Revision Show and Tell: What Tricks Do You Live By?

I confess. I don’t like first drafts. Working out the story, initially, is always the hardest part, for me. When it works out, it’s great, but most the time, it’s a slog that requires hard work and persistence that’s sometimes really hard to stomach.

To me, the best part is the rewriting–taking what was meandering and barely readable and turning it into something entertaining that other people might actually want to read.

Of course, when that’s done, the story is down, all the plot and character issues are worked out, and the book is revised, and re-revised, it’s time for some polish. As Kylie mentioned in her post on Editing, just re-reading the manuscript isn’t enough. To really polish our works of art, we often need help. Everyone’s got their little tricks for everything from pacing problems and varying sentence structure to catching typos. Clancy told us about using “The Writing Code,” and that got me to thinking. What other tricks are helpful for catching those little things that keep our stories from really shining?

I’ve collected some over the years. Here are a few of my favorites.

  • Reading the story aloud
  • Probably the best way to catch problems with rhythm and flow. If you stumble over anything, it probably needs to be revised.
  • Using Word’s Find/Replace feature
    • This is helpful to locate those words I use too often, fixing spacing problems, finding to-be verbs so I can change them to active voice, or any other problem I know normally crops into my stories without my noticing.
  • Reading the manuscript in different mediums
    • It’s amazing the things you find when you turn a Word document into a PDF or print it out.
  • Reading the manuscript backwards
    • This is a handy trick to find typos because you can’t get lost in the story.
  • Creating a scene cheat sheet
    • You can use a simple note card, an Excel list, the keyword feature in Scrivener, or whatever works for you. This is basically just a list of what plots are being serviced in each scene, so you can tell which scenes are pulling their weight are which aren’t.

    So, it’s Show and Tell time. What tricks work best for you?

    6 responses on “Revision Show and Tell: What Tricks Do You Live By?

    1. ChrisWhiteWrites

      Aha! Scrivener is the name of that program! I’ve been trying to remember for days now, I definitely need it for my novella, The Gods, They Feast. On Men. Especially because the story is not told continuously from the one perspective, nor is it told in chronological order. I’ve been thinking about rewriting it all in chronological order and from each perspective separately, and then chopping it up and inserting the fragments where I want them.

      I am also a compulsive FIND/REPLACE user, it’s always open whenever I’m writing. I think the best feature is that you can find not only individual words but entire phrases as well – but the two things I find help me the most are to print the document out each step of the way; I find that seeing it away from a computer screen enables me to make more pertinent edits (and sometimes just shake my head and wonder what exactly I was trying to do.) And I’ll definitely try the reading it backward method out as well.


    2. Francis Bruno

      When I finish a draft with Scrivener, I always:
      1) use the read aloud feature and follow along as it reads. It finds lots of stupid little issues and things that just don;t sound right.
      2) I always do a quick search for it’s since I still occasionally mess it up. (I’ve been an engineer for 20 years and only writing for 2. Grammar is not my strong suit yet.)
      3) then compile and run through word grammar checking to find any stupid things I did. I think I only fix about 50% of what it finds, but it does help with comma splices and other minor issues.

      Then to my wise readers from Uncle Orson’s bootcamp 2011.

      Finally to Codex to get a few more eyes on it.

      This is strictly for short stories as I am currently on my quest to win WOTF. I’m sure my novel writing will follow a similar vein. when I start my next one.


    3. KylieQ

      I have a love-hate relationship with first drafts. I’m currently working in Scrivener for the first time and I’m loving the way it is so easy to move scenes around. I’m ignoring the idea of chapters at the moment and just thinking in terms of scenes so Scrivener is really useful for being able to look at one scene at a time and also for getting an overview of the entire structure.

    4. Leigh

      Chris, printing it out is very useful to me, too. I even notice that I catch things when I just change from Word to PDF. Weird how that works.

      Francis, I haven’t tried the read aloud feature, but I figure if I fumble or a sentence seems like an uncomfortable mouthful (and I’m the one who wrote it) that’s a definite sign I need to rework something. I’m leary of computers reading things aloud, simply because inflection and tone can impact whether it sounds correct or not.

      Kylie, the corkboard in Scrivener is my all time favorite things when working on a revision. It makes shifting things around sooo much easier.

    5. David Carrico

      One trick that I stumbled on almost by accident is to make a copy of my work file, then do a global change from the original font selection to some other font, something radically different yet still readable. Since I usually compose in either Times New Roman or Arial, I usually convert to Courier. The change of appearance makes the text look new and fresh to the mind and eye, and problems just jump out at me that my eyes simply glided over in the original file/font. And it works whether I work on-line or print a hard copy to take my red pen to it.

      I make a copy because I often have multiple fonts in my work due to replicating something like a newspaper article, for example, and I have on occasion found that flipping to a different font then flipping back doesn’t necessarily restore the file to its original condition.

    6. David Carrico

      And I usually do a Find on ly, to force myself to examine all the occasions I used adverbs in my fiction. I usually delete 90% or more of them.

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