Tuesday, October 26, 2004

How do you revise?

I'm working on revising this afternoon, and I realized that while I don't have a specific pattern to my revisions, I do look for certain problems in my writing. Here's what I look for:

1. Logic flaws or errors in the plot. No real need to explain this-- this is something all "pantsers" have to watch out for. If you don't outline first, there will tend to be logical flaws here and there.

2. Repetitive sentence structure. This is a huge problem with the way I write out a first draft-- I tend to start every sentence with a noun or a pronoun. As in, "He walked across the room. She watched as he came toward her. She saw the lust etched on his face." Okay, not quite as bad as that, but you get the general idea. When I edit, I go through the document and revise the sentence structure so it's much more varied, and so that sentences do not invariably begin with nouns and pronouns. It's amazing what a huge difference this makes, with a very small input of time and effort.

3. Repetitive language. You don't want your characters smiling three times in one paragraph, or even on one page. This is something that really bothers me in other people's writing, so I watch carefully for it in my own.

4. Weak words. Strong verbs are good. Weak verbs are bad. "He came toward her" is much better written as "he stalked toward her" or "he tiptoed toward her"-- any word that shows HOW he walked. Ditto with nouns-- it's not a dog, it's a wire-haired fox terrier. Or whatever. It is possible to overuse strong words, but most of us overuse weak words much more frequently.

5. Description. I go through a document looking for places I can add physical description, as this is something I am prone to skimping on (in the first draft I usually write more action and dialogue, and less description). Where are the protagonists in this particular scene? What does the room look like? What does the hero smell like? What does his voice sound like? I consciously try to add descriptions that engage all the senses, as I am unfortunately inclined to only providing visual description.

So there you have it-- what I look for that can be improved in the first draft of my documents. I do revise as I write, but not nearly enough, so I usually need to devote several days to the editing process after the book is finished.

If you're a writer, what about you? How do you revise?


  1. Ah, Ellen. You should write an article for you site about this. This post is fabulous!!

    I'm a pantser too, but I tend to search for the tone of a scene and then expand upon that, whatever that requires. I rely heavily on my cp's to catch repetition, passive phrases, and telling, which can be easily rectified without changing the atmosphere I created. I believe that's why I get "great storyteller" comments instead of "great writer" comments. :(

    But I'm learning what to look for, what common mistakes I keep making. I'm hoping that eventually I'll prevent the mistakes rather than catch them.

  2. Ellen I agree w/Sylvia!!! This is great!

    I'm doing a major overhaul so I put a lot of thought into the plot before I started so there's lots of plot fixing--i'd say 60-70%)

    I have to watch for repetitive actions. I'm good at using active verbs but I have to usually add description also and I have to watch for repetitive sentence structure (I really like the word AS a lot) and repeat words especially unusual ones--and as a CP I'm quick to pick up on them =(

    I finally have a system down though--I write, edit on hardcopy, send to cp's, edit again, print and edit on hardcopy one last time (whew).