Revise Revise Revise!

opened book with ink feather tool - vector illustration

Here are some revision tips for writers, especially of fiction.

Analyze your story:

Reader should know almost immediately:

  • WHO main character is
  • WHERE story is taking place
  • WHEN it takes place
  • WHAT kind of story it is

Be able to answer:

  • What kind of person is my protagonist? Will the reader identify with
    him/her and his/her problem(s)?*
  • What is the best way to tell this character’s story? First person?
    Third person? Omnipotent observer? Is it a tragic story? A farce?*
  • Where do you START your story?*
  • What was the author saying? What was the focus of the story? Was the
    story worth reading? Why or why not?*


  • Make sure you’re in correct POV
  • Was that    had  (try to eliminate as many as possible)
  • Check for IT and THERE at the beginning of sentences
  • “As” and “ing” indicate parallel action, two actions happening at the same time.
  • Figures of speech (use them, but not too much. No cliches).
  • Varied sentence structure
  • Repetitive words and sentence structure
  • Too many italics, ellipses
  • Adverbs: try to replace with an action verb
  • “Again” or worse “once again.”
  • Toss “still” and “yet” onto the pile and use them sparingly.
  • Too many adjectives and adverbs. Delete and use better nouns and verbs.  Or replace with more unusual adjectives and adverbs.
  • Check for the word OF — it’s often an indication of a superfluous noun and is, itself, often unneeded:
    The level of the water rose as the rain continued.
    The water rose as the rain continued.
  • Redundancy (restating) (“shrugged her shoulders”   “blinked her eyes”)
  • Commas (especially missing ones in compound sentences)
  • Do not use ten words if five will do. Wordiness
  • Began to
  • Felt like
  • Started to
  • Seemed
  • Realized
  • Heard
  • Wondered
  • Decided
  • Saw
  • Too many compound sentences
  • Sentences starting with “And” “But” “Then”
  • Use all the SENSES
  1. Write every day.
  2. Observe and listen.
  3. Use strong verbs.
  4. Detail!
  5. A specific always beats an abstraction.
  6. Describe in motion.
  7. In dialogue, keep speeches short.
  8. Beware the use of habitual case (would), the passive voice and the word “there.”
  9. In the second draft, start deleting adverbs.
  10. Borrow widely, steal wisely.

  • Scenes:
  • Opening Line
  • One way: Bill walked into the diner, sat at the counter and scanned the menu for something not too greasy.
  • Better way: “Someone’s sitting there,” the man in the uniform said as Bill started to straddle the stool.
  • Moments (memorable, unexpected)
  • Feeling of ending and feeling of anticipation
  • First Aid: Focus
    Still can’t decide whether or not the scene you’ve just written belongs in your story? A scene should do two or more of these four things: 1)advance the plot, 2) develop the character(s), 3) illustrate the theme, 4) contribute to suspense (which in turn advances the plot). Read the scene again and when you’re finished complete the following sentences:
  1. The Plot Focus:
    The purpose of this scene is to ______________________________________.
    (Example: The purpose of this scene is to reveal the protagonist’s childhood abuses in order to provide motivation for her current actions.)
  2. The Character Focus:
    When the audience finishes this scene, they should feel ____________________.
    (Example: When the audience finishes this scene, they should feel sympathy for the protagonist, yet be skeptical of her reliability as a narrator.)
  3. The Theme Focus:
    When the audience finishes this scene, they should think____________________.
    (Example: When the audience finishes this scene, they should think that the protagonist has been using these abuses as an excuse for many other self-destructive actions.)
  4. The Suspense Focus:
    When the audience finishes this scene, they should wonder _________________.
    (Example: When the audience finishes this scene, they should wonder whether or not the protagonist will be able to overcome the horror of her childhood in order to reunite with her estranged mother.)

A good scene should do at least double duty, so if you can’t complete at least two of these sentences to your satisfaction, the scene either needs more work or needs to be cut.

From First to Final Draft: Five Steps of Revision
Step #1: Structure
Goal: Develop a clear and compelling plot.
What to Look For:
1) scenes that are too passive/dialogue scenes with no tension (“talking heads”)
2) scenes that don’t build-up/are anti-climactic (should have beginning, middle, end)
Step #2: Texture
Goal: Sharpen descriptive passages to make characters, setting, and action more vivid.
What to Look For:
1) too much or too little description
2) clichéd word choices
3) too many adjectives/adverbs
4) research information dump
5) background or setting information in wrong place.

Step #3: Dialogue
Goal: Elicit character personality through conversation.
What to Look For:
1) too many tag lines
2) too few tag lines
3) tag lines in the wrong place
4) tag lines that contain too much info
5) yet another info dump
6) bland or melodramatic lines

Step #4: Editing
Goal: Tighten pace and continuity.
What to Look For:
1) repetition through implication
2) slow passages
How to Fix: Cut.  Cut.  Cut.

Step #5: Blending
Goal: Search and destroy any weaknesses.
What to Look For:
Soft spots: unclear character motivations, actions that seem contrived, etc.
How to Fix: Most of the above problems can be solved by expanding a scene or adding a new scene.

Novels: Does each character play an important part? The word “said” is invisible and is the word of choice in dialogue; avoid “he whispered,” “she groaned,” etc. Look at the end of each chapter. Is there a hook?


  • Backloading
  • Fresh facial expressions
  • Basic, Complex, Empowered, Super-empowered
  • Power words
  • Theme-related words
  • Fresh paralanguage, vocal cues (tone, inflection, pitch, quality, rate of voice: His voice dropped to a coarse whisper)
  • Use subtext (underlying meaning of words shown through TIME: Thought, Inflection, Movement, Expression
  • Readers need to know exactly what your character is feeling through emotion, internalization, or dialogue

About lindacovella

I am an author of fiction and nonfiction for kids and teens.
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2 Responses to Revise Revise Revise!

  1. Excellent notes 🙂 I honestly feel like writing a short story now! Haha. I was a huge fiction writer when I was young, but I’ve gradually transitioned to reading and writing in mostly nonfiction. Perhaps I’ll have to come back to this post in a week or so and get some creative juices flowing.

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