Using a Revision Outline during your Novel Editing

This post is the thirty-fifth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

Over the past several posts, I have written about the many different drafts your novel will go through and some of the different editing techniques that you can use to reduce wordiness or strengthen your novel.

And when I have done a majority of my changes and am on what I am hoping is my final draft, I find I need something to keep me on track and remind me of all the areas that I need to focus on.

I am unsure where I got this revision outline. I believe it was condensed down and adjusted one from an online writing class I took years ago. But it serves its purpose and ensures I do a complete job of editing on my final draft.

Even though the notes say to do only one of these at a time, I typically do several at once working on each chapter separately.

Revision Outline

Do only ONE step at a time. If you find another area that needs work – mark it and then continue with the current fine-tuning project. Work in block sections (defined by chapters). Complete each “block” before going on.

Structure – develop a clear, compelling plot.

a.)    Look for scenes that are passive/dialogue with no tension.

b.)    Scenes that don’t build or are anti-climactic.

NOTES: Each scene has a beginning, middle and end – there must be a climax/tension spot for each scene – make sure dialogue scenes have tension and are not just “passing time.”

Texture – Sharpen descriptive passages to make characters, setting, and action more vivid – SHOW, DON’T TELL

a.)    Look for too much/too little description

b.)    Clichés

c.)    Too many adjectives/adverbs

d.)   Information dumps

e.)    Background or setting info in the wrong place

Dialogue – Elicit character personality through conversation

a.)    Look at taglines (placement, too many, too few, too much extra information)

b.)    No information dump

c.)    Bland or melodramatic lines

NOTES: Read dialogue aloud to make sure it sounds natural/realistic.

Editing – Tighten pace and continuity

a.)    Look for repetition through implication

b.)    Remove slow passages

NOTES: Cut, cut, cut! Don’t repeat what the reader already knows or what is implied elsewhere. Be ruthless! Tighten up the copy without fear of shortening the novel.

Blending – search and destroy any weakness.

a.)    Look for soft spots – unclear character motivations, actions that seem contrived.

b.)    Fix by expanding or adding a scene so the novel flows.

Hopefully this outline helps you with your revision but feel free to adapt it to what does fit your style of editing and revising.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

#22 – Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

#23 – Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

#24 – The benefit of research in fiction writing

#25 – Novella or Novel, Trilogy or Series – decisions for writers

#26 – Avoiding Plot and Character Clichés

#27 – Novel Writing – Endings and Epilogues

#28 – Fantasy Novel Writing – World Building, Dragons, Magic and More

#29 – Finishing your First Draft

#30 – Your Second Draft and Beyond

#31 – Picking Stronger Words and Watching out for Homonyms

#32 – Omitting unnecessary words in your novel

#33 – Beta Reader, Proofreaders and Copy Editors

#34 – Knowing your grammar or at least using a grammar checking program

Editing a Novel Recap

proofThis week is Spring Break for my kids. As we have activities planned each day, I am going to take the easy way out and instead of writing something new, I am going to do a recap of some of my posts on editing your novel.

First Draft: Editing and Writing at the Same Time – One of my past posts was about writing your first draft. My advice to new writers was to just begin writing and not worry about editing until you had everything down. And this is great advice, but it isn’t how my first draft goes. (To read more, click here.)

Working on my second draft – I finished the first draft on my current work in progress at the end of September. Now to many a first draft is just getting the story down.

If you use an outline and plotted out your story, it might be in good shape. Or you may have just written whatever came to you and have a lot of work to do before reaching the final product. (To continue reading, click here.)

Trimming unnecessary words during my third draft –  In October, I wrote about starting my second draft, which was all about fixing story errors and concentrating on the continuity of the storyline. In November, I began the third draft which is mainly about tightening my writing. (To trim unnecessary words, click here.)

(This is obviously an important topic as I have written on it twice – once when completing Destiny and again when I finished up The Heir to Alexandria.)

Trimming excess words from your novel – As I am editing my latest work, Destiny, I noticed that my word count keeps decreasing as I polish the sentences and remove many unnecessary words.

I have found that one word I used a lot in my original draft which is totally unnecessary is “that.” Now there is nothing wrong with this word, but often it can be cut without any loss of meaning to the sentence. (To read more, click here.)

Focusing on Content Editing –  I have discussed writing your first draft and even doing some editing as you write, but today I wanted to talk about content editing. This is where you aren’t fixing just wording or punctuation but looking more at the plot and characters. (To learn more, click here.)

Using a revision outline to guide editing your novel – Last week, I posted about content editing your novel. In the post, I mentioned that I use a revision outline, so I wanted to share that with you today. (To see the revision outline, click here.)

Picking stronger words – Today’s blog topic comes from helping my son do his homework last week. One of the assignments was to replace the verbs with stronger ones. (For help choosing stronger words, click here.)

Using beta readers to improve your novel – You have written your novel and been through it many times tweaking and perfecting the plot and scenes. You just know it will be well received. But if you think it is ready for publication now, you are missing a valuable step in the self-publishing process. As a writer you have been too close to your work. You may have not caught plot inconsistencies or realized the characters aren’t staying true to themselves. One of the best ways to catch these errors before submitting your work to an editor is to have your manuscript read by a – or better yet several – beta readers. (To continue reading, click here.)

Hopefully, you will find some useful information in these posts. And I promise a new post will be up next Thursday.


Focusing on Content Editing

I have discussed writing your first draft and even doing some editing as you write, but today I wanted to talk about content editing. This is where you aren’t fixing just wording or punctuation but looking more at the plot and characters.

In a content edit you might…

1.)    Flesh out a character’s back story – in appropriate places, of course.

2.)    Flesh out setting and character descriptions. You add the details that will make your world a little more real. You explain your character’s actions so their choices make sense.

3.)    Adjust a line of dialogue so it sounds more like the character’s voice or stays on target with the conversation and you ensure that all characters don’t talk alike.

4.)    Double check which characters are in a scene and where they are located in that scene. (Val is on the couch by the fire, and then he is leaning against the wall or pacing.) If you have a large cast of characters, you can keep a spreadsheet of where each is located at any point in the story. I did this while writing The Elemental trilogy since the protagonist, her cohorts and the antagonist were almost always in different locations.

5.)    Add in a subplot or flesh out one in your current draft. This of course can change MANY scenes and will require a lot of attention to what happens where and when but can make you novel more complete.

6.)    Make sure that there is a substantial conflict in your story and that the tension rises as the story progresses.

This round of editing is not the final round. And with each read of your novel, you will probably find more content edits to make. (This is one good reason to use Beta Readers as they routinely catch these types of errors.)

I find it easiest to do content editing in stages by chapter. I have a checklist I go through that helps not only with content editing but helps reduce wordiness and stuff like that. (Check back next week and I will share that revision outline.)

Just remember not to become overwhelmed with editing your novel. Each round of editing, each draft of your novel is hopefully bringing you closer to having a well-written, well-developed novel.