Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 8, 2010

Novel Revisions

Well, I finished my middle grade novel and so revision is on my mind.  The first thing I did is ask a few writer friends to read it.  Second, I outlined the book by chapters; listed the amount of words per chapter, listed the characters in each chapter and then the main plot points.  When I finished, I had created two additional chapters.  I’m happy that my secondary characters seem properly spaced.  The plot seems to hold together and the pacing seems good.

One of my friends read the first three chapters and had a lot to say about my first.  Of course, I wanted to ignore his comments.  Some I didn’t agree with, others I couldn’t correct, but his comments kept nagging at me and I worked on re-writing the first page and I’m very happy that I did, because I feel it is much stronger.  Funny how it is so easy to see what’s wrong with other people’s writing and then be so clueless with your own.

Now I am working on each chapter; reading each sentence and asking myself if I can cut or if I can say it better.  Here are some things that I am going to do tomorrow and some tips for you.

Don’t fall in love with what you have written. If you do, you will be hesitant to change it even if you know it’s not great.  Don’t act like you’re married to your manuscript, instead act like you’re dating it.  Give it the time to see if you like each other.

  • Work from hardcopy; it’s easier on the eyes. Also, problems that seem invisible on the screen somehow tend to show up better on paper.
  • Check to see if your plot makes sense.  Does it have any holes? 
  • Make an outline.  List your chapters and what is happening in each chapter.  List the characters in each chapter.  Do you have a character who is mentioned in the beginning and then not again until the end of the book?  List how many words you have in each chapter.  Are some real short and other very long? 
  • Are there any characters that are not needed?  Are there any scenes that do not advance the story? 
  • Check each sentence.
  • Do you spend too much time on one trivial point and neglect a more important point? Do you give too much description – too many details?  Is it slowing down your story?
  • Are some parts out of proportion with others?
  • Does the word count fit with the genre? 
  • Have you varied your sentence lengths?  Check each sentence.  Is it there for a reason?  Could it be said better?  Have you cut any unnecessary words? 
  • Look for spots that drag and punch them up or get rid of them. 
  • Read your paper out loud, sentence by sentence. That’s one way to see how well things flow. Look for places where you stumble or get lost in the middle of a sentence. Fix them.
  • Look for places where you get distracted or even bored—where you cannot concentrate. These are places where you probably lost focus or concentration in your writing. Cut through the extra words or vagueness or digression; get back to the energy. Listen even for the tiniest jerk or stumble in your reading, the tiniest lessening of your energy or focus or concentration as you say the words .

Practical advice for ensuring that your sentences are alive:

  • Use forceful verbs—replace long verb phrases with a more specific verb. 
  • Look for places where you’ve used the same word or phrase twice or more in consecutive sentences and look for alternative ways to say the same thing OR for ways to combine the two sentences.
  • Cut as many prepositional phrases as you can without losing your meaning.
  • Check your sentence variety. If more than two sentences in a row start the same way (with a subject followed by a verb, for example), then try using a different sentence pattern.
  • Aim for precision in word choice. Don’t settle for the best word you can think of at the moment—use a thesaurus (along with a dictionary) to search for the word that says exactly what you want to say.
  • Look for sentences that start with “It is” or “There are” and see if you can revise them to be more active and engaging.

Remember revising is not copy editing.  You need to dig deeper and then work on the typos and commas, etc.  And please do not send out the first draft, even if you revise as you go along (always a bad idea).

Let me know if you have any little tricks you use to pull out a better finished product.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Kathy congratulations on finishing your middle grade novel!

    Now comes the fun part.
    Who said, ‘revision is where the real writing is’? I should google . . .

    I am down to the last 100 pages of my revision, not really my first revision, but I’ll pretend for now it’s my last. (I doubt it.)

    The process has been a huge eye opener for me.

    It’s like walking into a familiar room. You think you know the contents of the room. You think you know where everything is. Then, all of a sudden, you see a door in the floor! Gasp! What is that??
    You fall through!

    Have fun and THANKS for the tips!



    • Mimi,

      If this works like everything else, I am sure it will go through many revisions. Right now, I feel I have everything I need in it, but once others start reading, that’s a real eye-opener.



    • Mimi,

      Oh, I forgot to tell you I named the cute little cat in my book after you.



  2. Great post, Kathy, and congrats on finishing your novel – I know you’ve really been working on this!



    • Jeanne,

      I might ask you to read the parts about the cat to see if I can put in some feline mannerisums that might make it better. What have you been up to lately?



  3. Thanks for some good points on revision, Kathy. It’s surprising the number of mistakes that slip in in the initial drafts.


  4. Congrats, Kathy. Will you be sharing any of it at the Retreat? I’m looking forward to the critiques because I’m too close to see my own work.


    • Mary,

      I will have it with me at the retreat, but we are in different groups.



  5. Wow, congratulations! Good luck on the revision. I actually enjoy revision. You feel like the hardest part is done and now you can focus on making each part stronger, one at a time.


    • Tricia,

      That is exactly what I am doing now. I read through the whole thing looking for holes or things that didn’t make sense (of course that is hard to find on your own). Now I am working line by line to see if I can cut or add punchier language. Then I guess I will let it sit and re-read. I have a few agents who want to see it and a few editors, so I really want to get it done. But then again I don’t want to rush the process, either.

      What are you working on right now?



  6. Kathy, how WONderful you finished your first draft! Yea, for you! What a feeling of accomplishment, huh?

    I know I LOVE revision and appreciate your list and any tips I can ever get my hands on! My problem is that I can’t focus on only one aspect of revision at a time; I always bounce.

    And it’s much easier to see the holes, etc. in someone else’s work since it’s totally fresh to you. When you’re the one who creates it, your perspective is too internal and knowledgeable about the story, the backstory, the characters, etc. I know that when weeks, and especially months have gone by since I looked at my own work, SO much more pops out at me. It can be difficult to be that patient though. For me, it’s always life that interrupts for long periods of time, not me making the decision to put it aside for that long.

    Last year, when I had a brief spurt of being able to work on the novel series again, in having to better the plotting, etc., what I decided to do was create a timeline and ran each plot, subplot, character growth, etc. along the same line so I could see where and how things needed to develop. Color coding with different color ink pens, plus highlighter use is essential.

    Anyway, enjoy the revision process, Kathy, and Congrats again! This actually helped lift my mood a bit (it’s been a pretty lousy day), so thank you for that 🙂 It’s always nice hearing good news!


    • Donna,

      I don’t know if I can say, I love revisions. I do find that the story and writing gets stronger after revising, but once I start I seem to keep going on and on and I think there comes a point where you need to stop. The problem is knowing where that point is. I will get a critique at the Writer’s Retreat, so maybe I will no more after that. Hope today was a better day. At least it is cooler.



      • Kathy, I also have trouble knowing when to stop revising because I’m always shocked at what I’ve missed or could make much better so many revisions down the line! *sigh* (But I really do love doing it—there’s something about getting the best “aesthetics” that is SO satisfying! I just LOVE playing with the English language 🙂 )


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