The Six R’s of Revising Your First Draft

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The Six R's of Revising Your First Draft. How to revise the first draft of your novel.
The 6 R's of Revising Your First Draft. Infographic. Tips on what to look for and questions to ask.
The 6 R's of Revising Your First Draft. Infographic. Tips on what to look for and questions to ask.

Revising your first draft. Tips on what to look for and questions to ask.

Congratulations! You’ve completed writing your first draft.

Whether you’ve written a short story or a novel, the next step is revising your first draft. Following the “Six R’s of Revising Your First Draft” will help make the revision process easier.

  • Reading. Reading as a reader. Don’t read as a writer or editor. You want to experience your story like your readers will. Does the story hook you? Are the characters and plot engaging?
  • Rewriting. Rewriting sentences or sections for clarity and flow. Rewriting sections of lengthy detail (a.k.a. info dumps) to be more concise and give only necessary details.
  • Replacing. Replacing weak words with stronger words. Replacing “pet” or “favorite” words. Replacing awkward phrasing with clear, concise phrasing.
  • Relocating. Relocating paragraphs and chapters. Ensure events/information occur when they should in the timeline of your story.
  • Removing. Removing sentences, paragraphs, and scenes that slow the story’s pace. Removing dialogue that doesn’t serve a purpose.
  • Restructuring. Restructuring your story. Examine individual plot lines, characters, and scenes. Analyze story structure (e.g., Five-Act Story Structure or Three-Act Story Structure).

Helpful Tips

  • Set your draft aside for a few days, and come back to it with fresh eyes.
  • Some writers print their first draft. Some writers find it easier to leave notes on a printed version.
  • Focus on one thing at a time. Focusing on everything at once can become overwhelming. Some writers focus on the big-picture items first (e.g., pacing, plot, structure) and then on characters and dialogue.

While revising, watch for:

  • Awkward phrasing. Highlight words/phrases that don’t sound right or don’t make sense. Is your intended meaning clear the first time you read a sentence, or do you need to read it a few times?
  • Pacing. Watch for parts of the story that slow down and drag. Make a note of these parts as this is where readers could potentially stop reading your book. Are transitions between sections that are slower or faster paced smooth?
  • Plot holes and inconsistencies.
  • Poorly developed or extraneous characters.
  • Coincidences and too-convenient leaps of logic.
  • Long, rambling conversations or sections of narrative full of detail (a.k.a. information dumps)
    that can slow pacing and don’t advance plot or reveal something about the characters.
  • “Pet” or “favorite” words and other words/phrases that are repeated frequently.
  • Passive vs. active (telling vs. showing) words and scenes.
  • Telling how the character feels instead of showing how the character feels.
  • Scenes that use vague details instead of concrete details.

While revising, ask yourself:

  • Does my story make sense?
  • Does my story flow smoothly?
  • Are transitions smooth or jarring? Look at transitions between paragraphs, scenes, and chapters.
  • Is the plot compelling?
  • Are the main characters well-developed and likable with strong goals and sufficient motivation?
  • Do characters evoke an emotional response?
  • Are any characters flat and one-dimensional?
  • Are there any inconsistencies with timing, setting, plot, and character descriptions?
  • What is the dialogue like? What dialogue tags are used? Are action beats used? Is the dialogue essential to the scene? Does dialogue reflect the character speaking?
  • Is the opening compelling? Does it “hook” readers?
  • Are there scenes and/or actions that are boring or too similar to other scenes and/or actions in the story?
  • Are scenes a good mix of narration, action, dialogue, and insight?
  • Are any actions unbelievable?
  • Is the ending satisfying or unsatisfying?
  • Has the conflict been resolved at the end?
  • Is the POV effective and consistent?

What do you find the most challenging about the revision process? Is there something you like/dislike about the revision process? Please share your opinions on the revision process in the comments below.

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I love the editing process as it’s great to see the book really starting to take shape. Even if I have days where I feel my writing isn’t up to scratch, I keep going, because I know I’ll fix it during the editing phase. My editing process is actually pretty close to what you have outlined above. I always print the first draft as I find it very handy to mark notes as I go along, and to highlight sections to move from one chapter to another. I make those initial changes and then pop it into my kindle to see what else I spot. After another few rounds of self-editing, I add it again to my kindle and identify the last few niggling issues to fix. Then I send it to you!
The part I dislike the most is fixing my repetitive words and phrases – what you refer to as common/favorite words. It tends to take me about a week to go through the MS with this in mind, and I find that part very tedious, but essential. Great post, Kelly!

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I love writing something and then re-visiting is at a later datE. You can see it with fresh eyes and take a different perspective on it. Almost always you find something you can change for the better!

Great tips! I know this is more geared toward writing a book or novel, but many of these tips can be in general writing as well, such as working on my dissertation. I tend to use several “pet” words that I have to watch for constantly.

This post is awesome!! You gave us a lot of useful tips that i haven’t thought 🙂 Thanks <3

Excellent tips. Thank you for this.

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