“A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.” Mark Twain
Revision is not a walk in the park for most of us — it’s a necessary stage on the road to completion that can be every bit as daunting as drafting a first-run manuscript. As one editor described it, writing a draft is like putting sand in the sandbox and revision is building the castle for your readers. I recently heard some tips from experienced editors that I found helpful and think you will, too, about common mistakes they see writers make in revising:
Starting at the wrong point and confusing the inciting scene, which puts the whole story in motion, with the opening scene. Ask: Is your opening scene true to the story you’re telling?
Rushing the falling action and speeding to the final line. It’s critical to spend the right amount of time bringing a story to a conclusion so readers can feel satisfied and emotionally released.
Lack of tension. Tension is what a book hinges on and should build toward. Tension keeps readers reading. Often, characters do a lot, but nothing happens that really changes or pushes them. At every point, make a character choose between one bad option and one that’s worse — this keeps them actively making choices and changing.
Failing to engage readers emotionally as a result of not really knowing the type of story you are telling. Bringing intentionality to your storytelling is key.
Spending too much time on backstory and creating too many or too few characters. Every character must have dimension and have a vital role to play in advancing your story.
Not providing enough visual clues. To fully engage in a story, you must create images in the readers mind that evoke the time, place, and people you are writing about.
Being too attached to scenes, plot devices or characters and failing to make tough decisions about letting go of whatever doesn’t move the plot forward or develop a character’s arc. Ask: Does it serve the story? You need to be passionate about the story as a whole; the individual parts aren’t as precious.
Not taking enough “cool down” time to forget about your manuscript after writing a first draft. If you take 4-to-6 weeks away from it and then come back, problems and errors will be apparent. You can use that time away productively by reading widely within and without your genre or starting something new.
Helpfu advice to ponder and apply as we all write on!