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  • Writer's pictureMary Finch

Revising 101

Updated: Jun 17, 2022

I talked about the different types of editing in my What is Editing? post, but I thought it would be worthwhile to dive more thoroughly into each different step of the editing journey. Understanding what these terms--revising, line editing, copy editing, or proofreading--all entail will help you work well with an editor and communicate what kinds of support your writing needs.

So let's start with revising.

In the writing process, after you have a first draft your next step will mostly likely be revising. But before you start hacking away at your hard work, I always recommend first taking a breather from your work. This break might mean just going for a walk, working on another project for a few days, or enjoying a few episodes of your current comfort show. Taking some sort of break is important because revising is about the big picture.

When we revise, we should be focused on Higher Order Concerns--again, the big picture stuff. For novel writing, we can think about these as our main Higher Order Concerns: plot development, characterization, organization.

Plot Development

After your breather, when you come back to your work to revise, you want to look at the sequence of events. Ask yourself some questions:

  • Do the events happen in the most logical order for this story? Are there any chapters or sections that could or should be moved around?

  • Do the events make sense? Are any twists or surprises set up just enough to intrigue readers without giving it away or confusing them?

  • Does the structure have a satisfying rhythm? Do any parts feel slow or rushed?

  • How is the opening? Is it interesting without being overwhelming? Does it provide world-building information without getting bogged down in the details?

  • How is the conclusion? What questions might the reader still have? Do you need to answer any of those?

If any of those questions gives you an idea or something to rework, then do it! Revision is often about big changes, so don't be scared to see what happens when you rework something (but remember to always save your drafts, in case your experiment just means you learn you liked the way it originally was!).


The next thing you should look out for during a revision is your characters:

  • Did your characters remain consistent (in the ways that matter) throughout the story?

  • Are any major changes appropriately built up to and addressed?

  • Think about your character economy: do you make good use of all the characters your introduce? Are they interesting and fully developed? Should any be cut or combined?

A quick word: while I did just say not to be scared of big changes, also don't overthink these questions. If your first instinct and read through gives you the feeling that your characterization (or plot development) is strong and doesn't need massive revision, then that is okay! If your work feels good where it is, don't start inventing problems just because you think a revision process has to mean big scary changes.


Organization is closely related to plot development, but it has less to do with the events of the book and more to do with the order in which they happen from your readers point of view. Of all the concerns, this one deals with thinking about your reader the most intently. Looking at your work, make sure your reader will be able to follow:

  • The chronology of your story. Make sure any time jumps can be understood and explained (eventually).

  • The locations of your story. Think about your world building: have you given them enough information to understand the physical movement of your characters?

  • The narrator(s) of your story. Consider who is narrating and when they are reliable (or not).

Depending on the genre, keeping your readers a bit confused may very well be a goal for you! However, you always want to be intentional and know what your reader is confused about--we don't want them frustrated or mistaken about things you thought were clear.

Revision can be scary. An editor can help.

In most cases, you don't want an editor doing your revisions for you because the changes to the piece will be significant. However, an editor can be a great sounding board for ideas, questions, and concerns. Or an editor can give a read through and highlight areas that might need revision and give you advice on what changes could strengthen your project.

You might be making huge changes or double guessing things you felt confident about. If you want someone to talk through your project or bounce revision ideas off of, book a consultation with me! I'd love to hear your ideas and maybe even give you some of my own.

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