The obvious revisions–grammar, spelling, punctuation–are not the most important.
But starting with these is a friendly invitation to your inner critic–Come, you’re welcome to futz around and be in control of these words. So go to it.
Your inner critic will smile and put the elementary things in order. Afterwards, say to your critic, You did that so well, I’m going to give you a more important task.
Here is what you want your inner critic to do next:
1) Define the beginning, middle and end of this piece of writing.
- The beginning is the introduction. Here is where you need to introduce the people and location (geography, date). Here is where you set up the main character’s situation, and you introduce the need or desire, also the obstacle that thwarts fulfillment.
- The middle is the detailed exposition of what happens–the body of the story: The Situation reveals a Problem which motivates a character to attempt a Solution, resulting in a new Situation. This new situation presents another problem, and another attempt at a solution, creating another situation. This pattern is repeated until you reach the end of the story.
- The end comes when you make clear that the main character reaches (or does not reach) the objective he or she was driven, in the beginning, to pursue.
2) Make sure that every element in the story is in the right place.
- Getting things out of order is like giving a punch line away in the middle of the joke, and then concluding with, “Oh, and did I mention there were three guys and a duck and they walked into a bar?” It seems elementary to put things in the right order, but surprisingly, writers often fail to do it.
- If you decide for reasons of genius to put things out of order, make sure that your reasons really are brilliant, lest you be mistaken for someone who took the hasty, lazy or confusing path through a story.
- If you think you’re not writing a story, re-think that. You want people to want to read your writing, don’t you? Please, give your readers what they’re looking for. Readers want stories. Stories are elemental not only to fiction, but also to biography, history, self-help and wellness books. Story-telling is the most essential tool of a writer’s trade.
So go through your writing, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph and scene by scene, and line up every bit in order according to what happens first, second, third, and so on.
And then congratulate your inner critic on a job well done!
That’s enough revising for today. But if you want to craft a truly stellar piece, you will give this piece at least one more revision, another day. Treat your newly revised piece of writing like a plant; give it time to grow into its best form before you share it. More on revision, next time.