6 Simple Keys To Revising Your Fiction

1. Once you have finished a good first draft don’t look at it for a while. Go back to it after having some space and you will see it afresh. This is even more important for novels. When you have spent such a long time on a piece of prose you really need to get some distance from it to be able to see it clearly.

GIVEAWAY: Jenni is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Inkstrokes won.)


Jenni-Fagan-Credit-Urszula-Soltys         fagan-novel-panopticon

Column by Jenni Fagan, who was born in Livingston, Scotland, and lives
in London. She graduated from Greenwich University. A published poet,
she has won awards from Arts Council England, Dewar Arts, and Scottish
Screen among others. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize
twice and shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize. Jenni works
as a writer in residence in hospitals and prisons. Her debut novel,
THE PANOPTICON, has received praise from Booklist, Library Journal,
Financial Times, author Gilliam Flynn (GONE GIRL), and more. Irvine
Welsh (TRAINSPOTTING) called it “The best debut novel I’ve read this year.”


2. I think it was Hemingway who said every good writer needs a built in, shockproof, bullshit detector. My take on this is write anything you want in early drafts (while in the inspiration stage) if you restrict yourself here then you might miss out on something good. However when you are editing you need to become much more critical. I started a novel with a fifty page internal monologue once. I loved it but it was indulgent and repetitive. Eventually I cut it down to around five pages and distilled the best bits to create a beginning with a lot more clarity and impact.

3. As a general rule it is often useful to eradicate nearly all passive verbs. Take out any static verbs unless they are absolutely imperative. Be sparing and clever with verbs and adverbs. Don’t use very, extremely, really, there is or there are — quite often they slow a sentence down and take away from the prose.

(Literary agents share helpful advice for new writers.)

4. Find the authorial lightness of touch that moves writing up to the next level. To manage this you have to really find the voice of your characters and get rid of your own as much as possible. Be economical. Great writing looks effortless but it is a skill that is developed through endless practise. Each writer has their own way to achieve this.

5. Style vs content is something we all have to consider. Try and get each element of your fiction to compliment the other, if it is all style and no depth then the reader will not be able to invest emotionally. Write it like you mean it. Put your own emotions in there. Make it real. That’s what makes great writing stand out.

6. If in doubt trust your own instincts. Positive criticism helps you become a better editor and gives you more control over weaker elements of your prose but ultimately what works for one writer could ruin another! Make your own decisions, they will usually be right.

GIVEAWAY: Jenni is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Inkstrokes won.)


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15 thoughts on “6 Simple Keys To Revising Your Fiction

  1. writerpeg

    I perked up when I read ” if it’s all style and no depth than the reader cannot invest emotionally”…..I know that is something That makes a book enjoy potable and unforgettable to me…..that I can fall into the plot, the setting, the characters…thief emotions becoming mine as though I were part of the story. And trusting your own instincts is what sets one apart from other authors. We each have a story, our own characters and our own instinct for what makes them come alive….our own way to draw the reader into the world of the books. Very informative article.

  2. Donna Kunkel

    I really liked the part about writing anything in your early draft. I had this happen in one of my stories – one unless bit of trivia became an important detail later on. I also liked the part on putting your emotions in and making it real.

  3. Debbie

    I like your suggestion of finding the voice of your character and get rid of your own. This comforts me in my poetry, especially. Sometimes I read what I’ve written and wonder “who wrote that?” When that happens, I try not to question it, but run with it. Thank you.

  4. Thomas

    I think the biggest problem I have is that I want to admire what I write as soon as the initial inspiration wanes. Often I get interrupted because I’m writing at work, which is at home(like now), but I still punch a clock. I start writing with an open mind, my creativity flows, I get excited about what I’m writing only to end that session having picked it apart.

    Sometimes I’ll have written an entire chapter or more and will have killed the story by dissection an hour later. The ones that don’t die like that, end up being revised when I get to a point that I feel I’ve lost my way. Those problems usually occur when I’ve not allowed my imagination to create, having instead tried to direct it like a movie director, instead of flowing like an organic work of art.

    Your point above is taken. I let (conscript), people close to me read my writing because I don’t really trust that my writing is good. My mother was an English teacher and I let her read them most of the time, early on. My wife has learned not to read them, but I have such a lack of confidence in my writing (not sure why), that I have this overwhelming urge to get someone’s opinion before I invest. “Is it a good idea?” “what do you think about it?” I feel compelled to start revising when I’m only halfway through.
    I’ve started dozens of novels that ended up just files in a folder because I revised them to death or because I was afraid to go forward and ruin them. I wish I knew how to overcome my pathological need to check my writing against some accredited entity, even before it’s finished. Maybe I can take your advise. Thanks for the article and advise.

  5. Inkstrokes

    I am afraid of Revising for fear, like a loose stitched sweater, that is I start pulling on threads, it’ll all fall apart and I won’t know how to put it back together again.

    Great tips, thank-you.

  6. Haypher

    The hardest thing for me to hurdle is how I see my story in multi-layers of events happening overtop of one another. One event will cause the spark that ignites another event that’s in its beginning stages going on at the same time. It can be confusing.

  7. Steph

    Great advice! I am constantly overly critical of my first drafts. I need to learn to relax in my early stages of writing; and become more critical during my edits! Very helpful!

  8. Smarmosaur

    Style vs content is a huge problem I’m having right now with my work. I guess that’s what happens when you make a fast switch from article writing to novel writing. Great piece, very helpful! 🙂


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