Manuscript Revision – Step 1

by Richard Perkins

Revision ToolsRevision: the word that makes aspiring authors cringe almost as much as synopsis. No doubt about it, revision is both painful and challenging, but a critical process to master for anyone who dreams of getting published.

In previous posts, I’ve already mentioned that I’m a fan of Holly Lisle’s One Pass Revision Process. Renegade’s Door wouldn’t be in the shape it’s in today without her method. With my current project, I’m… tweaking the process based on my experience with Renegade and an online critique group called Critters.

The picture above shows the essential tools of the revision trade: a hard copy print out of my manuscript, a blank notebook for notes and spare scribbling pages, and a comfortable pen with plenty of green and red ink refills (or two other colors of your choice). Why two ink colors? I’m glad you asked!

I think the One Pass method could benefit from a reading step. And not just reading, but critical reading, the way a critter would review a new manuscript submission, with fresh eyes. A critter doesn’t know the theme of your novel, or the character development arcs, or the timelines. They have to discover those story elements through your writing. If you’ve left big plot holes or timeline inconsistencies, she’ll be confused and ask questions. If you’ve written dialog that sounds stilted, he’ll circle it and note that it didn’t work for him. If you’ve changed character names or motivations without warning, a critter will catch that too. That’s very difficult to do on your own work, which is why I put the draft aside for three weeks after I finished it. I wanted to forget about it, so I could experience it the way a new reader would.

Now, I’m reading Eliza’s Story for the first time. I put my mental author in a darkened bedroom and close the door so he can get some much needed rest. I’m using my green pen the same way I would crit another author’s manuscript. I’m circling weak areas and rough prose, scratching characterization questions and continuity issues in the margins, not fixing problems but just noting them for the author to address later (with his red pen).

There you have it, step 1 in my revision process. This manuscript is about 70k words. If I was reading for pleasure that would take me a day or two at most to finish. But critical reading takes more effort. Once I’m ready to start step 2, I’ll write a post about that.

6 Responses to “Manuscript Revision – Step 1”

  1. I’m entirely with you on the waiting period, but I don’t like to work with a hard copy. I like to fix it as I go on the electronic copy and sometimes keep a side file with notes to go back and fix.

  2. Stephanie – If you can do major revisions in soft copy, more power to you! It’s much more environmentally conscientious. Unfortunately, I can’t do that. I need the hard copy on the desk and the pen in my hands. I can crit from soft copy, but scene chopping and shuffling are too difficult for me on the small screen. Maybe one day I’ll make it all the way into the 21st century. I also like your method of reading the manuscript aloud for catching weak writing and awkward dialog. I just have trouble doing it if the house isn’t empty! Cheers!
    PS – your site link pointed to again, but I fixed it for you.

  3. It’s filling it in automatically and I’m just not paying enough attention to catch it. I’m glad you are.


  4. Great ideas for revising. Revising is so hard. Sometimes I like to work with a hard copy and sometimes electronic. It is incredibly difficult to remember where you are from one page to the next–did you mention that in the last chapter now or not? Critters! Great!

  5. Patricia – Yeah, revising is probably my least favorite part of the writing process. I’ve just started working with Critters, but they come well recommended by the folks at Absolute Write Water Cooler forums. I’ve actually just finished my Critical Reading step, so I’ll write a post about step 2 soon!
    Thanks for reading!

  6. [...] set your manuscript aside, let it collect some dust, forgotten most of the details, and read it with fresh and critical eyes. You’ve scratched down your themes, plot summaries, and character arcs in your little [...]