A Story Revision Checklist

Sometimes progress feels slow,
but take the time  to revise, and your
story will sparkle.

Once your first draft is written, you can begin revising. Looking at one piece of revision at a time can be helpful. After I finished the first draft of Book 2 in the Abi Wunder series, Secret in the Mist, I let the manuscript rest while working on other projects. About three weeks later, I was amazed at how much revision was needed. Every single page of my 30,000-word manuscript has #2 pencil cross-outs, squiggly lines, and deletions—every one! 

To be effective, it’s good to have a revision plan. I stuck with a general revision the first time. That included condensing long-winded paragraphs, finding better word choices, making dialogue sound kid-friendly, and replacing “telling” with “showing” passages.

Again, I put the manuscript down. I wanted to begin again with fresh eyes. While the story rested, I shared my story outline and a few chapters with my critique group. They helped me think through flaws in the manuscript that I couldn’t see. Also, I lined up my beta readers, fellow authors and friends who love to read and have offered to give me their opinions. But before I showed it to them, it was time to move on to complete the revision process.

The next revision began a thorough analysis and can be accomplished in parts.

My first question: What do I need to re-think? Does the title work? Are the plot points in place? Does the story have an arc? Does each character have an arc?

Is the story structure solid?

The first sentence, first paragraph, and first chapter are critical. For more tips, please refer to my article “Writers: First Paragraph Essentials”: https://www.writersonthemove.com/2017/10/writers-first-paragraph-essentials.html 

Does the story have enough conflict? Stakes?

Are there any characters who don’t have an active role in the story? If so, they either need to be taken out or given an active role in the plot.

Are there any scenes that don’t move the story forward? Any scenes that drag? You need to find ways to change the scenes that aren’t working.

Is the story told mainly through dialogue and action? Description can be added, but sparingly. Condense to a minimum and spread out any description “dumps.”

Is the main character’s flaw/need evident in the beginning, and satisfied/solved from what she’s learned by the end? Does she grow and change by the end?

Are the facts accurate?

Are the details specific? Check for anything vague or general.

Do a drama check. Heighten the drama wherever you can.

Is the story told from the main character’s viewpoint? For example, any description you introduce needs to be seen through her eyes.

Make sure the main theme shines through throughout your story. Do the minor themes bolster the main theme?

Books that have helped me the most: Elaine Marie Alphin’s boom, Creating Characters Kids Will Love. Her example on page nine is especially helpful:

His sneakers were braced against the roof’s shingles. Slowly, Benjy took one hand off the sill and gripped a lower shingle instead. Then he took a deep breath, told himself very firmly not to be afraid, and let go of the sill with his other hand . . . Why couldn’t he have been a few inches taller? Benji cursed his height silently. Even just a couple of inches would have meant his toes might have been able to feel the bench beneath him. But wishing wouldn’t make him grow.

Also helpful are books by Chris Eboch: You Can Write for Children and Advanced Plotting.

Recently, I’ve been reading and enjoying the graphic novels by Raina Telgemeier. I bought Guts, and even though my book is a chapter book and not a graphic novel, it helps to read passages now and then to remind myself to “talk” like a kid.

While writing my first book, Secret in the Stars, I had to disengage from disappointment after finding many glaring errors, when I thought the book was done. This must be the armor people talk about that writers must grow and wear, and perhaps why people admire authors so much. For the fortitude and single-mindedness it takes to do the seat-time, on and on, until we are finally satisfied with the finished product. Whatever it takes.

While writing Secret, I thought the amount of revision it took was excessive. Now that I’ve written multiple books, I understand how much revision is required. Lots. A good way to look at it is: the hard work of getting the words on paper is done. It’s time to play! Revising allows you to play with what you’ve written, rethink better ways of showing what the characters are going through, and re-do anything that isn’t working. When you’re finished, after careful attention to every detail, you can take the guesswork out of the many aspects of your story, and feel sure of your work. You’ve earned the title of a professional author.

Snail photo: By Linda Wilson

Secret in the Stars: An Abi Wunder Mystery, Linda's first book, is available at https://www.amazon.com/author/lindawilsonchildrensauthor. The next book in the Abi Wunder series, Secret in the Mist, will be available soon. Follow Linda on https://www.lindawilsonauthor.com


Jams and Books said...

Very helpful and well organized — thank you very much. This is a post to return to over and over again!

Heidiwriter said...

Good article and advice, Linda. Yes, revise, revise, revise! One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Hemingway: "There are no great writers, only great re-writers." Thank you.

Karen Cioffi said...

Linda, excellent post. I love the details you included. This gives authors a guide to revising their own manuscripts.

Terry Whalin said...


Thanks for the terrific insights about revision. I love where you set the writing aside and then approach it again with fresh eyes--something that I have used often in this process.


lastpg said...

Thank you, everyone! I do hope the article is helpful. I'm looking forward to analyzing Bk 2 in Abi, I suppose because I'm near the end of the big first revision. Fun, fun! Here's the note I have plastered in front of my keyboard so I can't miss it while I'm writing: Bring out empathy. Make story exciting! Make story dramatic! I've often read that it's difficult to make life tough for your protagonist, but that's what makes your story unputdownable!

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Wow! @lastpg this is a great list of questions to print out and reread just before a last edit and again just before we click on the publish button or sign a contract! We authors are perfectly capable of spotting needed revisions but we'll be even better at it with a little writers aid like this one!
Happy New Year!

deborah lyn said...

Linda, WOW you've shared so many strategic, helpful and inspiring points -- we all are grateful! Thanks for sharing your experience mixed with empowering helps!

Jaq D Hawkins said...

Both terry Pratchett and Stephen King say the first draft is writing for yourself, just to get the story down I even put my short stories aside for a couple days and look at it fresh catching typos as well as things I could phrase better or run-on sentences that need breaking down.

Karen Cioffi said...

Jaq, it's always a good idea to put stories aside when going into revisions or editing. I even do this with picture book stories. Thanks for stopping by!

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