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

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 start with, I looked at removing those unnecessary words and removing or changing words that I use too often. From my previous list and another one I found on the internet, I picked about 42 words to search out in my manuscript. I think as I went through these words I added 8 more words to the list.

proofBy using the Find feature in Word, I pulled up these words and then decided if they were necessary. Often they were not, and I deleted them or reworded the sentence. When I started, my novel was 101,355 words. I cut about 2,000 words. I can’t even begin to tell you how many words I ended up changing, but it was a lot.

I have the habit when I am writing my first draft to use my characters’ names a lot but as I clean up my novel, I replace those names with she, her, he or him as needed.

Another word I over use is “that.” I started with 956 and ended up deleting 300 of those.

After deleting or changing the words on my list, I began going over each chapter with my Revision Outline. This helps me review each section for structure and blending. I review dialogue and work on tightening the pace.

The outline instructions say to do each step one at a time, but I usually end up doing multiple steps at once. I also run my grammar program on each chapter when I am done with making my revisions.

Every so often – about every 10 chapters – I would go back and read aloud what was written. This is a great way to make sure everything sounds good. You can see if dialogue flows. And sometimes you catch that you use a word too often. I noted once that I had the word “room” five times in just three sentences. Needless to say, I changed that.

I am just finishing up the third draft. When I started, my novel was at 101,355 words. After the third draft, it has been trimmed down to 95,723 words. Yes – 5632 words were cut, but I know this is a better version of my story. It isn’t about how long your story is. It is about writing a good, compelling story.

Now this draft is not my final one. After I get done making my changes, I will put it away for a few days and come back at look it with fresh eyes. Then I will read it again – probably aloud. I will also have my husband read it. He likes having the computer read it to him as he makes any notes of things that are rough or need work but at this stage that shouldn’t be much.

After that…it will be time to publish this baby!

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.