Writing is hard. Rewriting is even harder. Or maybe it’s the other way around. In any case, here is a quick checklist for things you can focus on when revising your book. While this isn’t an exhaustive list of revising and editing tips, it’s more than enough to think about when working on that second draft of your novel.
Twelve Things to Think About When Revising and Editing Your Novel
Telling vs. Showing
Every story has a nice balance of both, but am I showing when there’s an opportunity to show? Am I telling the reader my protagonist’s emotional state when I could express it in thoughts, dialogue, action, or description?
What is it about my narrative voice that makes it distinct and unique? What is it about the best moments in my book that make them seem . . . good? Am I delivering this quality on every page? Is the interplay between action, dialogue, exposition, description, interior monologue, and summary consistent throughout? Am I being flowery on one page and clinical on another? If I’m writing from multiple points of view, does each POV feel distinct?
Am I using an adequate amount of imagery that will allow the reader to visualize the settings and characters without bogging the story down with too much detail? Am I consistent in how much detail I offer per setting? Do I offer more description when it makes sense that my protagonist would be paying more attention because, for example, they’ve come to a new and astonishing place? And less description when the setting is mundane, commonplace, and easy to imagine? You never, for example, say red, octagonal object on a pole with white trim along the edges and the word STOP centered in all caps. You just say stop sign. Unless your protagonist is an alien.
Is my dialogue realistic? Does it serve a purpose? Is it propelling the story forward? Am I using dialogue tags when necessary to clarify who is speaking and omitting them when they’re not necessary?
Is anything missing, false, or contradictory?
Do I rely too much on the same words and phrases? Is my character constantly furrowing her brow or biting her lip or rolling her eyes? Do I have one-thousand four-hundred and eighty-nine instances of the word that? Do I begin too many sentences in a row with a participial phrase?
Am I using positive language when the scene is meant to inspire hope and promise and negative language when the scene is meant to depict terror, gloom, fear, etc.? Sometimes it’s appropriate to say exhausted and other times it’s appropriate to say in need of a good night’s sleep. Sometimes it’s appropriate to say things could be worse and other times it’s appropriate to say things are getting better. There’s a difference between stabbing that gutless coward and making quick work of his death in a final act of mercy and sympathy.
Can I use fewer words to say what I want to say? Have I whittled the narrative down to what’s necessary?
When I read my manuscript, are there any hitches, hiccups, awkward phrases, or off-beat moments?
Zooming In and Out
Am I taking too much time describing my protagonist’s trip from one room to another when my protagonist doesn’t fear what’s in the next room? Am I hyper-specific with my description when the character is hyper-focused? Am I letting time pass when there’s nothing relevant to communicate and zeroing in only on scenes that are relevant to the plot?
Do I have an inciting incident in the first chapter? A call to adventure in the first 20% of the book? Is there a dramatic turning point halfway through? Do all my third act twists pile onto the reader in a single chapter or are the reveals spaced apart enough to allow the reader to absorb each one properly? Am I writing a book that doesn’t give a damn about conventional structure–and, if so, am I defying conventions in an artful way?
Is my protagonist loveable, hateable, or relatable? Am I exploring themes that are important? Why does the world need to know this story? What am I bringing to the table that’s fresh, unique, and authentically me? Why am I doing this? Where am I? What are words? Help.