What to Look For

When you're ready to jump back in, it's a good idea to begin by reading your draft from start to finish. You may want to make notes or flag areas to work on, but try to look at the piece as a whole, rather than as sections or chapters or stanzas. Read slowly and think about your central idea and what you planned to say. Keep reminding yourself of your original intention. It's also a good idea to approach the piece as an uninvolved reader might, someone who isn't familiar with the material and will come to it looking to be informed or entertained in a clear, understandable, and engaging way.

“A friend of mine says the first draft is the down draft — you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft — you fix it up…. The third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth.”

— Anne Lamott, novelist and memoirist

After a thorough reading, some authors like to start their next draft from the beginning — a complete rewrite. They uncover a great deal of information through careful review and decide to deal with that information by starting over. Many authors, though, work from their draft section by section, improving the original material in more of a step-by-step fashion. Still others rework by concentrating on one element at a time; for example, description, grammar, plot or steps, characters, spelling, and so on. Which-ever way feels most comfortable, during the revision process you should be looking for a number of things. It's often helpful to start with the larger, more general concerns and then work on the details.

At the Macro Level

Think about your work by taking in “the big picture.” Read for:

  • Meaning: Do you know what the novel/poem/article is about? Does it say what you want it to say?

  • Ideas: Do they make sense? Are they logical? Do they support your meaning? Are facts identifiable as facts and opinions as opinions?

  • Clarity: Are your points clear and focused? Could anything be misunderstood? Are the who, what, when, where, and why readily apparent? Are your sentences so long that they're confusing?

  • Consistency: Does the point of view remain the same throughout? Is the style consistent? Have you followed your organizational pattern; for example, are all the key points presented in chronological order? Are your characters always recognizable? Did you start writing in the present tense and then switch to the past?

  • Conciseness: Have you used too many words when a few, more precise ones would make the work stronger? Do you cover the intended story and no more? Does the beginning actually begin the story, or do you have to read on a ways to get to the start? Does the ending continue on too long, adding nothing but extra words?

  • Completeness: Have you given the reader everything she needs to know to understand the story? Did you tell it all, or has something been left out? Have you fleshed out areas that you only sketched in your first draft? Have you resolved the main problem or addressed the main point?

  • At the Micro Level

    Take a look at your writing with an eye to details. Pay attention to:

  • Wording: Is your language vivid and imaginative? Is there a section that's boring? Is the dialogue realistic? Do you trip over a word or phrase? If you do, your reader will too. Is the wording precise? For example, would it give your reader a better idea about your character Phil if he snorts or giggles instead of just laughs? Do you show rather than tell? Do you employ rhetorical devices (see Chapter 15) to bring your characters and scenes and information to life? Have you used any sexist or other offensive language? Are there any clichés? Have you used a variety of words, or do you use big every time instead of enormous, vast, or extensive?

  • Flow: Does one paragraph lead smoothly and clearly to the next? Is the sequencing logical? Do you need additional bridge material? Is all the interesting stuff in the middle, making the end and the beginning seem tacked on? Does the conflict build? Does every sentence keep the story moving forward? For shorter works, it may help to read the piece out loud to see if you hear the music.

  • Mechanics: Are all the words spelled correctly? Should there be their or your be you're? Is your grammar solid? How about punctuation? Have you capitalized all the proper nouns? Do your sentences run on? Do your paragraphs run on? Do you use quotation marks around quoted material and dialogue? Use your dictionary and a style guide such as The Chicago Manual of Style for help — the spell checker can only do so much. If you're not confident of your skills here, you can have a professional copy editor or proofreader give your final draft a once-over.

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