Showing posts with label How to revise. Show all posts
Showing posts with label How to revise. Show all posts

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”: 

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 The next book in the Abi Wunder series, Secret in the Mist, will be available soon. Follow Linda on

You the Writer; You the Critiquer

One of my ICL (Institute of Children's Literature) instructors once told me, "A book is not written, it's rewritten." That helped at a frustrating time of constant rewrites and what felt like no results. Today? Pfsaw! Rewrites are the norm, though I will admit some, such as the ones for my MG mystery, are more difficult than others.

Taking your ms to your critique group once, or as many times as it takes, will bring you closer and closer to your goal until it is ready to submit. I promise: there won't be any doubt when that time comes. You, and you alone, will know when your masterpiece is ready.

Celebrate you as a Writer for what you do is a Labor of Love

You, the Writer
Showing your work to others is a big step. Set aside any feelings of doubt or lack of confidence for your greater goal and open yourself up to others' scrutiny. Remember, your critiquers are on your side. They care about you and want you to succeed. They will most likely be more gentle than opening yourself up to the market, which can often feel like tossing your work into a black hole.

  • Let the other writers in your group know your background and whether you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced writer.
  • Let them know the type of piece you are writing.
  • Be clear about what you're looking for. I once paid a "pro" editor (she charged for her services) to critique several chapters of a MG novel, expecting to receive comments on the content as well as on grammatical errors. I received only the latter and was disappointed. My mistake? I didn't tell her what I was looking for.
  • Begin with the most polished piece you can offer.  Avoid the trap of "looking" for someone else's expertise or opinion. If you're unsure of your material, then you need to do more research. Use your most honest editor's eye to identify for yourself what you think your ms needs. Pitfalls to look out for could be structural, weak characterization, lack of organization, to name a few.
  • Know your craft. Rewrite accordingly, so that what you take to critique is your very best work.
  • Expect changes. Asking for other's opinions opens you up to varying points of view on your material. Take notes. Write down every comment, even or especially the comments you disagree with. Later, these comments might open up new pathways that, with time, might be easier to accept and run with, than when they were first presented.
  • Faced with a major rewrite after your work is 'torn apart?' The entire piece is swimming in red marks? That is frustrating and has happened to me many times. Best thing to do is take a break. Get back to work when you're well rested and feeling fresh. Be grateful that these changes have been found. "Fix" them. More critiques of the same piece might follow. Welcome them. Keep your mind on your goal and your critique partners will help you get there.
  • If you're having trouble with a passage, your critique group offers an excellent place to gather opinions.
  • Believe in yourself and your material. If you feel strongly about your piece, then the opinions of others can be received and utilized. But if someone offers their Personal Opinion (and even becomes emotional about what they say), BEWARE. Go home and weigh what each person said against your own expertise.
  • Get to know your critiquers. You might find that you value some opinions over others for various reasons. In rare cases, you might come across one or two jealous critiquers. One of my most painful experiences with critique groups was actually being pushed out. I was a new writer and was replaced by an experienced writer with connections. We had planned to attend a conference together before the big BLAST OUT. I went to the conference alone and had to see the ladies from my group eat together and browse the tables together. Oh, the pain of it all! Anytime anything like this has happened to me, I have learned to take a break, allow some distance to come between me and the problem; resume work after sufficient time has passed and my confidence is restored. (And try to remember that mistakes are my teachers.)
  • Remember: You are an entertainer whether you write fiction or nonfiction. Your material should make you want to sit on the edge of your chair; it's so poignant and exciting. Know your audience. Make your verbs strong. Make your prose clear; as if you're telling your tale to one person sitting on the other side of your table (who is smiling and loving your story).

You, the Critiquer
  • First and foremost, Be Kind and Be Sensitive to your fellow writers. Remember that they have poured their heart onto every page. View anything you have to say (or write) about another writer's work as a suggestion left to the writer to consider. Then, let it go.
  • Never criticize.
  • Begin with comments on what you liked about the piece. Then move on to how you think the piece could be improved.
  • Put yourself in the writer's place and offer only your most helpful ideas.
  • Trust your gut instincts. They're usually right.
A partial list of what to look for in Nonfiction:
Does the title grab you?
Does the opening make you want to read more?
Look for improvements on how the piece could better be organized.
Make sure facts can be backed up.
If the piece leaves you wondering about something, could it be added?
Are there any redundancies?
Is the piece wordy?
Did you explain everything well?
Are there photos to accompany the material?
Can some of the material be lifted from the main text and put into a sidebar?
Is the piece lively, entertaining and colorful?
Can the ending be chopped, if for a newspaper?
Fiction short list:
Does the beginning draw you in? Or could the story be started at a different point?
Does the main character appear soon enough? Is there enough dialogue in the beginning?
Does the story show and not tell?
Is there a beginning, middle and end? Can you form a circle from beginning to end?
Do the scenes flow and advance the plot?
Does each character have an arc?
Does your main character have a goal?
Does your story have conflict?
Is your story too predictable?
Did you explain everything well?
Does the main character grow and change by the end?
Would a different point of view, such as first person as opposed to third person, make the story more interesting?
Are there any shifts in point of view?
Does the dialogue sound natural?
Are there any description "dumps" where pieces of the information could be spread out, ever so briefly?
Does the story come to a satisfying conclusion?

Put on your Editor's Hat:
Best (but difficult) policy: When you finish, let your ms sit for a week. Work on something else. Come back to it and you will find changes. But they must be important changes, because you need to finish at some point and start sending your ms out. In recent years, when I've done everything I can, I've been sending my ms's to professional editors. The cost, often reasonable, is well worth it. 

On a personal note: My experience in different types of critique groups has been terrific except for the BLAST OUT group. In addition to my current critique partners, who are only a few but are experienced writers in my genre, I have readers, some with children, some without; but they all love to read. Their comments, coming from a reader's point of view, are always helpful and give me many great ideas.

Please leave a comment: Please let us know what your experience has been with your critique group(s).  Do you belong to a large group or have a few trusted readers?

Heart in snow photo courtesy of

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 100 articles for adults and children, and six short stories for children. Recently, she completed Joyce Sweeney's online fiction courses, picture book course and mystery and suspense course. She is currently working on several projects for children. Follow Linda on Facebook.

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