Writing the first draft of your manuscript is only the beginning. You know that you’ll have to return to the pages and make some changes, but where do you start? There’s a lot more to revising than checking for typos and grammar errors (although, as you’ll find out, it’s important to fix those too). Here is my list of fourteen things that you can (and should) revise in your manuscript before you consider it done:
Is there enough backstory in your manuscript? Is there too much? Backstory is one of the trickiest things to get right, because it’s so easy to cross the line of over-sharing information. Information dumps can ruin a manuscript, but not telling the reader enough about your characters’ pasts can lead to plot holes and confusing conflict.
Revising Tip: Highlight all the background information in your manuscript and make sure there’s a healthy balance between it and the “current” story. Unless flashbacks are used as a narrative device, your backstory should take up no more than 25% of the total text.
#2. Character Development
Your characters should grow throughout the pages of your manuscript. Your story should show how a character has changed from the beginning. How do the events of your story impact the characters’ feelings and actions? A character’s personality needs to jump off the page, and the reader should have a good sense of who that character is (why they do what they do, how they act, what they look like) at the end of your story.
Revising Tip: To find out if the description of your characters on the page is how you envision them in your mind, ask your beta readers and critique partners to send you photos of celebrities that look like your main characters after they’re done reading the manuscript. This should help you determine whether or not you’ve accurately described your characters.
The main conflict of your story needs to be explicitly clear—the earlier in the book, the better. Hook your readers right away by letting them know what they should stick around for. The conflict is the central part of your story, so it’s important that readers know what to expect. Make sure the events leading up to the big reveal hint enough at high stakes to keep readers reading.
Readers like books because they transport them to another place (and maybe time). Don’t underestimate the power of description. You don’t need lengthy paragraphs of prose, but using a few, select words to describe your characters, your setting, and the object in the environment will make your story come to life.
This one is important if your manuscript doesn’t follow a traditional format. If your manuscript isn’t divided into regular chapters, or you have unusual things like pictures, time stamps, etc., now is the time to make sure everything is smooth.
This can always use revising. Dialogue is difficult to get right because we hardly ever write exactly how we speak. Make sure every section of dialogue sounds authentic. You also want to make sure the dialogue you’re including moves the story along—pointless conversation about the weather does not need a place in your novel.
Now is a good time to check for silly grammar mistakes. You can do a closer copy edit later on, but don’t pass over any mistakes you notice just because you plan to “get to it later.“
Does your novel move too quickly? Does it drag for a few chapters? Fix this. Your manuscript should have a consistent, quick pace to keep readers interested and move the story along.
Revising Tip: Have someone new read every draft of your manuscript. Don’t tell them anything about the story, and ask them afterwards if they struggled getting through any of the chapters.
#9. Plot Holes
This is probably the most important element to double check during early revisions. Does your manuscript cover all the little details? You don’t want to have any plot holes remaining at the end of the story (unless you intend to write a sequel that addresses whatever is missing). If you finish reading your manuscript and there are questions lingering, then you need to re-work your ending or take out some subplots that you don’t have time to complete.
#10. Repetitive Words
After you take a break from your manuscript, you’ll notice little things about it that drive you crazy. Repetitive words will be one of those things. You’ll most likely use the word “just” more often than necessary… and you’ll find your own writing quirks that need to go. Be aware of how often you’re using similar words next to one another.
Revising Tip: Use the search function to find common words and delete them from as many sentences as you possibly can. Your prose will sound much better without them.
Similar to checking for grammar mistakes, now is the time to fix any typos you notice while reading through your manuscript. A closer copy edit will inevitably catch even more mistakes later on, but don’t ignore the ones you spot now!
The voice of your manuscript should jump off the page. If you read a paragraph that sounds drab, consider re-writing it to show off more of your voice as the writer, or the voice of your narrator.
#13. Word Count
Your manuscript will probably benefit from losing a few thousand words. This is okay. Kill your darlings. Remove whatever does not benefit the story. Your novel will thank you for it.
The setting of your manuscript needs to be fully developed, even if you’re not writing a speculative fiction story. While fantasy and science fiction stories often require more worldbuilding than a contemporary story (for example), a believable setting is always necessary in a novel.
Revising Tip: Highlight all the worldbuilding elements as you read through your manuscript, then look at the information separate from the rest of the story. Is everything there that needs to be there? Have you shared everything with your readers?