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“Now What?”: How to Revise Your Novel


Finally. It’s been weeks, months, or even years, and you’ve finished your manuscript…all two hundred pages of it. It’s time to take out the red pen. Revision is a daunting prospect for any author, but it doesn’t have to be impossible.

Revision addresses problems of both style and structure. Structural problems are big picture and must be considered first, as they may require adding or cutting whole scenes, chapters, or even characters. There isn’t much point in catching every typo and misused comma if you’re going to end up excising those passages, or if the main character is flat or the pacing is sluggish.

Questions to Ask Yourself: On Structure

Is the main conflict interesting? Is the reader hooked from the first paragraph or chapter? (An author only has a few pages to get the reader involved in the story.)

Is there an internal and external conflict? Are both resolved in a satisfying way?

Is/are your main character(s) compelling and developed? Are we invested in following their arc until the last page?

Does your beginning work? Often authors “write into” a story, taking several pages to define their characters or main conflict. Examine your first paragraph or chapter. Can it be improved by cutting a scene and substituting another?

Does the ending work? Could your last chapter or paragraph be cut without changing the story? Or is another scene necessary?

Questions to Ask Yourself: Fine Tuning

Are your sentences wordy or confusing? Or is there a lack of description and atmosphere?

Is there a good balance of narrative and dialogue?

Are characters vivid and real? Do they each have their own gestures and quirks? Can we picture them in our minds?

Does every sentence and piece of dialogue add to the story, or is it just taking up space?

Can you tell which character is speaking? Is the dialogue generic or specific?

Is the prose easy to follow? Read your manuscript aloud to catch clunky phrasing or repetition.

Once you’ve gone over the story on your own, it is time to present it to an audience. One of the best ways to get feedback is to share your story with readers or writers who you can trust to be honest. It may be an ego boost to get praise from your doting grandmother or significant other, but what an author needs to know is “does the story work for the reader?” A second set of eyes will catch weak or undeveloped areas and ask questions the author may not have considered.

When a manuscript comes back bleeding with red pen, it’s natural to take this personally. Try to take comments in the spirit they are intended—as constructive criticism. Both you and your editors want to create the best story possible. Take a step back and pretend you are looking at a stranger’s writing.

Remember that you don’t have to accept every piece of advice. Everyone has their own taste and biases. One reader may praise your lush description, while another may ask if you were paid by the word. However, if two or more reviewers comment about the same issue, you should consider the matter carefully.

After taking all advice into account, edit carefully. Although the process can be painful, in the end you will produce stronger writing.





Using Dialogue

A common problem many authors make is that they are afraid to use the word “said.” The characters hardly ever “say” something. They shout, whisper, chortle, sneer, interject, retort, etc. Their goal in using these dialogue tags is to make dialogue more lively and dynamic—however, this usually has the opposite effect.

A common piece of advice is to vary your word choice to create richer and more descriptive writing. However, in the case of dialogue, “said” works more like punctuation. The word “said” is so ubiquitous as to be unmemorable: that is its usefulness to the author. The reader’s eye skims over “said,” allowing him or her to focus solely on what the character is saying.

That does not mean you should never have a character shout when they are excited or whisper when they have a secret to share. However, when every single dialogue tag is an alternative to “said,” it can be distracting. It’s as if the characters are hammy actors, gesticulating wildly to get us to pay attention to their lines. Let your dialogue stand on its own.

Substituting supposedly better words for “said” creates the same problem as pulling out the thesaurus “to improve” every piece of description. While the phrase “luminescent viridian orbs” contains a few ten-dollar words, the reader would appreciate simply knowing the hero has bright green eyes.

Telling authors to use different words for “said” does address an actual problem. Dialogue like this isn’t exactly exciting, either:

            “You’re the only one I’ll ever love,” he said.

            “I wish you wouldn’t say things like that,” she said.

            “Why not?” he asked. “It’s true,” he said.

            “This isn’t serious and you know it,” she said.

Keep “said” in your writer’s toolkit, but also vary the dialogue’s structure by adding in actions and descriptions.

One way to do this is to bring in the character’s thoughts. This is a way to demonstrate a character’s inner conflict; there are many things we think that we don’t let ourselves say. Just remember to keep direct thoughts in the head of the viewpoint character. For example:



            “You’re the only one I’ll ever love,” he said. “Being with you is the best thing that ever happened to me.”

            “I wish you wouldn’t say things like that,” she protested.



            “Stop.” She wondered if the other diners could hear them. “I wish you wouldn’t say things like that.”


            “I wish you wouldn’t say things like that.” Why do I have such bad luck with men?

