A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Right. Listen Carefully. Revising a manuscript is dead easy.
There are just four things you need to do.
I considered leaving it there, closing the laptop, dusting off my hands, and riding into the sunset after having imparted such valuable information. But, of course, it’s not as easy as that. I can’t offer a recipe of how to revise a manuscript because there isn’t a recipe. Every writer is different, every manuscript is different, and every revision any author ever did is, most probably, different from all the others. What works for me probably won’t work for you – that’s the big problem I have with the mass of advice for writers that’s floating around the internet. But then . . . advice can be helpful. It can give us ideas, point us in the right direction. It can give us things to try.
So I’ve been thinking about how I revise a manuscript, which isn’t easy because I don’t really have a ‘writing process’ – every time I start to write a book, it feels like it’s the first time. The only consistent things are that it never manages to live up to the vision I had in my head, and it always needs to be revised.
So this is what I do.
Because I often don’t write to a plan, my first revision usually involves trying to get the characters right – smoothing their rough edges, rounding them out and giving them more depth. And I cut, cut, cut. I have a habit of overemphasising things in my first drafts so I often end up cutting exposition and back-story that was there for my benefit, rather than the reader’s. And when I make it to the end of the manuscript, I go right back to the beginning and start again. And again. And again.
As the revisions continue, my focus becomes narrower. I don’t specifically know what I’m looking for, I don’t have a check list, but I suppose I’m finding places where I can tighten the story, increase the pace. I’m condensing descriptions, trying to make the reader feel the claustrophobic heat of the jungle, smell the damp earth, see the explosion of colour – but without using too many words. Does the dialogue sound like writing or does it sound like dialogue? Do the characters behave in a natural way? Is the action exciting?
I’m trying to make it feel right.
Usually I revise on-screen, often reading it aloud to give me a good feel of how it sounds. This helps to reveal clunky phrases or annoying repetition which needs to be ironed out. I also find that it helps to print it out or read it on a Kindle (other e-readers are available!) – seeing the text in a different layout can draw the eye to problem areas.
Finally, I do a search for all my writing ticks. I reckon we all have them. My characters spend a lot of time nodding, shaking their heads, and shrugging, so I check through to make sure they’re not doing it too much. I have a list of words that I think are clumsy and weak, and a list of words that I overuse, so I search the manuscript to eliminate them with extreme prejudice.
I don’t have a set number of revisions. Basically, I revise the manuscript until it’s the best I can make it, or until I’m sick of reading it. Then it goes to my agent for a fresh pair of eyes . . .
At this point, I’d like to say ‘job done’, but I’d be lying.