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What tools do you use for revision?
Jessie Kwak
Posted: Wednesday, April 13, 2011 7:58 PM
Joined: 3/29/2011
Posts: 27

I've been doing a lot of revising lately, and I've slowly been collecting a set of "tools" that I use to help me spot problem places in my stories.

One is to look for certain words, like "that," and sentences that start with "There," etc.  I just came across a great article on "filter words" at Write it Sideways (, basically words like "to see" "to feel," and other words that distance your reader from experiencing the story by filtering it through your character's perspective.

What are some of the tools that you apply to your own work during the revision process?  I'm especially curious to hear how people approach character and plot revisions.

Posted: Thursday, April 14, 2011 2:54 PM
Joined: 4/6/2011
Posts: 31

On the line level, I have cobbled together a "kill list" of word I tend to use when drafting -- things like "very" and "somewhat". Some of it is just experience, as I learn to recognize my own bad habits and correct them earlier in the process.

For plotting, I have tried beat sheets, but I am not naturally inclined toward that sort of bookkeeping, so it's a bit of a struggle. I do write an outline, but the first draft can be relatively freeform - I don't want to spend too much time at that point making sure that I have observed niceties such as alternation of POVs. I'll be hitting that stage with the WIP in a few months, I hope.

Jessie Kwak
Posted: Thursday, April 14, 2011 7:24 PM
Joined: 3/29/2011
Posts: 27

Rebecca, can you clarify what you mean by beat sheets? I'm familiar with the term in theater, and I can see how it would transfer to fiction writing, but I'm curious what you mean more specifically.

I've been trying to put more time into plotting longer stories out beforehand, because revising them at a plotting level when I'm done can be a nightmare.
Posted: Thursday, April 14, 2011 11:20 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 216

One thing that I use is a "cuts" file. I cute out any superfluous stuff that I might want to keep -- or that might be an appropriate fit somewhere else in the book, such as backstory.

I think that everyone has his/her own unique way of revising. I took some of the comments that I got in my critique and implemented them throughout the novel consistently -- e.g., shorter sentences, less complex sentences. Basically, I looked for every sentence that I could possibly pare down.

This is the tough part for me, because it means examining everything under a microscope. It's hard, it takes a long time, and it can get boring at times.
Posted: Friday, April 15, 2011 12:28 PM
Joined: 4/6/2011
Posts: 31

@Jessie - I think this link explains how to apply it to a novel. (I didn't know it was a theater term, but that makes a lot of sense.)

I generally get about halfway through my book and get impatient with the process, though.
Jessie Kwak
Posted: Friday, April 15, 2011 4:27 PM
Joined: 3/29/2011
Posts: 27

Cool, thanks. It looks like one of those horribly-tedious-but-ultimately-useful things that you'd have to set aside a whole distraction-free weekend to do. I'll keep that in the toolbox.

@LisaMarie, I always have a "cuts" file, too. It's good to pillage for a stray bit of description, etc.
Posted: Monday, April 18, 2011 11:57 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 224

Interesting subject.

I have a rejects folder that I put cut scenes to. I also try to remove filler words, but my most effective method is to print out and circle, cross out and edit with a red pen, then take it and fix the file to match. It helps separate from what was typed versus what is actually read. Makes a pretty big difference for me.
Jessie Kwak
Posted: Saturday, April 23, 2011 4:26 PM
Joined: 3/29/2011
Posts: 27

Yes, printing out is huge. I always end up with a ms filled with pink scribbles (seeing so much hot pink makes me happier than seeing so much red, even though I'm not generally a pink sorta gal). I also use sticky notes in various colors to write myself notes, or to insert large chunks of text. Sometimes the scissors and tape come out, too.

I always did like craft time in elementary school.
Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2011 2:06 PM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 51

For minor revisions, I generally print the MS out (12 pt. courier new, double spaced, but then 2-up on each sheet to conserve paper) and then go through it with a red pen (or purple or blue or green, depending on my mood). When that's finished, I retype the MS, catching even more things as I go.

For major revisions, I start by outlining the entire thing (I sometimes outline before writing, but I generally end up deviating and don't always rewrite my outline when I'm on a roll). I mark up scenes that should be cut, scenes that should be added, and anywhere the story is deviating from the central conflict. Then I figure out which scenes are okay as-is (with sentence- or paragraph-level revisions) and which ones need to be rewritten entirely. If it's a really complex rewrite, I'll put everything into Scrivener so I can keep track of it all. Otherwise, I just rewrite based on a marked-up hard copy.

