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Revision Tips for Writers


We can all agree writing is a joy. It’s fun and many of us make our living doing it. But, there are parts of the publishing aspect that can be frustrating and difficult. Most of us find revision to be the most difficult hurdle. “I like it the way it is. Everything there is important and I don’t see anything that needs changing.” How many of us have approached the revision process with that mindset? I think we all have, at times. In other words, you are not alone.

Although I am an editor as well as a writer, I don’t find revising my work to be easy. However, I’ve collected tidbits of advice from several writers and editors. I’ve found them helpful, so I’m sharing them here:

  1. Revise big stuff first, make small edits later. This doesn’t mean you should not correct obvious typos and grammar errors as you notice them. However, you shouldn’t be actively tinkering with word choice until after you’ve nailed down the structure of your piece.
  2. Put the manuscript down and walk away. Writers need at least a little distance from their manuscripts before jumping into revision.
  3. Scan the whole manuscript without reading. Scanning can make big problems more obvious than a writer might not notice when reading closely.
  4. Read carefully. Take your time and read every word. Then, read it out loud. This will help you catch obvious errors and check for smoothness or the “flow.”
  5.  Look for ways to be more concise with your language. Can you turn a 15-word sentence into an 8-word sentence? Can you turn an 8-sentence paragraph into a 5-sentence paragraph? Less almost always means more for the reader.
  6. Use active voice over passive voice. There may be occasions for using passive voice, but for the most part be active.
  7. Vary sentence structure. Don’t fall into the trap of always writing: Noun + Verb + Noun = Sentence. Even if it’s grammatically correct, using the same pattern over and over again will make your manuscript boring. Don’t feel like you have to be creative with every sentence; just check that you’re not falling into a monotonous pattern.
  8. Save each round of revisions as its own file. Start with the first draft. Then, the second draft. Then, the third draft and so on. Saving these files provides a record of your changes and shows your development of the story.
  9. Have someone read the manuscript. The more eyes the better, because they’ll be more objective when reading, and they’re less likely to make “leaps of logic” than you, the writer, might. It is always best to ask someone other than a relative, who naturally will be biased.
  10. Print the manuscript for a final edit. There are things you’ll catch on paper that you won’t on the screen.

Take your time with revision. Set it aside for a few days, a week if you have the time. Then return to the work with a fresh attitude. Save your revised version in a separate file. Be sure you have addressed all of the editor’s comments. Do not ignore them. If there are some changes that you don’t agree with, write the editor a note explaining why the revision called for will change the meaning of your work. It’s best not to take exception to more than one or two editorial changes. If you and the editor are far apart on the way the piece is written, you may wish to withdraw the work and resubmit to another publisher. That, of course, is beyond the topic at hand.

Revision is necessary to polish the work for the reader, and the reader should be foremost in your mind. If you use these revision tips, you’ll be ahead with your revision process and find the editor is not the ogre you imagined.


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So you want to write historical fiction?

Well, here are some clues for you to consider before beginning to write historical fiction.

Historical fiction has always been popular, with people gravitating toward novels set in time-periods in which they have an interest. But writing historical fiction is a lot more work than writing a contemporary fiction piece. Why?

These tips for beginning to write historical fiction will explain:

1. Choose a time-period. When writing historical fiction, the time period should be very specific, not a vague decade within a century. Clothing styles, customs and social mores change from decade to decade and often even more frequently.

Choose the exact years in which your book will take place.
Popular broad time periods in historical fiction include the Regency period in England, the Civil War period in the U.S., the medieval period in Europe, and the late 19th century in either America or Europe. With the rise in Christian fiction, stories of biblical characters are becoming popular.

These historical periods have a large number of devoted readers, but any time period and any place may be the setting for your work. If you cannot think of a time period that you are familiar with, think of a historical person or character that appeals to you and see if that time period is one you want to write about.

2. Research, research, and more research. The moment in history that you choose should be very familiar to you by the time you have finished your research. You should know the common customs, the class system, the monetary system, the common living arrangements and anything else that may come up in your work.

One or two wrong details will cause you to lose your credibility fast. If there are obvious anachronistic errors in your historical fiction, you can also be prepared for bags of letters being sent to you, admonishing you for those errors.

What are anachronistic errors? Basically, these errors involve the use of some item from another time period. For instance, the Roman roads were not called “highways”. The highway was a term adapted with the use of automobiles.

Do as much research as possible before you begin to write. Writing a story and then trying to adapt it to a certain time-period will come out sounding artificial and forced. The information you uncover will guide the story you write and take it to places you hadn’t considered before.

3. Give the characters an appropriate perspective. The best part of writing a novel is the characters and making them come to life. The characters of a historical fiction novel should have the mindset of people from that time-period. Characters are shaped by their experiences, family life and culture, which includes the time and place in which they are born.

Naming your characters is an important early task. Be sure that the names you chose are common for the time-period you’ve chosen.

A character’s general perspective on the world will be obvious in books written in the first person. If the book is written in the third person, a character’s values as defined by the time-period can be demonstrated through the character’s dialogue and actions, or through the narrative voice recounting the thoughts and feelings of the character. However, the character’s viewpoint is demonstrated, it should be apparent that the character is not simply a modern person dropped into a different time-period.

A good example of well researched and well-written historical fiction is:
Byrd, Elizabeth. The Immortal Queen. Random House, New York, 1972.

A helpful book for writing historical fiction is the prize-winning:
Martin, Rhona. Writing Historical Fiction. St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1988.

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