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Top tips for revising your novel

Key strategies for tackling your first novel revision.

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Revising your novel


You’ve typed “The End” on the last page of the first draft of your novel. After dancing, collapsing in tears of joy, popping a bottle of bubbly, or just falling asleep face-first on your desk, it’s now time to start revising your novel.

But where to start?

First of all: Don’t.

Take a breather. Set it aside for at least two weeks while you do your taxes, read books for pleasure, or binge-watch a TV series. A little distance between yourself and the work is invaluable, providing a much-needed fresh perspective when you sit down to reread.

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Depending on how you wrote the first draft – all in one shot versus editing as you went, as a plotter or as a “pantser” – will guide how you begin to revise.

If you wrote a detailed plot outline, you can probably skip this next step; if you winged it, you need to start with a structural revision. Begin by mapping your novel. Write a one-page synopsis that introduces your main character, her internal conflict, and who/where she is at the start.

Next, identify the inciting incident – the event that sets your novel’s plot into motion – and your main character’s story goal. List the obstacles in her way and how she deals with them.

Finish your synopsis with the climax, the resolution, and a sentence on who your character is at the end, what she has learned, and how she has changed.


Once your structure is sound, you can reread, taking notes that address your use of voice, POV, dialogue, tension, and pace.

Only after all these have been addressed should you fine-tune the writing. Read each paragraph for rhythm and varied sentence length. Tighten each sentence until it zings. Knock out all your filter words and any passive sentences. Finally, check for typos, punctuation errors, and formatting glitches. Now, you’re ready to send it out!

—Dionne McCulloch, U.S. managing editor, Cornerstones Literary Consultancy.


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