I've found retyping everything is a great way to pick up on even more things you might miss just reading through the MS. It's more time-consuming, but not by much (I can do minor revisions on a novel like this in a matter of a couple days, major revisions might take a week or two).

I'm also slowly switching over to the One-Pass Manuscript Revision method that Holly Lisle developed (, though tweaking it to fit my own needs. I hate revising (I don't mind line-editing, I just hate the big edits), so getting it down to a single pass is something I'm really working toward.
Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2011 9:10 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 245

The biggest tool I use for revision is a detailed outline. Chapter by chapter, scene by scene.
Posted: Friday, May 6, 2011 3:23 AM
rebecca's link didn't work for me, so i did a search of the site and i hope this is the article she was pointing to:
Posted: Thursday, May 19, 2011 5:19 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241

I use wordle too!

I have to say, my biggest tool for revisions is beta readers. I do a draft, clean it up as much as I can, then send it to a half-dozen people who I know will give me detailed, honest feedback.

Some of these people are in my target audience--lesbian college professors of literature and history, for example. Some are not--my father, for example. Some know the book industry well--my father, for example (retired after 40 years in book selling both retail and wholesale), some know nothing about it (those academics, for example).

I address absolutely everything these people tell me. And I sit on the parts I disagree with and come back to them later just in case I change my mind (I often do).

However much it hurts to hear my baby isn't as perfect as I thought, I know that the only way to make it better is to know what's wrong with it.
Angela Martello
Posted: Thursday, December 1, 2011 10:27 PM
Joined: 8/21/2011
Posts: 394

All my revisions are done electronically in Word (I try to avoid printing as much as possible). I keep all the earlier versions. When I'm ready to do major revising (paring down the text, moving text around, and so on), I copy the file and move it into a separate folder. For minor revisions (tightening up sentences, standardizing terms/names/finer details), I work in the same version. Because I edit fairly long medical monographs at work, I've gotten very good at identifying details that don't mesh (like the way a certain disease name has been abbreviated from one section to another or statements that seem to contradict each other). I apply the same copy editing and developmental editing skills I use at work to my creative writing.

Posted: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 3:06 PM

I  am speaking out loud my previous draft pages.   I made sure to put at least a week between drafts.  The changes just naturally present themselves.


I am re-writing two novels and posting as I move through the new drafts.

Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Tuesday, June 3, 2014 9:25 PM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 195

Character there a motivation true to character for every action, or did I at some point simply shove the character into doing what I wanted?   "Why did he/she do that?" is a question I ask whenever something feels "soft" or "plastic."  Motivations don't have to be spelled out for the reader in every case, but the behavior will only be believable if the reader can imagine that character having one that would lead that way.  If there's conflicted motivation (George is scared of snakes, but the only way to get to his son, who's fallen down a steep bank, is to go through thick knee-high undergrowth where he's seen snakes before) then is that conflict made clear (a case where the reader needs to have been prepped previously for George's fear of snakes and his love for his son.)   Is that character's story arc in order, or have I broken the suspense by putting in something I know (but the reader shouldn't yet?)   Does the character have agency--does the character act, and by acting move the plot, or is the character acted on, and moved by the plot?  (This can change in the course of a story, as part of character development, but in general characters with agency are more interesting than those without.)


Plot revision...Does the plot make sense in terms of the characters and the setting?   Would a person in that position (king, janitor, spy, clerk) react that way?   Would a person of that age, sex, race, etc.  be able to do "that" in the period and location where the story is set?   Does the plot depend on an impossibility (other than the accepted "black box" tropes in some genres.)   Readers may well be expert in areas the writer has not researched deeply...the American Civil War, horses, clothing styles, etc. are common areas of error.   Do causes come before effects,  and do all effects have causes?   Do characters' actions have likely (at least believable) consequences?    Is there--at the end--a clear linkage of cause/motivation for actions, and consequences that then become causes of the next link in the chain, so that the reader has the satisfaction of understanding how that first link--that letter meant for someone else, that casual decision to walk instead of taking the bus--started everything, like the first moving handful of snow that becomes an avalanche.