Manuscript Revisions and Editing

So, I finished my first draft of this current manuscript. As I mentioned in the previous post, it’s pretty rough, so I go through several rounds of “fixing” before I call it done. Quick side note: I’ve heard many discussions about the difference between revisions and edits. I’m going to use both in this post and hopefully explain what I believe are the most widely accepted industry definitions. But please form your own opinion. J

I have an Excel spreadsheet checklist I use to finish the manuscript once the first draft is complete. I basically have three major stages and I try to put a plan in place prior to starting. This means is I look at the list and determine if all the chunks fit this particular manuscript, alter the list accordingly, and put goal end dates for each section.

Stage One:

  1. Make copy of MS (I keep copies so I can compare to the original)
  2. Read entire MS and make notes using comment feature
    1. Note areas of research needed
    2. Note pacing issues
    3. Note areas to cut
    4. Note clumsy or passive wording
    5. Note dropped threads, unclear event sequence, anything “off”
  3. Prepare Scene Map (spreadsheet which is a scene by scene breakdown of word count, timeline, GMC, characters, setting, etc. Yes. It’s a LOT of work, but worth it)
  4. Gap analysis – is it on the page?

I don’t make any change to the manuscript at this point, only notes. Okay, I confess, if there is something just really glaringly obvious that is an easy fix, like a missing word or a homonym, I fix that. I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I didn’t. Once I’m done with all of this, I move on.

Stage Two:

  1. Comments, research, cutting, etc from notes above
  2. Desire pass – what is the scene goal and is it on the page? What are the conflicts? Do I have both inner and outer GMC in the scene? Is the resolution or next step clearly laid out?
  3. Emotional pass – what are my characters feeling, what do I want the reader to feel?
  4. Romance pass – punch up romance sensory images, add sexual tension, the emotional conflict
  5. Subplot/Secondary Characters pass – look at scenes with only the subplot and only the secondary character in isolation (hello scene map! Told you it was worth it)
  6. Sensory pass – ensure the readers can hear, see, smell, touch and taste the scene and the mood is properly communicated. Highlight three descriptors in scene
  7. Dialogue tags pass – Move dialogue from middle of paragraphs. Avoid the talking heads in your scenes. Are your characters in motion? What are they doing?
  8. Genre issues
  9. Wording is clumsy

Now, I know my list, so when I’m doing my read-through, I actually note all the stuff in stage two as I see it. I also have it color coded in my head so I know when I see something highlighted in green, it’s clumsy or repetitive wording and blue is sensory. I did steal learn that from Margie Lawson, thank you for asking. I also know myself and I miss stuff, so that’s why I have dedicated passes for each one of these things – so I can look at it analytically. This chunk is what I call revising. Making sure the story is good structurally. I do clumsy wording last, by the way, because I have the capacity and indeed, the certainty, of screwing up the wording with any of these passes so I have to do it last.

Once I’m through all this, I send the manuscript to be read because I’m so mired in it, I can’t see the forest for the trees. Plus, I want to make sure the story IS actually good before I move on. There’re almost always sections of the manuscript that are poorly motivated or confusing to someone else, so I fix those. Once I get the thumbs up, I go on to edits.

Stage Three:

  1. Overused words
  2. That, even, than, stand up, stood up, sat down, sit down, somehow, both, semi-colon, would, could, should
  3. Adverbs -ly(space) -ly. -ly,-ly!
  4. Passive words – as, was, wasn’t, were, weren’t, did, didn’t, have, haven’t, is, isn’t, are, aren’t, been
  5. Deep POV words – felt, feel, wonder, realize, occur, seem, appear, look, knew, know, thought, watch, decide, hear, heard, found, discover, recall, hope
  6. Sentences starting with It
  7. She, heroine name (one color) he, hero name (different color)
  8. Rearrange sentences and paragraphs using power positions
    1. First and last words in sentence
    2. First and last sentences in paragraphs
    3. First and last paragraphs in scenes
    4. First and last pages in chapters
    5. First and last chapters in MS
  9. Ensure each scene and chapter ends with a hook or a cliff-hanger and climax in the middle
  10. Ensure variation on sentence structure, construction and length
  11. Check white space. Create new paragraphs where needed
  12. Draw a box around each paragraph on four pages to evaluate length
  13. Page/word count for each chapter and scene, character POV

I use different methods to find things like overused words. Some people swear by HealaDoc but I can’t get it to work on my PC. Most of the time I use my brain and I know when I’ve used a word a lot. I also like this site: but it’s hard to get big sections of manuscript done quickly. I’ve found one scene works well. This is the super analytical stage and I call it editing because I’m looking for nitpicky things. I don’t have a specific pass for commas and misspelled words because I fix those in the first draft. I’m um, obsessive that way…

And that’s it! Oh, I have a pass called Read manuscript out loud, but I’ve never done it. I know some people swear by it, but I hear the words out loud in my head when I’m reading. I know that sounds weird. It is. Depending on the length and problems with the manuscript, completing this entire check list has taken me as little time as two months and as long as six to eight months when I’ve had to do major revisions in the plot itself. I will admit there’s a certain alchemy to this. When I do my read-through, I know if I’m okay on the story or if it’s just not clicking. I may do a brainstorming session to figure out the problems and rewrite whole sections. Then I start the checklist over.

So that’s my process. Did I cross your eyes? Anything you want to ask about? What’s your process?

2 thoughts on “Manuscript Revisions and Editing

  1. When you feel like you can really look at the manuscript with fresh eyes then take it out again and read it once more…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………For this reading leave the pen behind.

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