Welcome to the Bookshelf Detective, a site packed with tricks and tips for readers and writers of children's literature. Thank you for visiting!
Kim Tomsic

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Revise First, Edit Later: Do You Know the Difference?


Updated: 4/26/2024

Hello, Creative Writers!

Sometimes the words "editing" and "revising" get interchanged, but they are different. 

Know the Difference:

Editing includes micro changes like making stronger verb choices, choosing language to match the mood of the scene, slowing down or speeding up a scene depending on what it needs, working out when to include dialogue tags and when to leave them out, deciding on paragraph fixes that could tighten your prose, making better word choices, noticing the read-aloud quality, the sound of the dialogue, etc.

Revising covers the macro changes such as deciding if a character could be cut from your book;  considering if each scene matters and how scenes are threaded through a "because of this then that" connection. In revision, you also track the pace of your plot, the turn of your scenes, the ticking timeclock and tension. You make sure that breadcrumbs are placed and that they have a payoff. You track if your protagonist has agency and is driving the action throughout the story; if they don't, you have reasons for why. During revisions, you make sure you've given the readers reasons to root for your protagonist, and you flesh out characters to make sure nobody is cardboard, and more! I can't wait to hear your ideas for revisions.   

You can look to the lists of others to find revision ideas that could possibly serve you. I hope you keep (or start) a personal revision checklist. Keep in mind that your list will be a work in progress. As you fix some of your writing issues, other issues will emerge.

Ideas for your Checklist:

Creating a personal editing and revising checklist helps me remember to look for things I know I can do better later. I don’t want to revise or edit in the middle of creating – it interrupts my flow. So when I'm creating a draft, I like to keep a running list of items to consider later during the editing and revision stages. If I don't keep a list, those items bug me and beg for my attention.

Examples of things on my editing checklist:

  • Search "to be" verbs and update with action verbs.
  • How can I amplify the tension on page x?
  • How can page x feel more tactile?
  • What's a fresh way to say ___________?
  • Do I have too many em dashes or exclamation points (I tend to abuse these)?
  • Can I delete 95% of of the times I say "just" in a chapter?
  • How many times did I say "began" and/or "started" and can I delete?
  • Are my intensifiers needed?
  • Did I have too many dialogue tags, and did I do a good job with invisible dialogue tags? 

Examples from my revision checklist:

  • Did I maintain good momentum turning the scenes à la Robert McKee style? (If you're curious to know more about turning a scene, read Changing the Positive and Negative Charges of a Value to Create Truly Effective Scenes)?
  • Did I establish rules to my worldbuilding and did I follow the rules?
  • Do I have an effective ticking-time clock and does the reader feel its presence?
  • Are all the characters carrying their weight? Does every character matter to the plot, or are some of them "darlings" who/that should be cut or combined?
  • Do any characters need further developing (does anyone disappear halfway through the novel)?
  • Does every scene with dialogue ring true? 
  • Did I carry motifs through in a meaningful way? 
  • Are there moments the narrator reveals that could be better carried in dialgoue?
  • Is my reader connected to how the protagonist feels throughout the story? The Emotional Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi might help with this. For example, if you want to show that a character feels "defeat", flip to “defeat” in The Emotional Thesaurus, and you’ll see ideas like, “lowering chin, toneless response, false bravado, cracking voice, and thick swallows.” For “anxiety” you’ll see, “rubbing back of the next, scratching, adjusting clothing, biting cuticle.” Obviously, you won't write ALL of these into your story 😼 Brain science shows us that readers want to put their feet in the protagonist’s shoes. Adding a light touch of feels will help bring the reader a step closer.
  • Are all the scenes in the best order and connected by interstitials or by "because this happened then that happened" moments?
  • Does my protagonist change or change the world around them by the end?
  • Did I weave in the five senses effectively throughout the story?
  • Did theme show up in a meaningful way?
  • Are the protagonist's wants/goals apparent on the page so the reader can track what the character thinks will happen, what they hope will happen, and what is at stake throughout the story? I like how author/retired agent, Nathan Bransford, asks, "Are my characters actively going after things they want in each scene?"
  • Am I giving my readers a close experience instead of leaving them behind by a nanosecond? What does this mean:
    • Giving readers a shoulder-to-shoulder experience with the protagonist means letting the reader see, hear, smell, and realize at the same time as the protagonist. Instead of “I smell cinnamon”, your character might say, “Mmmmm, cinnamon!” or “Gross, who brought the stinky cheese?” Let your reader and the protagonist smell at the same time. Same can go for sounds, sights, and realizations—e.g., Instead of, “I heard a loud crash” replace with, “Crash! Shards of glass scattered at my feet.”

Stay in the flow! Try not to edit and/or revise in the moment, so you can stay in the creative flow. When I'm finished writing the first draft, I continue building my editing and revising checklist, adding items that are my know issues (oh, I have many 😉).

Please share ideas from your list!



p.s. Revise first. There's no point in editing scenes that might get deleted. Once revisions are done, you are ready for the micro changes. Here's a fun editing checklist on the blog Fiction Writer's Mentor.


SusieQ said...

Hi Kim, Thank you so much for clarifying editing and revision. This helps so much as we learn to 'talk' a whole new language. In my screenwriting class with Jon Bernstein, he encouraged us to silence our inner critic. That did so much for me! I learned to stop second-guessing myself as I got all of my ideas down. I would also encourage anyone writing MG or YA (really anything longer than a picture book) to purchase Scrivener. Even if you don't know how to use it to capacity, it helps you organize thoughts, and paragraphs into chapters and scenes.

Kim Tomsic said...

Hello, SusieQ!

Thank you for the encouragement to silence the inner critic! Also, I have heard many MANY great things about Scrivener.

Blog Archive