Revision Checklist: The Big Picture

Congratulations! You’ve finished your novel. Time to kick back, relax, and—

Just kidding. It’s time to revise.

Yep, the hard work has barely begun. Before you send your manuscript to a beta reader, an agent, or an editor, you want to make sure it’s the best darn manuscript you’re capable of producing on your own. To do that, you need to get serious about revision. 

To help you revise your novel, I’ve put together a list of issues to consider. Today, we’re looking at the big picture. Next week, we’ll focus on the nitty-gritty details. 

Is there a clear plot? This is a biggie. You should be able to summarize the basic plot easily. If you can’t, it either means you don’t have enough plot or you have so much going on that it’s become a muddled mess.

Are the characters strong? Make sure all of the important characters are fully developed with their own goals and fears, and that they show growth and change throughout the novel.

Is there enough tension? You don’t need constant explosions, but you should have some sort of conflict on every page.

Is that scene/character/paragraph really necessary? If it doesn’t add to the plot or character development, cut it—no matter how much you like it.

Is the opening right? Your first chapter needs to pull the reader into the story. Common mistakes include starting too early, which can make the beginning slow, or starting with a fake start, such as a dream. Avoid overdone beginnings, like a character waking up and looking in a mirror.

Did you rush the end? Maybe you were worried that the word count was getting too high, or maybe you were just ready to be done with project. Either way, a rushed ending is not a satisfying ending. You’ll need to flesh it out. Make sure you’ve resolved the major plotlines—without resorting to deus ex machina or the revelation that it was all a dream.

Is there too much backstory? A little goes a long way, and it’s a good idea to spread it out. The reader doesn’t need to know everything at once. In fact, a little mystery can become another reason to turn the page.

Is it too short? If the manuscript falls far below the normal word count range for its age group and genre, think about ways to expand it. My first drafts tend to have little description, and I add more as I revise. Other manuscripts might need new scenes, chapters, characters, or subplots. Just make sure you’re not adding fluff.


Is it too long? I’ve personally never had this problem—I tend to write short—but I’ve heard of enough 250K-word manuscripts to know it’s a common issue. You might have too much description, too many characters, or too many subplots. You might have started the novel earlier than you should have. You might have a lot of scenes that add little to the story and should be cut. If everything really, truly needs to stay, think about dividing the manuscript into two or three books.

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