Revising the Monster-Of-A-First-Draft

4 Nov

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.


29 Responses to “Revising the Monster-Of-A-First-Draft”

  1. Kayleigh November 4, 2009 at 4:20 AM #

    Thank you for this post, I will definitely refer to this when revising my draft. (If I ever finish writing it…)

    I’ve never revised a first draft, because I never finish writing them, so I can’t give any advice. But I can give links to very useful websites on editing, which I have yet to use:


    PS: Thank you so much to everyone who created this blog. As an FP addict, it’s what I’ve been looking for.

    • junebugger November 4, 2009 at 2:25 PM #

      Oh! Thanks for the links. I’ll save these on my favorites.

      And you made OUR day with your last comment. It is very encouraging to know that you appreciate this blog.

      • Kayleigh November 4, 2009 at 4:09 PM #

        I just thought: what if you made a twitter account for this blog, for all us twitter addicts. And you could post little quotes about writing, or little updates that aren’t worth writing a whole post about, or if you find another author who used to go on FP, or if you find a promising writer on FP… Just a thought. 🙂

        Oh, and knowing that I made your day made me happy.

      • junebugger November 5, 2009 at 1:08 AM #

        oof you’ve read our mind!

        I believe one of the LTWF members is working on creating an account…. As soon as it’s ready we’ll let you guys know

  2. svonnah November 4, 2009 at 5:54 AM #

    What I struggle with most are filler scenes. Sometimes the action seems so tightly-packed that I want to space it out a bit, or if the characters are waiting on something I want to make the readers wait too, but too often this ends up with just some boring filler crap. It may feel weird, but you’ve got to learn to ‘cut the crap.’

    Something else I want to mention, also in concerns to timing, can’t really be helped but here goes: When I’m writing something particularly fine, for example a love scene or the climax to a story involving some big revelation, I write it very slow so that I can pay attention to the mood and the tone and explore the scene fully in my mind. So fifteen minutes later I have three sentences, and it FEELS like this scene goes on forever, but it’s actually only 3 lines. Something else to watch out for when you’re editing, lol.

    Great post, June!

    • junebugger November 4, 2009 at 8:20 AM #

      Actually I struggle a lot with the first issue you mentioned. While I wrote on my post that a writer must cut out the unnecessary scenes…at the same time…I often can’t help but add some in to set the story at the pace i want it to go.

  3. rachelsimon November 4, 2009 at 7:03 AM #

    Great post, June. I’m still writing my first draft, and I’ve been nervous to edit (when the time comes). This post made me realize that its not so scary if you look at it in parts (i.e. relevance, etc.)

    Good luck with the next step: querying! 🙂

    • junebugger November 4, 2009 at 8:22 AM #

      Thank you!

      I don’t know if this is the best way, but because I was so overwhelmed, I ended up focusing on one element in each round of revision. The first round was for relevence, second was tone, on so on.

      Good luck with your writing!

  4. Zerolr November 4, 2009 at 7:11 AM #

    I find it helpful sometimes to read it outloud to yourself. You tend to be able to catch the mistakes you didn’t see when you mentally read it to yourself. Also, reading it to someone else is good too.

    They can catch more things than you. And they’ll be able to tell you their opinion on the plot story or the character protrayal…

    • junebugger November 4, 2009 at 8:24 AM #

      Ah! Yes, reading out loud is very helpful, but I always forget to do that. Thank you for reminding me. As for reading it to someone else…I never did that….don’t you find it…awkward? …*nervous laughter*

  5. priscillashay November 4, 2009 at 9:21 AM #

    I just finished my 1st draft and I’m going back to edit it and the 5 elements you mentioned are of course the main ones. However, I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it like you did – addressing each concern in a different draft – because at times, the elements might overlap.

    Head hopping – I do three heads I think, but two main ones. I knew it would be confusing that’s why I either gave Jules his own – very short – chapter, or paragraph long interjections separated by ***

    Oh! And don’t completely delete things when you’re editing! They might come in handy later, or you might find a better place where it is relevant or the tone is correct.

    • junebugger November 4, 2009 at 2:28 PM #

      I know exactly what you mean. So in my first draft I allowed them to overlap. But in the next few rounds when it was…relatively….polished, I focused individually on one aspect. But every writer has different methods of revising 🙂

      Oh, head-hopping, I know you know, but Romance novels abounds with head hopping. So I thought it was ok. But readers on Authonomy kept pointing out that it was NOT. I don’t know what to believe. So I just try to stay clear of writing any

      And I agree with you also about not deleting completely what we’ve written. I just meant..deleting from the manuscript. Like you, or someone, said–recycle the writing!

