Guest Blogger: Jodie Renner: Revising and Polishing Your Novel

28 Sep

Today I welcome editor Jodie Renner to offer her opinions on the revision process.

Revising and Polishing Your Novel

Congratulations! You’ve finally finished the first draft of your novel! Give yourself a huge pat on the back and go out and celebrate! Then put it away for at least two weeks while you concentrate on other things, before going back and starting on revisions.

—Yes, revisions — starting with big-picture issues, like plot, characters, point of view and pacing. It’s highly unlikely that your first draft is ready for proofreading, or even line editing yet — save that for the last step of the revision process, after any large issues are detected and dealt with. If you’re unable to hire a freelance developmental editor and/or a copy editor, this is where your critique group (online or in-person) or acquaintances who read a lot of fiction come in.

Based on my own experience and advice from writing gurus, I’ve compiled a recommended approach to the revision process:

1-After you’ve finished your first draft, put your story away and concentrate on other things for a few weeks or even a month. Let the story percolate in your subconscious for a while.

2-Meanwhile send/give the manuscript to “beta readers” — savvy people who read a lot of fiction, in your genre. For suggestions and a list of possible questions, see my blog post, “Questions for Your Beta Readers” on Crime Fiction Collective (and Get at least two volunteer readers, but no more than five, as too many contradictory opinions could get overwhelming. Stress to your readers that at this point you’re looking for big issues only — parts where they felt excited, curious, delighted, scared, worried, confused, bored, etc.

3-After your break of a few weeks or so, collect the reactions of your volunteer readers or critique group. Go through them and note any that you really like; perhaps ask for clarification of suggestions, or more details.

4-Change the font of your manuscript to one you really like and print it up to read, rather than on the screen. (A different medium to help you look at it with fresh eyes. Or you can save this step until you’ve incorporated some changes.)

5-Reread your manuscript from start to finish, making separate notes only on big-picture changes you’d like to make, such as plot, characterization, point of view, pacing, etc. Cross out, delete or condense any boring scenes. Don’t get bogged down on wording or punctuation, etc. at this point.

6-Update your story outline and “to-do list” or plan of action to take into account advice from your beta readers, and/or critique group, as well as your own new ideas.

7-Save a new version of your manuscript under the current date and go through the whole thing, revising on-screen for big-picture changes only. Is your opening compelling enough? (See my blog posts on your first pages: “Act First, Explain Later” and “Those Crucial First Five Pages.”) Do all of the major plot points make sense? Do you see any inconsistencies in timing, setting, character or plot? Does the story drag in places? Is there enough conflict and tension? Suspense? (See “Writing a Killer Thriller,” Parts I, II and III, on Crime Fiction Collective BlogSpot.) Are your characters complex enough? Is your protagonist likeable? (“Creating Compelling Characters”) Do you have too many characters? Is your point of view all over the place? Anchor it in one of the main characters most of the time. (“Deep Point of View” on Blood-Red Pencil.) Maybe rewrite a scene from the viewpoint of a different key character? Rearrange some chapters or scenes? Or change the chapter breaks to earlier or later?

8-Now would be a good time to send your revised story to a freelance editor or to a few more volunteer readers — ones who haven’t read an earlier version.

9-Incorporate any new suggestions you like, and resave each new version as you go along, using the current date in the file name.

10-Go back to the beginning and start editing for voice, style, and flow. Slash excess wording and repetitions, or overexplaining. Streamline your sentences. Take out whole sentences and paragraphs — even scenes or chapters — if they don’t add anything new or drive the story forward. Take out unneeded adverbs and adjectives, eliminate clichés, and pump up your verbs to bring the action to life. See my blog post on fixing common style gaffes, “Style Blunders in Fiction” at The Thrill Begins BlogSpot.

11-Read just the dialogue out loud, maybe role-playing with a buddy or two. Do the conversations sound natural? Or stilted or even boring in parts. Amp up the tension and cut down on those empty phrases, overly wordy monologues, complete sentences, too-perfect grammar, etc. See my blog post called “Writing Effective Dialogue.”

12-Go through and do a basic line edit for grammar, spelling, and punctuation — or better yet, hire a freelance fiction editor to do it.

13-Change the font to one you like, and print up the manuscript, double-spaced. Sit down with it and read it through out loud, crossing out excess words and sentences, and noting changes and suggestions between the lines, in the margins, or on the back.

14-Open up the screen version and type these new changes into your document; resave with today’s date.

15-Go over the whole thing again, on screen or on paper, looking for any new issues that crop up. Changes very often create new errors, so watch for those.

16-Repeat above steps as needed, until your manuscript is compelling and polished, before sending it off to a literary agent or acquiring editor, or self-publishing. This whole revision process could easily take several months. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by publishing it or sending it off too soon.

17-Better yet, at some point along this process, send it to a reputable freelance fiction editor so you can get a professional, unbiased look at it, from someone familiar with both the genre and industry standards.

