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On Revising A Novel Manuscript, by Kashmira Sheth

Keeping Corner by Kashmira Sheth

How many times do you revise? The answer varies from writer to writer. Some writers write in their head before they pick up a pen or start typing their first draft. Their stories may come out more polished than those of someone who starts writing without much forethought and sees where the characters take the story.  Even if you are a writer who plots out the entire story, puts down a summary of each chapter on 3×5 index cards and knows exactly what the last sentence of the story is going to be, you still need to revise. There is no escape from revision!

Revision offers us a chance to do more than fix typos and make the right word choices.

It does more than make sure we sharpen our imagery, add sensory details and take out extraneous material.

Revision offers us another chance to re-vision our story - to reimagine “what if”, to see how a theme has evolved and how to make its impact felt by the readers. While writing a story we probably have spent months with our characters, if not longer. We have walked and talked with them, shared the same food and felt the same sense of loss or happiness.  In order to see the story clearly, it is important that, before revising, we gain some distance from our characters. For that big re-vision of the story I find that it is crucial for me to put some time between writing and revising. Once the first draft of the story is done I give my “writer brain” a break.

After a reasonable length of time I go back to the story. I read the first few chapters and think “Wow, this is good” or maybe “This is not so great”. It is tempting to start revising right then and there, but if possible, I hold the urge. I try to read the entire story without making changes, all the while thinking of it as someone else’s novel that I am only reading. At least once, I read the story out loud. That way the clunky sentences jump out, wooden dialogues reveal their chunkiness, and beautiful sentences sing and delight.

Once that reading is done I can think of the shape of the novel. I can think about inserting an entire chapter or taking one out in order to tweak the plot. If I want to tone down a character or even take one of the minor characters out I can do it at this time. I can dig deeper into my characters’ emotional world, plunge them deeper into trouble and make them come out stronger.

For me the subsequent revisions are simpler. I use them to fine-tune paragraphs and dialogues, ponder word choices, and rewrite sentences. I use them to take care of typos and check punctuation. These minor things can be addressed late in the revising process. The important thing to remember is that it can take several tries to get the real re-vision done.


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