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Revision Guide for Your Novel

Updated: Jan 11, 2020

Celebrate your finished draft through revision! photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Are you ready to revise your novel?


Throw confetti, dance around the house, watch a movie, and once you're done, there's good news.

Your novel still needs you.

There's more work before you send your book to the editor, or query agents.

I spent the summer rewriting my current novel, and when I finished I had mixed emotions. On one hand, I felt sad, because it was as if a movie I love ended. On the other hand, I felt happy this book needed more attention.

Revision has never been my favorite part of the writing process, but this time something felt different. I had more confidence. Each cut word made sentences tighter. Each added detail sparkled on the page.

In my discussions with other writers, I've found some aren't sure how to revise. It's one thing to dream up a new world, but it's another to reread your own writing to fix it.

Here's a list of ten things you can do to make your novel better. You might think these tasks seem tedious, but I'd encourage you to take two weeks to try as many as you can to make your novel tight and shiny.

These tips start with reading for big changes, and then move on to specifics. I suggest you revise in this order, if possible.

Ten Revision Tasks

1. Reread each scene to make sure it has a clear purpose.

There's no room in novels for unnecessary action or dialogue. Every word must drive characters forward.

Reread your novel and think like a reader. Can you tell what your character is trying to accomplish from the start of the scene? If not, add the goal into a character's conversation or thoughts.

Randy Ingermanson’s method for writing scenes/sequels is critical for novel writing. Scenes must include a clear goal, conflict and disaster. The sequel to a scene must include character reaction to the previous disaster, a dilemma, and a decision. The decision made at the end of the sequel becomes the goal for the following scene. If you follow Randy's scene/sequel order, you'll find your book better engages the reader.

2. Take note if character behavior doesn't feel right.

As you reread your manuscript, pay attention to the feeling in your gut. If a character's behavior doesn't seem right, make appropriate changes.

Ask yourself the following questions:

Could that really happen?

Is the character well motivated and justified in his/her action?

Is there something different I could try in this scene?

Is there a better way to show this?

3. Identify boring scenes.

If a scene bores you, there's a good chance your reader will feel the same way.

If this is the case, you're going to have to do something about it. Either eliminate the scene, or make a major change. Add a character, take away a character, change the setting, or add tension. Your reader will thank you!

4. Do a sensory sweep for every page.

Reread each page while keeping the five senses in mind. Taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound are essential pieces to helping the reader become immersed in your fictional world.

If possible, I like to include each sense on every page. It's difficult to mention smell and taste every 250 words, but whenever possible, embed these sensory details to help your reader be present in the story.

5. Eliminate -ing words.

This bit of advice used to drive me crazy. Why does everybody care so much about these stupid -ing words? Does it really matter if I get rid of them? After repeatedly hearing this advice, I've finally decided the answer is, "Yes, it matters." Read the following examples and decide if you agree.


a. Rehearsing what I'll say, I ride my bike across town.

b. I rehearse what I'll say as I ride my bike across town.

a. The room is crowded with people talking, flirting and laughing.

b. People talk, flirt and laugh in the crowded room.

Which sentences do you prefer?

6. Use one, instead of multiple, adjectives.

Some writers find it challenging to eliminate excessive adjectives. If you adore adjectives like I do, you may have used too many words in your manuscript. Most of the time one word can paint the image.


a. The shimmering, white moon sparkled over the bay.

b. The shimmering moon sparkled over the bay.

7. Get rid of the “bad” words.

There are many lists on the internet which suggest words to eliminate from your manuscript. These words bog down your writing. Whenever possible, chop them.

Here's a site with one of those lists...

8. Read your manuscript out loud.

You’ll find more errors if you read your writing out loud. This is because your mind is brilliant at filling in the blanks. If you read silently, your mind is prone to fix errors. If you read out loud, you have a better chance of identifying mistakes.

Another benefit to reading out loud is you will hear when there's repetition. I'll often cut out one or two sentences from paragraphs, or combine two sentences, because it sounds better that way when read aloud.

9. Use power verbs.

Powerful verbs infuse your writing with life. Of course you must select the verb which conveys the best meaning, but when you find the right verb, your writing will shine.


a. She picked up the cup and took a sip.

b. She snatched the cup and gulped.

c. She raised the cup and tilted it to her lips.

d. She lifted the cup and savored the sweet liquid.

There are many ways to write the above sentence. Pick the verbs which best describe what's happening.

10. Print out your manuscript, and read it one more time.

After I worked through this task list my 84,000 word manuscript was shaved down to 76,000 words. There's not a word I cut that I miss.

If you take the time to work through these tasks, your writing will be stronger, too.

Happy writing! I'd love to hear about your revision process, so feel free to connect with me @AlwoodCarol.

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