You’ve finished your novel, hurray! You put in the hours at your computer, squeaking out plot twists and witty dialogue. You’ve racked your brain to fill in plot holes and to make interesting things happen throughout the story. There were days you thought you’d never finish. But you did it!
Okay, you might want to sit down for this because sadly, dear writer, I’m going to burst your bubble gum bubble, and it’s probably going to make a mess.
You’re not finished with your book. In fact, in a way, you’re only just beginning.
Phew! That was hard even for me. But now that we’ve got that out of the way, now that you’ve accepted that writing a novel means rewriting, sometimes again and again, we can get down to what this blog post is all about.
Everyone has their own process, and the following list is certainly not exhaustive in content. But it can be a great start–especially if you are staring at your finished manuscript and wondering what the heck to do next.
So first things first. Put away your manuscript for a week or so. Totally forget about it. Write something else. Clean your house. Play with your kids. See friends. Do all the things you didn’t do while you were writing your book.
Then, get ready to read. Start with the big and work your way to the small. That means don’t worry about the finer points like grammar, spelling, and punctuation (we’ll tackle those things in a future post). No, first you want to look at the big picture stuff.
Get a pad of paper and a pen (yes, those things you actually write with). Then get yourself some coffee and settle in for a good read. I usually read on my laptop and make notes, but you might find it helpful to print out your manuscript and read it that way. Write down the following categories and as you read and make notes about what you can improve in each one.
Does my lead character have a goal? Does he or she have obstacles that stand in the way of obtaining this goal? Is my character interesting? Does he/she have unique interests, mannerisms, or hobbies—things that help make them real? Does my character change gradually throughout the story so that he/she is different by end from when it began? (This is called a character arc.)
Point of View
Do I maintain my character’s point of view or do I head hop? Is the point of view I’ve chosen the best for my story? Check out this Absolute Write article on choosing a point of view: “What Point of View?”
Scene vs. Summary
Do I have more scenes than summary? Have I summarized the boring parts and brought everything else to life?
Do my scenes have tension?
Plot and Structure
Does my plot progress (build) with each chapter? Are there any places where it drags or stalls? Does my plot place specific obstacles in my lead character’s way?
Do I have adequate action beats in my dialogue? Do I have too many ellipses or em dashes? Do my characters say “Um” and “Uh” too often? (Um, this is a huge problem for me in my own writing.)
Does my dialogue between characters have tension? Is there too much “on-the-nose” dialogue? (See K.M. Weiland’s post on this: “Get Rid of on the Nose Dialogue Once and For All”)
Do I use said? Or am I using “call attention to me” speech tags like cried, bellowed, chortled, etc. too often?
Showing vs. Telling
Am I spending too much time telling the reader things about the characters or am I showing them? There are some instances where you want to tell, especially in summarizing transitional scenes, but for the most part, you should be showing your reader your characters rather than telling them. Instead of “She was sad.” Try something like, “Her throat squeezed, and she fought back tears.”
You might choose to revise one category each time you read through the manuscript, or tackle all of them at once. But be advised, you will most likely need to read through the manuscript more than once. Probably more than twice.
Once you’ve done all you can do, find someone else to read it. Hopefully, you have a critique partner, but if not, try to find someone who can read your story objectively. Usually, another set of eyes will catch things that you didn’t think of. That’s just how it goes. We become blind to our own work. So, take what feedback you feel is important and then…yep, revise again.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
But I’ll let you in on a little secret. These may only be the first steps in revising because you know that agent you’ve been wanting forever? When you land one, he or she will probably have suggestions for revising too. Oh, and when your agent sells your book to a publisher? Guess what? Your editor will want revisions also.
See, writing is rewriting.