Tips for Revising Your Novel

So, you’ve finished your first draft (or in some cases third, fourth and fifth draft) and you now want to focus on revising your novel. Revising a novel is daunting at first, so here’s some advice for starting out:

After writing my first trilogy, I’m now on the revision stage of the first novel. I’ve revised the scenes of the first book (many, many times) but want to get down to the final draft.  Here are some things I’ve learnt in the current process:

  • REFRESHMENTS – If you are planning to do a lot, take some food and drink with you. Writing and revision always make me hungry so if it’s a long session I’ll take some snacks and soft drinks up to my writing space with me.
    Tea, Chips and Writing

    Image by tonyhall via Flickr

  • PACE YOURSELF – Do a bit at a time so as not to add too much pressure. Do one scene or one page or just revise until you need to stop. Keep it frequent. Every other day is easier than every day. Don’t push yourself too hard until you’ve got the hang of it! You want it to become a habit not a chore.
  • FIND YOUR OWN METHODI’ve decided to go through the first book and look for spelling, grammar and poorly written sentences first. Any other problems I will mark down for later. It’s important to find what works for yourself as it’s not always the same as what works for others.
  • KEEP THE ORIGINAL FILE – Keep at least one file for your original drafts and one file for your manuscript. Format it as a manuscript, double-spaced, readable font (TAHOMA is usually a decent one), title and author name in the left-hand of all pages and create a title page. That way all the extras are setup to begin with. See here for more details. (Note – check submissions guidelines before sending anything. Each publisher may have different rules)
Hands collaborating in co-writing or co-editin...

Image via Wikipedia

  • NOTES – Keep a word file with simple lists to remember other problems you come across. Don’t go crazy with it. Allow for flexiblity. I’ve just marked down: SCENES NEED TO REVISE MORE/REPEATED WORDS AND PHRASES / IMPROVED PHRAS ES AND INCONSISTENCIES. These don’t have to make sense to other people as long as they make sense to you. 

I.e. (Some of my notes)

  1. Check for excessive use of the word WELL and starting sentences with BUT.
  2. Some of the scenes around A’s story are more telling than showing. Examine this section separately from Chapter 10 as the transition between scenes sounds a bit off.
  3. Geography error – Character can’t end up in this place because that’s where JB rules. Need new place name.
  • MAKE USE OF EDITING SYMBOLS-                          

    Image by Analog Weapon via Flickr

    I’ve only done this sparsely because I am not published (yet) and I know that different publishers can have different rules. I’ve marked 2 symbols which relate to the NOTES and used symbols to find where I am up to editing. These are just for you so you can find the last scene you were working on and the scenes you need to go back to. These are just for you so keep it simple. Here’s a list of copyediting symbols  but I’ve just used simple keyboard symbols.

  • LIST REPEATED WORDS/PHRASES – I’ve mentioned this twice because it’s very important. I found lots of these in my writing and the sentence nearly always needed rewriting.
  • WATCH OUT FOR VAGUE WORDS – I noticed in my revision that I tend to sound passive and vague. I use words like `quite’, `fairly’ and `slightly’  too much and this weakens the sentences. Most of the time, it’s better to just remove them along with excessive use of -ing words and -ly words.
  • BACK-TO-FRONT SENTENCES – I didn’t even know I did this until I started revising but I write a lot of sentences the wrong way around. Maybe it comes from the funny dialect we use up here in Northern England (or maybe it’s just me being vague again) but here’s a great webpage that helps: Writing Effective Sentences.
Extreme Sport Event

Image by SanforaQ8 via Flickr

  • TOO MANY ACTION TAGS – Also known as BEATS, this is the action in-between dialogue. Sometimes the beats we’ve written are redundant. If you find your characters are sitting up and down and moving around for no reason it can sound a bit weird. Check the link for tips on Writing Dialogue.
  • READ IT BACK TO YOURSELF – Whether you do this out loud or in your head doesn’t really matter. The intention is to check the rhythm of your sentences. You’ll usually feel if something’s wrong even if you’re not sure why.
  • BACK UP! BACK UP! BACK UP! DID I SAY BACK UP? – Always save your work at least twice. You don’t want a computer crash to delete everything!


Trust yourself. You can look for help and tips for improvement but it’s still your opinion what you think of as good writing. 

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.

Anton Chekhov


8 thoughts on “Tips for Revising Your Novel

  1. Pingback: Revise, Revise, Revise… I Need More Coffee « susansheehey

  2. I think you should reconsider starting your revision from the viewpoint of the sentence.

    You should start big, and then progressively work your way smaller. Make sure your themes are properly represented, make sure your worldbuilding brings out the things you want to bring out and also creates more conflict in the story, make sure your scenes flow and identify any weak or missing scenes, remove or rewrite the bad ones, kill off and merge as many characters as you can, make sure you haven’t made any promises or introduced any storylines that you haven’t followed through on, do all of this so that you get to the essence of your story.

    You’ll probably find that you’ve cut some scenes and rewritten a few others.

    That’s when you should go through and fix the details: the grammar, the word choices, the descriptions, the dialogue, etc.

    Otherwise, you fix the details, realize you have to fix some big-picture items, and you end up removing a bunch of stuff that you already “fixed.”

    • This is great advice! I’m always looking for ways to learn better revision methods. I never thought of in that way before, starting big and then getting progressively smaller. I made the mistake of trying to do it on a chapter by chapter basis at first and that didn’t work at all because as you said, you have to go back and end up amending them again.

      Thanks very much. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Specifically Speaking (aka don’t be clever, be accurate) « Romancing for Thrills

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