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Revise your own writing

Updated: Feb 27

...but make it an enjoyable experience. Revision, re-reading re-writing, polishing your novel - whatever term you use or method you follow - it need not be a daunting task.

In an earlier post I described how REVISION is not only an essential part of improving your writing, I actually found it enjoyable.

However, if you are one of those who find that having to plow through your 200-page work of art from start to finish is a chore, these ideas may help.


The key is to break the process down into TYPES of revision. Here are some examples.

Enjoy your own writing
Revisionist writing

* Revise your dialogue - particularly sections rich in conversation

Ask yourself:

- are my tags necessary in parts? repetitive? unnatural? requiring qualification using adverbs?

- are they consistent?

By this I mean the use of "double quotes" or 'single quotes', italics rather than quotes? or even preceded by a hyphen? Are they consistent in terms of how they fit within paragraphs?

Some writers prefer to contain dialogue within long paragraphs of description or general run of storytelling; others consciously start a new paragraph as each character speaks.

Does your dialogue sound like real people having a conversation?

The best way to test this is to read dialogue out loud (even if you do this silently in your head, to yourself, but making sure your lips don't move!)

Have you given certain key characters a different 'voice'?

At it's most extreme, you would use a different style and level of vocabulary depending on whether it was (say) a Devonshire farmer talking or a London stock-broker.

It's your choice as to how far you take this.

Personally I find it a difficult effect to carry off well without it appearing 'strained'. You may fair better than me.

TAKE A BREAK: As you can see, by just training the spotlight on one aspect of your writing, there is a lot to consider.

All the more reason for breaking the whole revision process down into separate exercises.

Difficult roads - the writer's burden and reward
It's the journey that counts!

Here is another.

* Are your characters strong enough?

Most readers find characters very often 'make' the story come to life, warming to the 'goodies' and hating the 'baddies'. For some people, well constructed characters are the reason they follow certain writers, or continue reading a book by a writer new to them.

In lots of cases, characters that hold a reader's interest can compensate for a thin plot.

A simple way to improve your story is to make characters believable ('I know someone like that'), putting them in situations so that - for characters with whom you are expected to sympathize - you laugh when they laugh, and you cry when they cry. That sort of thing.

So, what is the plan?

Start at the point you first introduce a character

Have you presented them in a way that is compatible and consistent with the part they play in your story? Are they credible? Does your description match their role?

Does your character change with the story?

As your story enfolds, bringing about change, does your character change along with the changing circumstance?

Conversely, if circumstances in the story change and your character does not bend with them, explain why, allowing the reader insights into the character's emotions, beliefs, behaviour so that we understand the character better.

Are relationships between characters clear?

If your story is a family saga with several characters involved, are their relationships with each other clear enough? Are there too many characters involved so that your plot becomes vague or confusing?

This is your chance to 'weed out' a character or two if necessary.

Build on your characters

Use major events as opportunities to build on your characters, so that we learn more about them in different situations - much the same as you might become closer to someone you thought you knew, but now know better having witnessed how they responded to the exception.

This method requires you to scan your writing at a more superficial level, before zoning in on a particular event or section, which you use as your 'opening' for exploring and describing the character further.

Author's note: In my revisionist western novels, Wild Hearts Roam Free and Wild Hearts Find Home, I take one character with a minor role at first - Amitola - and, because I write by the seat of my pants (not planned), I was able to make him central to the final chapters and ending.

* Are your locations important to the credibility or understanding of the story-line

If so, have you described them well enough?

This should not mean you treat every place in your story as requiring a 'travelogue' treatment. Nor need you provide a road map, street map, or any form of illustration** to assist your writing.

(However, many novels do include this kind of reference material - even some classics - so, if it's crucial, do so. e.g. William Boyd** in The Romantic)

Location descriptions can begin gradually and build. The important thing is not to bog down the rest of the storytelling with masses of detail.

Describing - or even inventing - a location (even a 'world') is almost an essential in some series.

Use the same principles for developing locations as you might do for characters.

* Revise your own writing - lengths of sentences and/or paragraphs

Consistency in style is probably the watch word here, if only to ensure that you carry your reader along with you.

Breaks between writing sessions, if left too long, may lead to this. If you are 'in a different place' from one session to the next, that could come out in your writing, leading to inconsistencies.

Sometimes short sentences and not so long paragraphs are advisable where you need pace in the action, where short, crisp 'bites' of description or dialogue help to build drama and excitement.

* Grammar and sentence construction - breaking the rules

Consistency is important here also. See what I have said about how to present dialogue.

We tend to adopt our own 'code' when it comes to style - if you have a defined code, stick with it. (Check out Cormac McCarthy and All the Pretty Horses, where the author has made his own rules when it comes to dialogue.)

Vary what you write and when you write
Take a break from writing - tomorrow

TAKE A BREAK: Again, this may not need you to read the whole story from start to finish, line by line. You should be able to pick out parts that require adjustment - e.g. breaking up a long paragraph into two at a point where it might naturally diverge.

Not all writers agree on length of sentence or paragraph, or even sentence construction.

Some even 'break the rules' for dramatic effect. The only person who can say what is right or wrong is YOU, so don't allow convention alone to 'bully' you to writing in a way you find uncomfortable.

* Readers deserve a good beginning and a great ending

Experts say that these are both equally important.

A poor beginning may cause more people to stop reading; a poor ending may leave people 'flat' or disappointed - leading to poor reviews!

Take extra time re-reading and perfecting BOTH these aspects of your story.

(SEE also what I have to say about writing the beginning of the story last.)


There is a lot in the above - so tackle each principle, address each feature ONE AT A TIME.

Also - take them in the order YOU prefer. Dialogue before Character; Character before Dialogue - it's your choice.

Above all else -


The first edition of Those Italian Girls was slammed by one critic - so I re-read, re-wrote, and re-published it from start to finish.

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