Entire books have been written about the task of revision. Many of them are very useful, particularly when you get down to the nitty gritty. However, the most difficult part of revising is tricking your brain into seeing your work in a new way. Here are a few tips that might help you do just that.
- Firstly, take a break. Leave the manuscript as long as you can. Several weeks at least. And then come back to it. I guarantee you will see it more clearly than you did when you typed that last word.
- On a structural level, it can be difficult to see how your story flows when you are too close to it. One technique I use to trick my brain into seeing the story in a different way is to summarise each scene in a single sentence (yes, only one, don’t cheat!). Then run them together to see if they make sense as a story. This should quickly show you where there are gaps in your plot. It will also show you which scenes are irrelevant to the story and can be cut and whether some scenes are in the wrong order. An added benefit is that often you will realise what the real heart of each scene is and you can rewrite to intensify or clarify that.
- When I am writing a dual timeline story such as The Concubine’s Child, I like to separate the chapters in each timeline and print them out as two discreet stories. Each timeline should have complete character and story arcs. Really, I think they should work as novellas and be readable as standalone stories. If they don’t, then you probably need to go back to the drawing board.
- Ditto to trace the character arcs of each point-of-view character. If your novel is narrated from several points of view, I like to separate the scenes from each point-of-view character and read each in a single setting in order to gain a clearer perspective on each character arc. I may not get the whole plot, but I can see where there are gaps in each character’s story.
- On a closer reading level, my Australian agent, Jenny Darling, gave me a great suggestion several years ago that has worked very well for me. Print the manuscript out on a different coloured paper. Sounds simple, but it’s amazing how it gives you fresh eyes. Ditto, change the font. It really does help you see things freshly.
- Read your manuscript aloud. This is the best way to find clunky writing. You will find which sentences are clumsy, sound ugly or are poorly punctuated.