Another way to develop dialogue is to bring in more description. Showing a character’s actions, facial expressions, or body language will bring them alive for the reader. More description can also give us a clearer picture of a scene by having characters interact with the environment. For example:


            “Why not? It’s true,” he retorted.

            “This isn’t serious and you know it,” she argued.



            “Why not? It’s true,” he said. John unconsciously clenched his fist, knuckles whitening. She wondered if he noticed.

            A headache pounded behind her temple; the restaurant‘s music was grating.“This isn’t serious and you know it.”

Although revision can seem daunting at first, with just a few changes you can create more dynamic prose. Dialogue is a key aspect of writing fiction, a way to produce memorable and exciting characters. Don’t let your readers become distracted by awkward phrases or word cho

The Art of the Six-Word Story


             Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway was once bet that he couldn’t write a complete story in six words. He won the bet, and $10 from each of his colleagues, with the words: For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn.

Hemingway’s famous challenge has now turned into a writing tool known as “The Six-Word Story.” Not only is writing six-word stories entertaining, but it is a great way to practice writing and thinking of ideas for novels. A good component of writing is the ability to show rather than tell, and the six-word story is the epitome of limiting words while maximizing ideas.

Step 1: Read

            Before actually writing a six-word story, it’s helpful to read some examples. Sixwordstories.net is full of ideas. A couple of our favorites are:

“Longed for him. Got him. Shit.”

“The baby’s blood type? Human, mostly.”

“Rapunzel! I am slipping! A wig?!”

Step 2: Write

            After looking at some examples, it’s time to write your own! The goal here is to write a story that is intriguing, without all of the details.  Starting this process can be a lot harder than it sounds. To get your creative juices flowing, it is helpful to look at words and objects around you in an attempt to gleam inspiration.

We used magnetic refrigerator words to spark our imagination, and came up with:

Straying man. Young lady. Champagne. Poison.

It’s definitely not our best work, but it’s not finished yet! The next step to creating a six-word story is punctuation. The use of commas, periods, question marks, and exclamation points can completely change the meaning of a story. For example, with the use of a little creative punctuation, our basic story can be transformed into:

Straying man, young lady. Champagne? Poison! 

Don’t worry if your six-word story isn’t exactly a work of art. It’s just meant to give you the opportunity to hit the ground running.

Step 3: Expand

            Six-word stories provide a great way to come up with ideas without getting bogged down by exposition. They are a great tool for coming up with character descriptions, background stories, and climactic plotlines. After writing your six-word story, sit down for a five-minute free write and try to expand it. See what happens!

Writer Tips



Writing is not easy and becoming an author is even harder. Many of history's greatest authors struggled and even failed throughout their careers but each one continued in their craft. They did not stop, they did not allow themselves to get discouraged, and they took each piece of advice that they were given with a grain of salt. Even Sylvia Plath received a rejection letter in her time, for THE BELL JAR nonetheless. Can you believe that she was told, “There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.”

So always remember that even if one person, one agent, one publisher, decides that your work isn’t utterly fantastic, that does not mean that someone else won’t think the opposite.

Having done a bit of research, we here at TZPP have compiled a list of writer’s tips from some of the greats. These authors have been through it all and faced both praise and criticism for their works and we wanted to share what they’ve had to say about writing. So take from this list those words of wisdom that will help you though like Lev Grossman says, “Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously.”

1. The first draft of everything is shit. –Ernest Hemingway

2. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are all hallmarks of a pretentious ass. -Davis Ogilvy

3. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time – or the tools – to write. Simple as that. –Stephen King

4. Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show that you’ve been to college. –Kurt Vonnegut

5. If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, or course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy. –Dorothy Parker

6. Remember: When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong or how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. – Neil Gaiman

7. I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide. –Harper Lee

8. You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. –Jack London

10. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. –George Orwell

11. Prose is architecture, not interior decoration. –Ernest Hemingway.

12. Write drunk, edit sober. – Ernest Hemmingway

13. Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. –Mark Twain

14.  Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously. –Lev Grossman

15. Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. –Oscar Wilde

16. Be your own editor/critic. Sympathetic but merciless! –Joyce Carol Oates

17. Rewrite everything. Even letters –James McBride

18. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt –Sylvia Path

19. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.– Elmore Leonard

20. No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader. -Robert Frost

21. Let grammar, punctuation, and spelling into your life! Even the most energetic and wonderful mess has to be turned into sentences. –Terry Pratchett

22. Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea forever. –Will Self

23. Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life as well. It's about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? –Stephen King