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Get Your Red Pens Ready: Revision Crash Course

You’ve done it: you got your entire story down on paper. You followed your outline, you finally figured out what that one character has to say, and you came up with an ending you don’t hate. But wait, you’re not quite done! Now comes the fun (or perhaps infuriating) part: revision! Whether you love it or despise it, revision is an important part of improving any piece of writing. Continue reading for helpful things to keep in mind when it comes to your revision process.

Writers make many different distinctions between the types of revisions. Some people say 3, some say 5, etc. The most important thing to keep in mind, however, is the big picture vs. the small picture.

First round: Big Picture

Big picture revisions include any changes made to overarching plot or structure within a story. These revisions are often called content, developmental, or comprehensive edits. If you’re writing a plot-heavy story, you’ll be most concerned with plot holes, including world-building inconsistencies and believability. For more character-focused stories, these “plot holes” often materialize as “out of character” moments, when a character might say or do something that doesn't fit with our perception of them. A character’s arc is normally connected to and sometimes just as important as a plot arc. If a character’s arc is not clear or well formed, a reader can often feel lost and confused in the story.

Big picture revisions are the first and more drastic rounds of edits. Reread your story and make note of any plot holes or character inconsistencies and think about what you can add (or perhaps delete!) to remedy them. Other general story elements like mood, pacing, and perspective can also be worked on in this stage. If you’ve ever been involved in a writing workshop (or taken part in our Writer’s Games here at The Writer’s Workout), you’ll know that this is usually the focus of story critiques.

Try not to be too attached to anything during this stage of revision. In order to make a story better, many things must be left in the rough drafts. It can be hard to part with certain scenes or characters, but they don’t have to be deleted from existence; keep them in a folder or document so you can return to them, and potentially use them for a separate project.

Second round: Small Picture

Don’t be deceived by size: the small picture is just as important as the big picture! You want your reader’s experience to be as smooth and meaningful as possible, which means improving things like descriptions and sentence structure in your story. Many writers recommend starting with line edits, which include all the smaller details like dialogue, diction, style, and tone. Think about how well the overall message is conveyed on the sentence/line level.

The last round of revision is proofreading/copy editing. This includes things like typos, grammar, and punctuation. These are the last edits you’ll make to a story before putting down the pencil. You’ve come a long way, so give yourself a hand!

Beta readers and feedback

You might have heard the term “beta reader” before. Basically, a beta reader is an impartial reader who will look over your work and provide thoughts and feedback to help you with revision. You don’t have to search hard for a beta reader; it could be any friend, peer or coworker, or even someone from online. It’s definitely helpful if your beta reader is knowledgeable in writing and an avid reader, to give you the best feedback possible. There are services where you can pay for professional revision advice, but it can be just as useful to get an “average” reader’s opinion, since that is the majority of a writer’s audience. Refrain from asking a close family member or significant other; these people are great for supporting you and your work but might not give you the honest feedback you’re looking for to make your story the best it can be.

On taking criticism

Constructive criticism is integral to revision, whether it’s coming from another person or from yourself. But like with any advice we receive in life, you can choose what feedback or criticism you accept to revise your work. It even applies to my blog posts: I try to come up with helpful writing tips for everyone, but if something doesn’t work for you, you shouldn’t feel pressured to use it.

It can be tough at times to listen to someone who doesn’t see our vision, and even tougher when we see that our work isn’t doing what we want it to. Revision is a long, multi-step process, and something that all writers have to face. You may feel frustrated, or like you’re moving backwards. But if you put in the effort to revise your work, I promise that you’ll surprise yourself with the improvement you see!


About the Author: Lindsey is currently working towards her BA in English and Creative Writing at Brandeis University. She loves writing short stories and has more recently taken an interest in writing poetry. She is also an Editor-in-Chief for her school literary magazine, Laurel Moon. You can usually find her reading, crocheting, watching Marvel movies, or bothering her cat, Sister. She hopes to be a writer and an editor in the future to continue to help others improve their work.


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