain “music” to it? When you read it out loud, does it flow easily off the tongue?

6. PACING—Are there dragging parts? Beware of the “sagging middle” of a novel that loses its momentum. On the other hand, is there no relief to breathless action, suspense, and/or trauma? Sometimes the reader needs a few quiet pages to absorb, process, or savor big events. Again, think of the way music flows, with various movements.

7. BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS—Are the beginnings compelling enough to invite the reader into the story immediately? Or the opening paragraphs too preface-like, the author “clearing his or her throat”? Is the endings satisfying without trying too hard to wrap up every loose end or hammer home a point, leaving some discovery for the reader?

8. SPELLING/GRAMMAR/ACCURACY—Don’t rely on spellcheck. And if grammar isn’t your forte, hire a proofreader, or be willing to offer some in-kind service to another writer in exchange for their skill in this area. FACT CHECK for accuracy. Anything that can be verified should be. if you want a character drinking in the scent of some fragrance bloom in a California garden. For example, make sure you choose something that actually grows there. And that it actually has a fragrance. And that it blooms during the month the scene takes place. If the main character is literally driving into a spectacular sunset, make sure they’re not heading east. That kind of thing matters. You can't be sure that some reader will catch your error and gleefully bring it to your attention. Even if you’re writing fantasy, your created world must be consistent with itself.

In Conclusion

I hope these eight aspects of self-editing help you prune and fine-tune your manuscripts into polished hard copies. With these self-editing and revision tips, your help your novels shine like diamonds in the sunlight. And later, it might be on top of the slush pile for agents and later in editor's hands. If all goes well, it would be published and perhaps even critically acclaimed.

Questions & Answers

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      • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

        Kristen Howe 

        2 weeks ago from Northeast Ohio

        Margaret, I hope your husband does consider publishing a book someday. Hope he finds it useful in the long run too. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      • Margaret Schindel profile image

        Margaret Schindel 

        2 weeks ago from Massachusetts

        My husband has long fantasized about writing and publishing a novel. Recently he's started thinking about it more seriously. I'm going to share The 8 Aspects to Self-Edit with him, which I'm sure will be really helpful once he gets down to writing in earnest!

      • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

        Kristen Howe 

        2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        You're welcome Moonlake. This tips are good for short stories and novellas as well. Thanks for stopping by.

      • moonlake profile image

        moonlake 

        2 years ago from America

        I'm not writing a novel, but these are good tips for Hubpages. Thanks for sharing. I need all the help I can get.

      • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

        Kristen Howe 

        2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        Rachel, you're very welcome. Editing is a tough thing to do after writing. Thanks for stopping by.

      • Rachel L Alba profile image

        Rachel L Alba 

        2 years ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

        Hi Kristen, Editing! That's a tough one for me. I don't seem to be able to catch my own mistakes. I do catch some, but not all and there is no one here to do it for me. I do have a tendency to rely on the "spell-check". I guess it's not always right either. Thanks for sharing your tips.

        Blessings to you.

      • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

        Kristen Howe 

        2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        You're welcome Bill. My pleasure. I hope to go to my next conference next weekend, once I register.

      • bdegiulio profile image

        Bill De Giulio 

        2 years ago from Massachusetts

        Thanks Kristen. Great tips that we should all be putting to use. Thank you for sharing the info from the workshop you attended.

      • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

        Kristen Howe 

        2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        Thanks Heidi for the vote and share!

      • heidithorne profile image

        Heidi Thorne 

        2 years ago from Chicago Area

        Excellent tips, Kristen! Voted up and sharing!

      • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

        Kristen Howe 

        2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        My pleasure Peg. I'm happy to share. I'll be doing another one by early August. Thanks for commenting and visiting.

      • PegCole17 profile image

        Peg Cole 

        2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

        Thank you for sharing the tips you learned at a writer's conference. All of these are useful to writers and authors here on Hub Pages and elsewhere.

      • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

        Kristen Howe 

        3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        Thanks Mary for your warm comments and thoughts. I agree with you to read your work out loud. Thanks for commenting.

      • tillsontitan profile image

        Mary Craig 

        3 years ago from New York

        The best thing you can do for your novel is read it over and over to make sure it says what you want. I like the tips you've given here and will certainly use them once my first draft is finished.

        Voted up, useful, and interesting.

      • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

        Kristen Howe 

        3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        Thanks Mel. I don't outline either. I let my dreams do the outlining. I appreciate your kind words and comments, my friend.

      • Mel Carriere profile image

        Mel Carriere 

        3 years ago from San Diego California

        These were some fantastic tips Kristen. If I am writing a story and I get bored I immediately pitch it, because I figure if I am bored the reader really must be snoozing. The reason why I don't outline is because I want to be excited about what happens next as much as a potential reader might. I need to be engaged. Great hub!

      • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

        Kristen Howe 

        3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        Thanks Flourish for loving my tips. I hope to get more out there to HP this fall.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        3 years ago from USA

        Great tips that you have shared with us. The examples are particularly useful in driving your points home.

      • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

        Kristen Howe 

        3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        My pleasure Molly.

      • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

        Kristen Howe 

        3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        My pleasure Robert. I agree. I hate editing.

      • Robert Beyer profile image

        Robert Beyer 

        3 years ago from Seattle, Washington

        I am so glad you share these tips. Editing is one of the hardest things that I have to do when I am writing. Thank you.

      • Molly Layton profile image

        Molly Layton 

        3 years ago from Alberta

        Thank you for this extremely useful hub!

      • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

        Kristen Howe 

        3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        Thanks so much Lee for coming by and visiting with your comment.

      • profile image

        Lee Cloak 

        3 years ago

        Plenty to think about here, a great info packed hub, thanks for sharing, voted up, Lee

      • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

        Kristen Howe 

        3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        Thanks Emge for the share and for the comment.

      • emge profile image

        Madan 

        3 years ago from Abu Dhabi

        Great post and share

      • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

        Kristen Howe 

        3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        My pleasure Alicia. We can all learn and grow on how to be better writers.

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thanks for sharing some more notes from the conference, Kristen. They're very useful for writers.

      • Kristen Howe profile imageAUTHOR

        Kristen Howe 

        3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        Sheila, thanks for stopping by. Some of this tips are also for those who write in nonfiction like memoirs, too. It can be useful for any article, too.

      • SheilaMilne profile image

        SheilaMilne 

        3 years ago from Kent, UK

        I know these tips are mainly for anyone writing a novel or at least a book, but most of them are also very useful for shorter articles.

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