Have you ever read through your massive first draft and felt faint at the thought of having to revise it? Don’t worry if this is you. You are certainly not alone. The way I revised my 90k manuscript was by focusing on these five elements:
RELEVANCE – Weed out everything that is unnecessary. Ask yourself: Does this scene, dialogue, narration advance the plot/development of my story? If not, delete it—even if you absolutely adore what you’ve written. Sacrifices must be made. I, for one, omitted up to 10,000 words (with trembling fingers!) from my manuscript because it served no purpose to my story. Many other writers who have put their manuscript through intense rounds of editing would tell you the same story.
TONE – If I were to ask readers what the tone of Pride and Prejudice was, the immediate answer would be: light-hearted. If I were to ask readers what the tone of Wuthering Heights was, the answer would be: dark. Both works have consistent tones. For example, you would NOT find a scene of Mr. Darcy in the moor crying out Elizabeth Bennett’s name while tearing at his hair. It just wouldn’t suit. Hence, consistency is important! Keep an eye open for anything in your story that doesn’t complement the tone of your overall work. You don’t want any scenes to jut out awkwardly as if it had been cut out from another genre and pasted onto your manuscript.
CHARACTERIZATION – Make sure that the portrayal of your characters is consistent. Here is a simplified example: Cheated on by so many guys, Jane is shown to be jaded with men, and yet, one chapter later, she is desperately in love with John. Lame, I know. But see the contradiction there? We writers, as creators of fictional human beings, must play the psychologist. One thing I learned while revising is that it’s hard to pick up on these issues when editing one chapter per week. What will prove to be most helpful is to read your manuscript all at once. So book a few days off and read from start till finish with a red pen in hand!
SHOW, DON’T TELL – This is an advice writers will encounter everywhere. It is one of “THE” advices to writing a good fiction. Anyone can tell a story, but it takes effort to show a story. An example to illustrate my point would be something Sarah J. Maas picked up while editing my first five chapters. I had written down: “She was subjected to his indifferent stare.” Sarah asked me: “How does one look indifferent?” How, indeed? Maybe his expression was blank? The readers want to know.
HEAD HOPPING – Sounds fun, doesn’t it? It’s something I did (and still do) often in my writing. But it’s not fun for readers to read. It sometimes confuses the heck out of them (for an extreme case, try reading Virginia Woolfe’s To The Lighthouse). There are some published authors who are able to pull this off very well. I would recommend, however, sticking to the safe side by breaking the story into sections each time the “point of view” changes.
There will be moments when revising your manuscript will seem overwhelming. You might find yourself with an endless list of character inconsistencies, plot holes, and other errors that needs to be fixed. But don’t give up. Don’t let it suck the joy out of writing. Under the jumble of words there is a gem of a story that NEEDS to be told. Just take everything step by step and you will get through it all!
As quoted from Joyce Carol Oates’ book, The Faith of a Writer: “How to attain a destination is always more intriguing (involving, as it does, both ingenuity and labour) than what that destination finally is.”
If you guys have anything else you focus on when revising, feel free to share it, because I’m sure many of us (including myself) will benefit from it.
June Hur is the author of The Runaway Courtesan. She is currently awaiting the responses of two agents that requested a partial of her manuscript. When she is not working on her next book, she can usually be found at a book shop, searching for a Great Love Story to read and analyze. You can follow her on Twitter or through her blog.