The Final Polish: Alex’s Guide to Revision Part 4

So we’ve done all the messy stuff, all the major structural surgery. Now, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty—polishing off that revision.

  1. Treat it like a second revision.

Save it under a new file name. Change the font. Print it out, if you can.

  1. Think on a word- and sentence-level.

Though the big picture is important, we took care of most of that stuff in the initial revision. This polish is on a macro-level. Does this sentence sound clunky? Could it be worded better? Does this word fit in the sentence? Could you communicate the exact same thing with less words?

  1. Hunt for typos.

Technically, you should’ve been doing this in the previous revision too, but this stage is where you really get serious about it. Look not just for misspelled words, but for everything else—modifiers without dashes between them, homonyms, incorrect capitalization and punctuation, etc. For a handy guide on how to easily find these typos, check out Write Into Print’s Top Typo-Busting Tips.

  1. Get rid of the clichés.

Filler phrases and clichés only bring your story down. It’s okay to use them sparingly, but try not to depend on them so much.

A list of weak words to cut down on:

  • “I saw” and “I smelled”
  • “Very”, “a little”, “somewhat” and “really”
  • “Sort of” and “kind of”
  • “Currently”, “that” and “in order to”
  • “Suddenly” and “abruptly”

Other things to try and get rid of:

  • Cliché phrases
  • Run-on sentences (for normal sentences, anything more than three lines is dangerous)
  • Adverbs (especially the ones that end in -ly and lurk beside dialogue tags)
  • Repeated words and phrases
  • Double negatives
  • Non-hyphenated modifying words
  • General or vague words such as “things” and “stuff”
  • Too many prepositions (you can find a general list of them here)
  • Passive voice and verbs (e.g. “is”/“am”, “was”/“were” and verbs that end in -ing)
  • Too many sentences that start with “I” (an agent once told me that this can draw readers out of the narrative) or too many sentences that start with the same word
  1. Read it out loud.

It’s easier to catch mistakes or clunky wording when you can actually hear the words. Once you’ve done all the smoothing you can, it’s a good idea to read your story out loud, preferably to an audience that’s willing to listen. Or, if one’s not available, you can just read it to yourself or to your dog. Both still work.

  1. Send it out to beta readers.

You might’ve already done this, but once you’ve polished as much as you can, you should get an external opinion on your work.

  1. Repeat the previous steps as many times as necessary.

You might need more than one revision and polish. Maybe you need two revisions and three polishes. Maybe you need five of each. Remember: less revisions do not make a better writer. You do what you need for your story. If you think you need to do several revisions or more, then do it. It’s all up to you and what you think is necessary.

And once you’ve done all of this—polished your work as much as you can, gotten as much feedback as possible and everything else—you’re ready to start querying.

What tips do you use when polishing your manuscript?

(This blog post is part four of Alex’s Guide To Revision. All other parts in this series can be found here.)



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