Mastering the Art of Revision

By DiAnnMills, @DiAnnMills


Some of us revise as we write, and others choose to wait until the story is written. I suggest a writer complete a scene, a chapter, or even the entire story before switching to editor mode. Creating a story uses the left side of the brain. Revision uses the right. While writing the first draft, a writer learns about the story and its characters.

While editing, a writer fine tunes rough areas and uses the right side of the brain of the brain. Editing is analytical while creating is an art.

Only you can determine how many drafts your story needs. A critique group or partner can help the writer see blind spots.

My routine is simple. Perhaps it will help you:

I try to write strong copy.

Each morning I reread what I wrote the previous day and make edits. I make notes after each scene indicating what clues or threads I need to address before I complete the book. Some novelists use a project journal.

After the first doorway or at about 20,000 words, I read the story to ensure I’m being true to my premise and characters. I edit and make notes.

Midway, after I’ve written a critical turning point, I repeat the process.

When I’ve completed the first draft, I read the story for flow, often doing intense editing. This is when I begin sending chapters to my critique partners.

I let the story sit as long as possible, ideally two months. There is a measure of perspective that comes only from allowing our manuscripts to rest.

I use text-to-voice software for each chapter. This allows me to hear the story, the flow of the plot, characterization, and sentence rhythm. Sometimes I catch grammar and punctuation inconsistencies during this phase.

I read the story one more time on screen—and then in hard copy. Maybe more if I’m not satisfied.

A writer knows when she has achieved her best work.

Some writers prefer editing from hard copy, using various highlighters to point out problems. Some simply scribble notes on their printouts with a pen. You may prefer a systematic approach, even doing separate reads for character, plot, dialogue, and narration. No matter your process, apply it thoroughly.

Editing Goals


Facts must be documented.

Active Voice

Strive to make sentences active.

Remember “as” and “ing” words tend to make a sentence passive.

Often the word “as” indicates a sentence is not in chronological order.

Avoid Clichés

A successful writer creates his/her own metaphors and similes.


Does the writing project begin with a strong hook that raises a question or a curiosity?

Chapter Hooks

Do scenes and chapter endings have a strong hook?


Hero, heroine, or villain – recheck the defining physical, mental, and spiritual traits.


Use a calendar to keep track of story chapters.

Conflict and Tension

Keep conflict and tension foremost.



Numbers – written or spelled.

Cut Extra Words

Be clear and concise.


Clear and tight.

Punctuated correctly.

Is a tag needed?

Is a beat needed?

Emotional Conflict

Is there emotional conflict in every line?


Is the project written with a clear genre in mind?


Invest in a grammar guide or English book.


Do you have passion for the writing project?

Have you grown and changed into a better person during the writing process?


Is the plot tight?

Are there no holes?

Are the four crucial plot questions answered in every scene?

  1. What is the POV character’s goal?
  2. What does the POV character learn that he/she didn’t know before?
  3. What backstory is revealed?
  4. How are the stakes raised?


Is the writing project true to its premise?         

Pronoun Preference

Make sure the reader knows which noun the pronoun stands for.



Keep an works cited list.

Always research more than is needed. 


Each scene should propel the story or subject matter forward, constantly   building conflict and tension.

Make sure the first and last lines in each scene are strong.

Smooth transitions.

Sensory Perception

Does each scene or section use all the senses?

Sentence Order

Count the symbols with single syllable words first: beans, cabbage, and tomatoes instead of huckleberries, pear, and a banana.

Count the number of words. He enjoyed green beans, deep fried onion rings, and buttered corn-on-the cob.

If all the items have the same number of syllables, then consider their position in the alphabet.

Exception to this is chronological order, obvious sequence, familiar sequence, and unintended modifiers.

Sometimes the way we are accustomed to hearing items in a list contradicts the above guidelines. If the items in your list sound inappropriate, change the order so the list is acceptable.

Tea with lunch, dinner, and breakfast is written as tea with breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The bees and the birds (alphabetical sequence) become the birds and the bees.

Gold, myrrh, and frankincense are written as gold, frankincense, and myrrh.


View the setting as antagonistic to add conflict and tension.


Does the nonfiction topic have different aspects or features?


Does each chapter or scene flow into the next?

Vary Sentence Length

Do the sentences have rhythm?

Word Choice

William Shakespeare said: “Suit the action to the word, the word to the       action.”

Unintended Modifiers

Make sure all modifiers modify the appropriate word.

Writer Termites:



Beginning sentences with “There” or “It.”

Conduct a global search of the manuscript for:

… ly with a space after it

…ly with a period after it

What is your revision process?

DiAnn Mills

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Firewall, the first book in her Houston: FBI series, was listed by Library Journal as one of the best Christian Fiction books of 2014.

DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Suspense Sister, and International Thriller Writers. She is co-director of The Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference with social media specialist Edie Melson. She teaches writing workshops around the country. DiAnn is active online and would love to connect with readers on any of the social media platforms listed at

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *