Revision and Self Editing

by Marcie Schwindt

Image: ningmilo / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I was thinking about what I might want to include in my handout for our upcoming round-table discussion on Revision and Self-Editing. So much of my process is on auto-pilot now, that I just do these things as I go without really thinking about them. But have I become complacent, forgotten any steps? If I had a physical list in front of me as I wrote, would I make better choices, reducing the amount of revision and editing needed later? Honestly I expect the reason I don’t already have one is because I believe a judgmental piece of paper taunting my every word choice would stifle my creativity and bring the writing machine to a grinding halt. Nevertheless, the idea of creating a checklist to share is an exciting prospect, and no doubt a valuable tool for when I finally finish this draft of my WIP.

To get into the right mindset, I first wanted to clearly define for myself what those two terms meant, and how they differed.

For me, revision means a new draft resulting from a change to a big picture element. For example, my main character is in her mid-twenties. If I were to change her age to early fourties, a fair amount of the story would change. Characters would react differently to her, her behaviours and attitudes would change. Her vocabulary would change. I would have to comb through the entire manuscript and recreate the story to accommodate all the changes resulting from that one variable.

Editing, on the other hand, is localized. Restructuring sentences, adding in commas, or changing the name of a walk-on character doesn’t affect the story concept as a whole. The result of editing is cleaner, easier to read copy, not a whole new story.

Once I understood what the words meant to me, my next step was to identify which writing elements fit under which category.

Revision
(Big-picture elements)
Editing
(Localized update)
  • Primary & Secondary Character attributes (includes Backstory and Dialogue)
  • Conflict and Stakes
  • POV and Voice
  • Plot (includes scene order)
  • Pacing and Passage of time
  • Believability
  • Appropriateness for intended reader
  • Theme
  • Spelling, punctuation, grammar
  • Setting (unless the setting is a character)
  • Transitions
  • Opening and ending scenes
  • Word choices and clarity
  • Flow
  • Clue placement
  • Descriptions and sensory detail (includes show vs tell)
  • Tense
  • Minor characters
  • Suspense/tension
  • Movement
  • Formatting

Did I miss anything?

The final step is putting this altogether to document a process that will make me look far more organized than I am (which I will use as my handout for the meeting).

What’s your revision and editing process? Does it change based on the piece type (poetry vs prose, fiction vs non-fiction, etc.) or length? Can you do it as you write, or do you leave it all to the end? How many drafts do you need to get it right?


Marcie Schwindt makes stuff up for a living and loves every minute of it.

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