Four Exercises for Better Revision by Kay Keppler
Let’s welcome back monthly columnist, editor, and novelist, Kay Keppler, as she shares with us “Four Exercises for Better Revision.” Enjoy!
Writing a novel—putting words on the page—leaves your work only half-done. You still need to revise it to make it as tight and as polished as you can. Even if you think it’s ready for the big time, try these four exercises to examine your manuscript with fresh eyes and spot areas that could be improved.
Give your protagonist agency
Do things happen to your characters, or do they seize the bull by the horns? Do they react, or do they take charge? Characters who have agency—who lead the way, make choices, take action—are more fun to read.
That’s not to say your characters should always make the best decisions. They can (they should!) make mistakes, get wrong information, have character flaws that set them off on the wrong path. Even better! We all fear for the young girl who walks down the dark alley by herself, or the kayaker who sets off alone on the Class 5 rapids. These bad choices create page-turning tension, as well as a turning point in a character arc.
Having agency means that you shouldn’t let your character “realize” anything. She shouldn’t sit on a chair and realize the oven is hot. She should put her hand on it and find out. By taking action, she brings the reader with her on her journey. That burned hand can become a turning point.
#1 Exercise for Better Revision
Exercise: Find the moments in your story where the direction of the plot changes because of a character’s choice. If you can’t find any, you have some work to do.
Reassess your dialogue
Do not let your characters sit and chat. Or “realize.” Or “determine.” Do not let them engage in a Socratic discussion with another character. Great dialogue is fun to read, but it must serve a purpose. Don’t let it kill the momentum of your story. Use it to show character or advance the plot. And then make sure you follow that up with action.
#2 Exercise for Better Revision
Exercise: Reexamine your dialogue. Are your characters revealing themselves to each other? Are they planning the next bank robbery? Keep it quick, and then get on with the story.
Scale the emotions
You might know a person who can go from a murderous rage to sentimental mess in a heartbeat, but fiction is different. You have to convince a reader about a character’s emotional state, especially when those emotions change over the course of a scene. You have to build those emotions, or the scene might feel jumpy or your character might seem off-kilter.
#3 Exercise for Better Revision
Exercise: Reexamine how your characters shift emotions in a scene. Did you give your readers enough time to absorb the character’s emotional journey? You may need to add more subtlety to make the transition clear.
Cut the junk
Everybody uses empty words: just, actually, well, simply, now, a little, very. You know what your favorites are! They diminish the impact of your sentences and add nothing to your story.
#4 Exercise for Better Revision
Exercise: Search for these empty words and phrases and delete them.
Revision is key to making your book the best it can be. By asking yourself critical questions, you can find where your manuscript might need improvement.
This post is based on an excerpt from The Novel Editing Workbook: 105 Tricks and Tips for Revising Your Fiction Manuscript by Kris Spisak.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
She lives in northern California. Contact her here at Writer’s Fun Zone in the comments below, or at [email protected] to ask questions, suggest topics, or if you prefer, complain.
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