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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.)

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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