Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Three-Step Revision Process by Virginia Smith

Welcome to another Writer’s Journey Wednesday. (Dawn here.) Some writers love laying down the first draft of their manuscript. Others, like me, can’t wait to get past that step and move on to editing. Regardless, most of us need to rework the original - and possibly more than once. Today author Virginia Smith shares her three-step revision process. Enjoy these helpful tips!

The Three-Step Revision Process

When a writer types The End on a manuscript, the job isn’t finished yet. Writing the book is only the first step. Some say it’s the easiest step. Before my story is ready to make its debut to an adoring public (or to an editor, which is absolutely not the same thing!), it must be polished until every word shines. I’ve developed a three-step revision process to help me make my story the best it can be.

Step One: Search and Destroy

My first pass through the manuscript is to identify specific words that cause my writing to appear weak. These are words I know to stay away from, but that creep in anyway. To perform this step, I use Word’s Find function and search for:

• Adverbs - search for “ly”
• Common passive words – “was” and “were”
• Vague pronoun it - search for “ it” (space-i-t) to eliminate hits on words like spirit
• Personal pet words – mine are “just,” “breathed,” and “gasped”
• Unnecessary words – for instance, “that” and sentences beginning with “Well,”

The process can be tedious, but when I finish, my style is smoother and my writing much stronger.

Step Two: Technique and Structure

After letting the story ‘rest’ for a while, I read the manuscript on the computer and make changes as I go along. As I read, I look at specific techniques and skills, such as:

• Beats and dialogue tags
• Character descriptions
• Sensory detail
• POV Lapses
• Smoothly delivered backstory

At the end of every scene and chapter, I pause to evaluate the following:

• Is the placement of this scene logical?
• Does the ending compel the reader to keep reading?
• What purpose does this scene or chapter serve in the overall plot?

At the end of the book, I ask myself:

• Did I answer all the questions introduced along the way?
• Do all the subplots connect to and support the main plot?
• Is the ending satisfying?

Step Three: Reader Appeal

For my final pass through the manuscript, I work with a printed copy. I can spot different problems in print than on a computer monitor, so I grab a pencil, find a quiet corner and read the book aloud. This helps me:

• Eliminate awkward phrasing
• Identify clumsy or repetitive sentence structure
• Focus on every word instead of glossing over familiar-sounding sections

I don’t stop to rewrite. When I come across something that makes me stumble, I circle it and jot a quick note in the margin to address later. The purpose of this step is to read the book from beginning to end, so I can more easily evaluate the overall reader experience.

The three-step revision process takes time that I must allow for when considering my publisher’s deadlines, but I’ve learned that the amount of time I devote to revising pays off in terms of a stronger story and a cleaner manuscript.

Virginia Smith is the author of more than a dozen Christian novels and over fifty articles and short stories. An avid reader with eclectic tastes in fiction, Ginny writes fiction in a variety of styles, from lighthearted relationship stories to breath-snatching suspense. She and her husband divide their time between Kentucky and Utah, and escape as often as they can for “research trips” (or so she says) to scuba dive in the warm waters of the Caribbean.

Learn more about Ginny and her books at
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