“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” Mark Twain
Revising your story is vital. There are few things you need to do before you even think about sending it off to an agent and/or publisher.
You can do this as you go along or after you’ve gotten the entire story down. My advice is to do the latter then you are not stuck going over and over the same piece of writing. Get the story down first then do all the editing. If you do it as you go along, you may over-write sections and the danger of this is that the piece may lose its sparkle. I also find I never get past chapter one if I spend all my time editing it!
How I edit is simply this: I put the text away for at least a month. I don’t look at it, not even a sneaky peek, until I’ve let at least four weeks go by. Why? It means I go back to it with fresh eyes and can see where I need to adjust and amend text.
After the month is over, I print the entire book out (yes it takes a lot of paper and ink, but I don’t pick up on typos and mistakes the same way on a computer as I do on paper). I then take several weeks systematically going over the book – carefully reading every word, checking for grammatical mistakes and typos, making sure the story flows, that I have my timelines correct and the continuity is good (more on that last point in a minute).
Ask yourself as you go along: is your story exciting enough to keep your reader turning those pages? Is there enough conflict and emotion? Is your story as strong as it can be? Have you eradicated the weak points?
Punctuation, spelling and grammar
If these are poor, your script may automatically be binned. Make sure your text is as good as it can be. Have someone else take a look at it and point out anything that needs fixed. Carry out a spelling check on your computer. It will also throw up any grammatical mistakes.
Plots and sub-plots
The plot is your main storyline where your characters go from A to B and your sub-plots are those little storylines that if they didn’t happen wouldn’t affect the main plot. However, sub-plots do add depth to your characters and the book overall.
You need to check: do they work? Are there any loose ends that need tied up? Does the story follow a logical sequence? If not, you will need to look at where you went wrong and rewrite it. If you have a sub-plot, does it work? Does it add to the book or does it act as a distraction? If so, you’ll need to sort this out. Remember to check you’ve answered: who, what, why, where, when and how?
Time-line of story
Does your time-line work? Readers will notice if you get timings wrong (maybe the character sets off at night-time, but the next minute you are talking about it being daytime). This is one thing I find particularly difficult to get right so I make sure I note down the time-line for my story so that I don’t stray from it. It can be done as a simple diagram or as a diary.
Does your story race ahead not giving your reader time to draw breath? Does your reader have enough time to truly take in the story? Are there areas that need padding out or thinning out?
Did you use the senses to enhance the story? There’s no point saying your character is sitting in a boat if you don’t give a brief description of what the boat was like (a small white dinghy), what your character smells (engine oil and the sea), sees (choppy waves, sea, seagulls), hears (gulls crying, the slapping of the water on the boat), feels (cold air on her cheek), tastes (salty air) and senses (a feeling of foreboding).
For writers of picture books
Have you used the very best words to move your story forward? Do the words make the book funny or heart-warming? Is there a little bit of excitement in there or is the story just lovely from start to finish? Are there more interesting words you can use?
Are you characters well rounded and believable? Do they react to situations in a credible way? Are they wearing the clothes you set them out in? Are they carrying the correct things? Do they know the things they should know? Are they where they should be at the right times in the story timeline?
Have you been consistent with dialogue throughout? Does your dialogue take the story on? If not, take it out. Could it be tightened up? Is your dialogue too wordy and boring? Cut it down.
Does your beginning capture your reader? Does it make them want to read on? Does your story start correctly or is there a better way? Could you make it snappier?
Does the story come to a satisfactory conclusion? Are all the loose ends tied up? Have you left a question still waiting to be answered, setting things up for a second novel?
Narrator or Point of View
Is the point of view consistent throughout? Does it work? Have you ensured you haven’t used different types of viewpoint (for instance, constantly swapping from first person and third person), but have stuck to all first person or all third person?
Is it believable? Have you given your reader enough information for them to visualise the scenes? Have your descriptions added to the story? Have you ensured that you’ve said the same things about the same scenes throughout the story and not added in something that wasn’t there earlier in the book?
Have you used the senses to the best effect to get across atmosphere? Have you made sure you haven’t done it too much?
Read out your words
Do your words flow? Is the rhythm correct? Do you stumble anywhere? If so, that section may need a rewrite
Now you are ready to either send your manuscript off to an agent or publisher. Or you can indie publish. If the latter is your preferred way of going you will need the following:
- to get your book professionally edited (contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org)
- have your book professionally set out in the correct format for Amazon and other self publishing . This is another service I provide (contact me: email@example.com)
- get your cover professionally created – you can get free covers from the likes of Amazon etc, but if you want something unique I’d advise finding a graphic designer to create one for you. I found mine on a website called Reedsy.