Revision: 5 Tips

“If the path be beautiful, let us not ask where it leads.”
― Anatole France

Now that the first draft of the second book in the Abi Wunder Mystery series, Secret in the Mist, is done, I can get to work. As author Michael Crichton has said, “writing is all about rewriting, which can be depressing, especially when after the seventh rewrite you find that’s still not working.” In other words, “books aren’t written, they’re re-written.”

Most helpful is a study of the charts that Kate Messner has created to use in her revision process. Before I studied Messner's charts, I relied on lists, which is what I’m using for Mist. When I begin the third and last book in the Abi Wunder Mystery series, Secrets of the Heart, I plan to switch over to my own version of Messner’s chart system.

Get the First Draft Down

When I wrote the first book, Secret in the Stars, I spent too much time writing and editing what I wrote, all the way through the manuscript. That process turned out to be extremely inefficient. It made the book take a long time to write. This is what I advise after writing Mist:

  • Leave your editor’s cap at the door and write your book straight through without any interruptions. 
  • Let the draft sit at least five days.
  • Do a read-through or general revision, editing for word choice, obvious additions and deletions; in short, anything you see that needs improving.
  • Let the draft sit.

Analyze your Story: Make a List

  • Get Organized: First on the list is to take stock of ideas that occur to you while writing the first draft.  I wish I could say I made a neat list of my ideas. I didn't. The ideas appeared on whatever paper was available at the time the idea struck. Still, after sifting through the piles of papers in my office, I’m glad I saved them. Examples: Abi hears a faint whistle every time the ghost appears. This "aha" moment came to me while watching a movie on TV and hearing that whistle. I put to use that terrific little scrap of paper.
  • Another example is my note: “Keep personal stakes high,” a reminder I had heard at an SCBWI Zoom meeting. I began a revision with this in mind, and that pass turned out to be the second major revision.

Create Arcs for each Character

Making character arcs are not only fun and informative, but necessary. I like to make diagrams with brief descriptions of how the characters have progressed and grown through the story. The example I like to use is the thirty-five pages in Book 1 where the dog Star was missing. It was a noticeable gap, which I filled in. In Book 2, I've completed the arc for Angel, an antagonist, who doesn't appear in Book 3.

List the scenes

It is, of course, important to make sure the scenes are varied and interesting. Also, keeping track of the scenes helps you make sure the story is moving forward and doesn't contain any "dead" spots. When Chris Eboch, a professional editor and prolific author who happily belongs to my SCBWI-NM chapter, edited Book 1, she came to a lovely chapter near the end about kittens that the two main characters were given. Here is an excerpt from that chapter. Maybe you can see why I wanted to keep it:

        Hidden among the cucumber vines and tomatoes, four kittens of different colors snuggled against 

their mother. Bell gave her visitors a warning look as if to say, Shh, don't wake my babies. Can't you 

see? They’re sleeping. When she moved her head, the bell around her neck made a soft tinkling sound.

Star sniffed at the kittens and lowered his head, his ears down.

    “Bell!” Abi said. Dee gave her a quizzical look. Abi explained, “I didn’t know your cat’s name, so I

called her Bell.”

    Dee chuckled. “You’re right, Bell fits.”

    “Can I hold one?” Abi asked her.

    Dee’s face lit up. “You can have one, each of you. It's my way of saying thank you.” Ryan's bony

 shoulders fell to a slouch. “You too, Ryan.”

    He shook his head. “Nah, my parents would never let me and Jess both have a kitten.”

    A wide smile rippled across Pop's leathery cheeks. “Oh yes they will. Signed, sealed, and parent-

approved. And yes, Abi, your new apartment building allows cats.”

    “Oh Pop, really?” Abi rose to the tips of her toes and hugged his neck.

    A black and beige kitten with a pink nose stirred. Dee handed the kitten to her. She hugged the tiny 

ball of fur to her cheek and felt the kitten’s silky coat. “Oh Pop, she’s beautiful.” She held the kitten out 

and Star licked the side of its head.

    Pop stroked the kitten with a pudgy finger and smiled. “What did I tell you? Something good turned

 up after all.”

But, and that’s a big but, the scene didn’t move the story forward. I had to take the entire chapter out, painful as it was after having a professional photographer take my picture with two kittens at a pet store. The good news is that the photo with the kittens is a fun one for my website, and the chapter can be used in my promo materials, hopefully to help touch children’s hearts.

List Plot Points

For this most important analysis, structure becomes important. I learned how to structure my stories in a fiction writing course I took, which followed Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey.”

  • Make a diagram of your plot points using Cambpell's diagram. Make sure your story has the structure it needs. 

Check for Accuracy

Any information included in your book can be true or close to the truth. I mention the Alleghany Mountains in both Book 1 and 2, and made sure the setting was oriented correctly with the mountains set to the west. Many parts of both books needed to be researched for authenticity, such as in Book 1, a sheriff’s and deputy’s uniforms, the color of hard hats worn by different types of contractors; and in Book 2, Quakers who moved from Pennsylvania and settled in Loudoun County, Virginia in the 1800s, studied in order to help shape the personality of the ghost.

Release your book to your beta readers and a professional editor only after it is as polished as you can get it, after you've gone through your checklist of edits. I wrote my December post, “A Story Revision Checklist,” while working on the first major revision of Mist. It is chock full of more comprehensive ways to revise. Today’s post fills in more points I feel are important and wasn’t able to cover in the earlier post. Here is the link to my December post: 


Flower photo by: Linda Wilson

Photo with kittens by: 

Linda Wilson lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  She has two daughters, Kim and Tracy, who inspired her stories when they were younger. Linda is the editor of the New Mexico Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators newsletter, and has written posts for the Writers on the Move blog since 2013. She is a classical pianist and loves to go to the gym. But what Linda loves most is to make up stories and connect with her readers. Find out more by visiting Linda’s website at


Terry Whalin said...


Thank you for these great tips on revision. No writer (at least from my experience) writes a perfect first draft. It means revision is a continual part of our writing process. The details in your article are insightful and appreciated,


Heidiwriter said...

Wow, this is great. I'm posting the link on my FB page. Very helpful!

Linda Wilson said...

Thank you, Terry and Heidi. I’m always happy to pass on my hard-won lessons, so hopefully other writers can skip past them!

deborah lyn said...

Thanks Linda!
Great Tips and Lists and Charts - so helpful!
Congrats on finishing the first draft of Secret in the Mist - more fun begins.

Jams and Books said...

Shared on Fb, Twitter, and Pinterest.
Thank you so much.
Fresh eyes on each step — and F7 (spellcheck on Microsoft Word) and this post will be a big help.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Yes. And get beta readers. There is info in my The Frugal Editir on how to set that up so it works well. Not all beta readers are created equal. But they can all be valuable for helping with revisions. Great topic,@LindaWilson! 😊❤️

lastpg said...

Thank you, one and all! I do hope the post is a help--all experienced by trail and error!

Karen Cioffi said...

Linda, excellent tips to revising a story. And, the first one is so important. Get that first draft down, then get into it. Thanks for sharing!

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