Congratulations! You did it! You rocked the writing world with your bada$$ word count in November. Sit back, relax, and enjoy a bit of rest.
Okay, that’s enough. Are you ready to revise?
Your NaNoWriMo novel will most likely need several rounds of editing and revising before it’s reader worthy. This four step plan for the initial revision process is focused and easy to follow.
Step 1: Proofreading for Content
What this means is the author does a read through of the entire manuscript. Some authors will read it silently, but reading it aloud is more effective. Proofreading the writing aloud forces the writer to slow down and concentrate on the rhythm, pitch, and tone of the words and passages. During this read aloud, passages that seemed witty on paper may reveal themselves as klunky or cliché. Other things that might be noted are holes in the plot, or characters acting out of character.
Although it’s tempting to fix these errors right away, now is not the time. Simply mark the passage needing work, and continue reading. This will keep the rhythm flowing and allow the author to maintain focus on the content, rather than trying to untangle problems.
After the story has been read aloud in its entirety, then the writer can go back and rewrite sections that need it, delete sections that serve no purpose, and add details and subplots that need development.
These are the things to focus on during the proofreading for content stage.
- Does every scene move the plot forward?
- Are there any holes in the plot?
- Are there any loose ends that need to be finished?
- Do characters maintain a stable identity (except for personal growth and change that is part of the plot), throughout the story?
Step 2: Proofreading for Tension
In this step, the author should have already made some revisions to improve the manuscript, and now a closer reading is needed to check for overall tension and microtension. Microtension is the uncertainty that keeps a reader reading from one sentence to the next, one paragraph to the next, one chapter to the next. In this second reading, things that are predictable will be easier to spot.
Also, in the case of a mystery or thriller, red herrings and foreshadowing can be refined. Red herrings should lure the reader toward a logical conclusion, albeit incorrect, but not give away the solution. Also, they must not be too obvious, or else the reader will spot them, making the mystery a less enjoyable read.
Step 3: Copyediting a Book for Grammar and Syntax
This step is the most basic of the editing revising process. Checking for usage, proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation is something that can be done with a silent read. Mistakes may also be corrected as the writer moves through the manuscript. Using reference tools such as the book, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King, or Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style will help during this process.
Step 4: Polishing the Writing
This step is the most creative of all four. This is when the writer can use all the tips and tricks of figurative language to create imagery and emotion that will envelop the reader in the fictional world. Studying the work of writers who do a good job of evoking mood will help a person learn to do it well. It takes an ear for language, but it also is something that can be learned. The book Word Painting, A Guide to Writing More Descriptively, by Rebecca McClanahan is one that may help.
There you have it. This four step process for editing and revising a story takes time. You’ll want to go back over your novel to fix problem areas, perhaps several times. However, you can’t rush an error free, tightly plotted novel that sparkles with the high shine of fine writing.
Again, congratulations on completing the first draft! May the Goddess of Writing help you craft it into a masterpiece.
This is an adaptation of an article I published with Suite101 in 2010.
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