      • priscillashay November 4, 2009 at 2:53 PM #

        Honestly, it IS okay because

        1) It’s your story

        2) You have references

        3) As long as it’s not done in every other paragraph you’re fine

        4) I think people get confused if you head hop between 3 or more characters. I read one novel (A Historical Romance, I just can’t remember the title) where the author not only gave the male and female protagonists’ POV’s, but also the bad guy, the bad guy’s henchman, one of the MC uncle’s and a brother. It was…confusing to say the least.

        5) And I think most of the people who told you it’s NOT okay…are use to single, first person point of view novels. Whereas I am accustomed to the dual third person protagonist point of views.

        Hmm yeah, that’s a lot.

      • junebugger November 5, 2009 at 1:09 AM #

        You just made me feel better *whew*

  6. Kate November 4, 2009 at 9:24 AM #

    That was very helpful, thanks! I think that the best advice on there is not being afraid to chop chunks of words that you may love but that serve no purpose, like you said. I think that’s going to be hard for me to do, but it has to be done!

    Thanks again for the great guide! I learned some new things from it.

    • junebugger November 4, 2009 at 2:30 PM #

      I wish you the best of luck with your manuscript! Keep us updated! And I’m very glad to know that you learned new things through my article.

  7. Alexandra Shostak November 4, 2009 at 9:55 AM #

    June–this is a great article! It’s really helpful, especially the way you break down the monstrosity of revising into some really easy cohesive steps.

    I would’ve never even thought to include head-hopping, since I always write in third person limited, but I completely agree with everything you said! You were the perfect person to write this 🙂

    Haha speaking of relevance, literally moments before I sent you my first 3 chapters, I sliced out an 800 word scene that I realized was irrelevant. I could just imagine you commenting and going “what’s the point?” and I was like “… dude, I gotta cut this” haha. 😛

    • junebugger November 4, 2009 at 2:31 PM #

      Yay! Thanks for your kind words *GRINS*

      Well, you cut out those 800 words really well, because everything flowed perfectly, from once scene to the next… Speaking of which, I’d better return to reading your ms right now! haha

      • Alexandra Shostak November 4, 2009 at 6:15 PM #

        Thank you! *blushes like a tomato*

        lol and SOMEONE needs to re-send me her first three chapters *g*

  8. sara November 4, 2009 at 11:45 AM #

    This article is definitely going into my favorites folder. Will DEFINITELY reference it when revising. Thanks!!

    • junebugger November 4, 2009 at 2:31 PM #

      I’m honored!

  9. Lynn Heitkamp November 4, 2009 at 1:14 PM #

    Great points, June. One other trick I tried during revision was retyping the whole thing. I took my print-out, with all its corrections, and started a new file. I think it helped me feel more like a writer and less like an editor, which helped with tone and characterization.

    • junebugger November 4, 2009 at 2:33 PM #

      Oh man…retyping the whole thing…i actually considered that once but thought it wouldn’t be any help, that it’d only waste my time. But you bring up a very good point there. I’m going to find some time one of these days to try rewriting

  10. sarahjmaas November 4, 2009 at 1:53 PM #

    Fantastic article! The thing about relevance is especially true: I’m a strict follower of the rule “Murder your darlings.”

    One of the hardest parts of revising is letting go of those pointless, but charming scenes that I adore. Cutting characters and subplots is another difficult thing for me. As I tend to write REALLY long books, my main concern is keeping the pacing as tight as it can be.

    Looking forward to your next post!

    • junebugger November 4, 2009 at 2:34 PM #

      That’s why I save those scenes/characters/narrations/dialogues in another file so I can reuse it again someday…. I just can’t part with it! Do you do that?

      • sarahjmaas November 4, 2009 at 3:03 PM #

        I save copies of EVERY draft, so I can always have the material, just in case I want to reuse it again!

      • Alexandra Shostak November 4, 2009 at 6:14 PM #

        I save a copy of every draft, too. I have these huge folders of former drafts that I’ve never looked at, but I’m always afraid I’ll need something from it.

      • junebugger November 5, 2009 at 1:12 AM #

        The memory space of my computer is probably comprised of abandoned drafts that I’m saving in hopes of reusing it in the future *shakes head*


  1. “Revising the Monster-Of-A-First-Draft” by Guest Blogger June H. « {Courage 2 Create} - July 19, 2010

    […] (Originally posted on Let The Words Flow) […]

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