Revision Checklist: Line by Line

Last week, I wrote about some of the big-picture questions you should ask yourself when revising your novel. Today, I want to take a look at some of the smaller issues that need to be addressed.

Is the dialogue natural? If you’re not sure what natural dialogue sounds like, listen in on some conversations. (It’s not eavesdropping. It’s, uh, research.)

Are the first and last lines strong? The first and last lines of the novel are essential, but don’t neglect the individual chapters, either. Give your readers a reason to keep turning the pages.

Do you overuse any words? Many people overuse common adverbs, boring adjectives, and vague verbs. You probably have your own crutch words—I know I do. Determine what they are and eliminate as many instances as possible. If you’re using Microsoft Word, the “find” feature is perfect for this.

Do you overuse gestures? If your characters are constantly shrugging, biting their lips, or sighing, you need to think of some new actions.

Can you strengthen your word choice? Sometimes a thesaurus is helpful, but be careful. Don’t use obscure words to make yourself look smart. Instead, look for words that provide accurate descriptions and evoke the desired emotions. For example, should your characters simply walk in that scene, or should they stomp, trudge, or stroll? Don’t go overboard—sometimes you want your characters to walk.


Is the grammar correct? Some so-called mistakes are intentional, and that’s fine. You’re writing a novel, not an academic essay. If you want to use sentence fragments for emphasis or colloquialisms for voice, go ahead. On the other hand, there’s no reason to confuse “than” and “then.” If you have a hard time correcting your own grammar, brush up on the rules.  

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