18-Finally, if you’re seeking an agent, take as much care with that all-important query letter. See my blog post, “Don’t Shoot Yourself in the Foot” on Blood-Red Pencil BlogSpot.
Copyright © Jodie Renner, Sept. 23, 2011

Jodie Renner is a freelance manuscript editor, specializing in thrillers, romantic suspense, mysteries, and other crime fiction. Jodie’s services range from developmental and substantive editing to final copyediting and proofreading, as well as manuscript critiques and plot outline analyses. Check out Jodie’s website at and her blog, dedicated to advice and resources for fiction writers, at Jodie also contributes regularly to these blogs: Crime Fiction Collective, The Thrill Begins, and Blood-Red Pencil.


Posted by on September 28, 2011 in Writing


16 responses to “Guest Blogger: Jodie Renner: Revising and Polishing Your Novel

  1. ChristineWarner

    September 28, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    All great advice…some I do already, but not all, so I appreciate the tips. Thanks for a great blog!


  2. Victoria Martin

    September 28, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    I find it so hard to find someone to edit my novels. I have written two novels, both are romance, but one is romance suspense. The titles are Never Settle, and Things Hidden. I’m very proud of both, and I would love for them to be published so that the world can read them, and have a copy in their home. But I can’t even make it pass the editing part. I really love to write. Writing is like telling a story, but in that story the mind of the reader should be able to actually see it come to life. It should cause them to feel as if they are apart of the story. That is the kind of writer I want to be oneday. It would be great to hear your advice on my novels. You can email me……I would love to send Jodie Renner a few chapters to see if I am actually a hopeful.


  3. Sheri Fredricks

    September 28, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    I JUST finished my wip last week so this blog is very timely for me! Thank you, D.P. Lyle MD & THANK YOU Jodie Renner!


  4. Diana Hockley

    September 29, 2011 at 4:16 am

    This is all important advice. I write crime and I have belonged to the worldwide workshop site, The Next Big Writer since 2005. On there lurk the grammar, plot and character police! They were the ones who got me over the line 🙂

    Thank you for sharing these insights 🙂


  5. chitrader

    September 29, 2011 at 7:20 am

    A tremendously useful, thorough list of steps for revision. Thanks for sharing your expertise, Jodie. I like step 11, reading just the dialogue aloud with a helper doing the other voice(s). Never thought of that before, but will try it.


  6. ljsellers

    September 29, 2011 at 7:37 am

    Excellent advice, Jodie. Printing the manuscript and reading it out loud, before and after professional editing, is a critical step. I usually end up with a sore throat, but it’s worth it to catch word repetitions.


  7. Sandra Parshall

    September 29, 2011 at 7:56 am

    I’m in the reading-the-draft stage right now with my work in progress, and I needed a reminder that a good book *can* be made from what seems like a mess. 🙂 Done it before, can do it again. Thanks for this great checklist.


  8. Jodie Renner

    September 29, 2011 at 8:01 am

    Thanks, Christine, Victoria, Sheri, Diana and chitrader for your comments. I’m glad you feel my steps for the revison process are useful, and I look forward to seeing your novels in print!


  9. Andrew E. Kaufman

    September 29, 2011 at 10:22 am

    Very helpful, information, Jodie. Thanks for posting. Admittedly I am an obsessive rewriter and a strong advocate of that process. It’s such an important tool for sharpening a novel, yet one many writers don’t utilize as often as they should. I’m going to save these tips and add them to regimen.


  10. Jodie Renner

    September 29, 2011 at 10:41 am

    Thanks, LJ, Sandra and Andrew, for your comments. I probably should have mentioned in the post that the time for revising and fiddling with each sentence, paragraph and page is NOT during the first draft stage. At that point, just get your ideas down! Slowing down to do revisions could get in the way of your creative thought processes at that stage. Save the nit-picking till later!


  11. Jenny Milchman

    September 29, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    Excellent advice–shows the many steps that lie between writing ‘the end’ and the beginning of a publishing career…


  12. Jodie Renner

    September 29, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    So true, Jenny! The biggest mistake aspiring authors make is shooting themselves in the foot by rushing to send their manuscript off to an agent prematurely, or self-pubbing too soon.


  13. Brenda

    September 29, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    This is very timely for me! Thanks a bunch!


  14. omnivorouscinephile

    September 30, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    Excellent advice. I’ve just finished my 3rd complete read-through/polish. You gave me a couple of other things to do. Thanks.


  15. Fritz Strobl MD

    October 7, 2011 at 10:35 am

    Nice blog Jodie & Dr. Lyle


  16. Glenda Carroll

    October 12, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    I just read this. I finished my first draft of “Dead in the Water”on Sept. 26. My reaction at the time was, “now what?” I didn’t have the foggiest what to do next. This helps tremendously. Thank you.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: