Novel Revision, Step Three: Read It with a Black Pen

This might have been the hardest part of the process for me, as it told me just how much I had to fix. It gave me what I needed to know for the actual revision, though, and I can't take credit for originality: this is my combined and cut-down version of a step described in Holly Lisle's One-Pass Revision and How to Revise a Novel.

The black pen can be blue or green or purple, but not red: we're not making note of typos. (Of course, you can use a red pen if you want--but if you can't stop yourself marking typos, don't say I didn't warn you.) This step also requires a print-out of the manuscript and some sort of notebook.

The read-through involves two things: first, marking the beginning and end of every scene. A scene, as described by Ms. Lisle:
is a cohesive block without which the novel will not stand, encompassing everything that a novel has to have, but in miniature. A scene has a start and a finish, characters and dialogue, engages at least one and sometimes all five senses, and offers conflict and change. It takes place in one time and in one place. If the time or the place changes, you’re in a new scene. A scene is usually written from only one point of view. (One-Pass Revision)
Second, making a note of every problem and inconsistency--whether plot- or character- or writing-related--in the notebook, e.g.:
  • The day in Pt I Chp 2 seems awfully short and nobody eats. Insert time interlude.
  • A.L.'s fears that peace is impossible are never referred to again. Is this a problem?
  • A couple of times I tell instead of showing on pg 119.
I had sixty of those by the end, in what was then a 150-page double-spaced manuscript. Of course, if I just came across a bad sentence, of which there were many, I didn't fret with it unless I had a particularly insistent thought for revising it--in which case, I just wrote that on the manuscript. Thinking about sentence structure comes later, and I highly recommend leaving it for then.

As for what I did with my marked-off manuscript and my notebook full of plot holes: I plan to talk about that Friday and Monday.


  1. For which, see http://www.sidfleischman.com/tips.html. Ah, the delicate act of making a story hang together without the aid of coincidences! Which always bothers me, because often enough life itself seems like an uncanny string of coincidences...and aren't we supposed to write what we know?
    Ah well, the quirks of life and literature...

  2. Seriously, Mr. Pond. Although some writers have started admitting openly that we can't just write from life. Real life often translates to boring on the page.

    I liked the Sid Fleischman link so much that I'm going to have to post it. Thanks!


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