(Let’s hope the Covey’s don’t sue)
One lesson I’m quickly learning as an author is the importance of learning to love the revision process. It’s such a big part of being a writer that if you don’t love it, it’s a tough career. But if you can learn to love revision, you’re going to have a blast.
For me it helps to follow a little formula. In an effort to make my revision process manageable, so I never feel like I’m biting off more than I can chew at a given time, I’ve come up with a set of seven revisions, which, if I follow them strictly, should get my book awesome. Sure, it means I’ve got to edit my book seven times, but by the time it’s ready, I’ll probably have edited it more than that anyway, right? Plus, when I follow the revisions in this order, I don’t end up correcting a bunch of grammar in a scene that will just be removed anyway.
So here they are:
1. Fill the Gaps Edit
As you were writing, you knew of places you would have to come back and fix or fill in. Fix those. Remember those places you wrote, “Bob says something really cool here that I can’t think of.” Yeah, fix those, too.
2. Shot-Gun Edit
Read straight through without stopping. You can keep a notebook handy for broad notes, but don’t note misspelled words or miss-formatted paragraphs. You’re looking for major plot holes, character inconsistencies, and overall character arc.
3. Character Edit
Chances are, your characters changed personality during the writing of your story. Now’s the time to decide exactly what each character is like and how they behave. Go through and make each consistent with the personality you decide on. Also decide exactly what each character’s arc looks like, and make their progression (or digression) consistent with that arc. Make sure every character (good and bad) has strengths, weaknesses, attributes, and flaws. Every character should have his/her own unique voice. Do a word search for common words like, “scared,” or “fast.” Every time they’re used in dialogue, appoint different words for each character. For example, Jane might say, “scared,” but Bob prefers, “frightened” and Mary usually says, “freaked out,” because each personality fits the word they prefer. When you do this with enough words, you’ll start to notice when a character’s actions don’t coincide with her personality, so those problems also become easier to fix.
4. Research Edit
Check your facts. Do police really behave that way? (And few books get police right.) Do cars actually do that when they crash? Is that word unique to 21st century American language even though my book is set in the 18th century? How would the climate in this area effect their efforts to search for the treasure? Though you don’t need to go overboard, everything, be it contemporary, romance, or fantasy, is researchable to some degree.
5. Structure Edit
Hold your story up to the 3-act Hollywood structure and the seven point story structure. Check each scene: make sure each has a purpose. A scene is a situation in a particular point of view and place at a specific time. When any of those things change (POV, place, or time), it’s probably a new scene. Consider each scene a short story, with it’s own small arc. You don’t have to follow any of these structures to the letter, but keeping them in mind will help you develop a strong structure that your readers will unconsciously grab onto.
6. Line Edit
Word searches are your best friend on this edit (ctrl-f in Windows and Linux or cmnd-f in Mac) Do a word search for all your overused, underused, misused, clichéd, and pet words. Do a full spellcheck. Look for qualifier words, like “very,” “so,” and “slightly.” Look for exclamation points. Look for “ly” words. Look for words like, “big,” “little,” “small,” “fast,” “quick,” and any other super common adjectives to see if there are opportunities for metaphor, description, or unique phrasing. Clean up passive voice (doing some of these word searches will help with that a lot). Look for examples of telling and change most to showing. Find terms like, “I saw,” “He thought,” and “She noticed,” and replace them with the thing seen, thought, or noticed. These are almost always telling. Do another check for your most common their, there, they’res and too, to, twos. Make a note of the ones most common in your writing. Just be careful with ctrl-f searches to not make “change all”s unless you’re sure it won’t turn all “the queen bees” into “Queen Elizabeth bees” (true story). Make sure paragraphs are indented properly. Make sure chapters have proper page-breaks rather than a bunch of “enters.” Make sure you have names of places and people capitalized, and species names lowercase. Most of all, just read through the book from the beginning and make sure it’s all good!
7. Visual Balance Edit
Make it look nice on every page. You want a reader’s first time flip of the book to catch his attention and get him interested in the book no matter the page. Make sure you have plenty of paragraph breaks. Make sure there are chapter and section headings to keep things looking interesting. Make sure there are enough chapters to give a sense of forward movement without diluting that effect by having a new chapter on every page. A good chapter rule of thumb is to have a chapter per scene. You can also use an occasional white-space between paragraphs to provide further balance and interest, or if you need more than one scene in one chapter.