Tuesday, October 15, 2013

9 My Top Tips on Revising Your Novel by Sara Grant

Today's guest is won the prestigious SCBWI Crystal Kite Award (Europe) for her first Young Adult novel, DARK PARTIES. Needless to say, she knows a thing or two about revising and polishing her work. We're honored to have her here on the blog today to share some important tips!

My Top Tips on Revising Your Novel

by Sara Grant

I used to hate revising my novel. I loved the thrill of telling the story to myself. Once I’d captured it on my computer, I wanted to move on to the next idea. But this ‘once and done’ mentality kept me from being published. Revision is hard work – and it’s what separates a good novel from a great one. It’s what makes a novel fit for publication rather than relegated to the nether regions of your hard drive

But how do you step back and really dissect your work? You read the novel you think you wrote – not the novel that is actually captured on the page. I’ve developed a series of exercises that help me review my novel with fresh eyes. I consider my novel chapter by chapter, scene by scene, line by line and ultimately word by word.

Here are my top five revision tips:

  1. Don’t revise as you go. This constant, ongoing revision can drain your creative drive. Push forward and get a rough draft down. You can’t fully appreciate what your story is about and how the drama should unfold until you’ve finished a first draft. Revision along the way can focus on what’s not working, instead of what is. Keep the positive drive to the end.
  2. Know what’s at the heart of your story. Why are you writing it? Why are you the only person who can write it? What continues to keep you interested in your story? You are going to be living with this story and these characters for months and years – and if it’s published – for the rest of your life. You must LOVE your story. You may need to change plot, characters, setting, etc…but know what’s at the heart of your story and remain true to it throughout the revision process.
  3. Write your pitch. It’s difficult to condense the novel that has taken you months – maybe even years – to write into the space of an ad slogan. But the easier you can communicate your story and easier it will be for your agent to pitch it to an editor and for your editor to pitch to his/her acquisitions team and for the publishers to pitch to readers. I’ve found that nailing the hook of your story can help you determine what’s not working in your draft. If you can come up with a movie-style pitch – this meets that – sometimes it can help you discover the tone, pace or ethic of your novel too.
  4. Always macro edit first. Don’t mess with line-editing until you’ve solved any plot, character, setting and voice issues. Why polish a section of writing when you may end up cutting the entire chapter?
  5. Be a slave to your story. Don’t cling to beautiful sections of writing, characters, specific action, etc. Sometimes the thing that inspired the story might be the bit that needs to go. Sometimes the spark is only the way into your ultimate story. When revising, do what’s best for your story – not what shows off your talent.

And keep revising until you can’t find any room for improvement. Writers – me included – can get anxious about missing an opportunity. We want to send our work to agents as soon as possible. I’ve also heard writers say that they expect agents and editors to help them perfect their novels. And, while agents and editors often ask for changes, they might not take the risk on unpolished work. You get one shot with agents and editors – make sure your novel is the best it can be before you start sending it out.

About Sara Grant

Sara writes books for both children and teens. DARK PARTIES, her first young adult novel, won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for Europe. Her next novel for teens – HALF LIVES – is a story told in two voices from a pre- and post-apocalyptic time. She also writes a new funny magical series for young readers – MAGIC TRIX. Sara is part of a team of editors and writers – called Book Bound – which is offering a weekend writers retreat in 2014.

Find out more about Sara at www.sara-grant.com and Book Bound at www.bookboundretreat.com. And on Goodeads!

About Her Latest Book

Present day: Icie is a typical high school teenager - until disaster strikes and her parents send her to find shelter inside a mountain near Las Vegas.

The future: Beckett lives on The Mountain - a sacred place devoted to the Great I AM. He must soon become the leader of his people. But Beckett is forced to break one of the sacred laws, and when the Great I AM does not strike him down, Beckett finds himself starting to question his beliefs. 

As Beckett investigates The Mountain's history, Icie's story is revealed - along with the terrifying truth of what lies at the heart of The Mountain.

Sara Grant's HALF LIVES is a dystopian chronicle of the journeys of two unlikely heroes in their race against time to save future generations.


  1. Great tips :) I have trouble with always wanting to edit as I write, even though I know I shouldn't be! Urgh. Going to try harder on that one. Thanks so much for the advice!!

  2. I think I really need this advice right now. I need to get the core of my WIP down, THEN tidy it up. And I need to write that pitch and figure out the heart of it. Thanks!

  3. Very helpful tips. I, too, enjoy that first thrill of getting the story out. But revising is important to turn that gem into something that sparkles.

  4. Great tips. I wish I'd known numbers 1 & 4 before I started the revision process.

  5. Great advice. Just shared it with my writing students. Now I need to follow it myself!!

  6. Thanks for sharing your approach. I really am going to work on revising from big to small. The pitch is a real challenge for me but it's something I'll keep working on. It's always great to learn what works for others.

  7. These are wonderful tips. Thanks for posting them here. I am going to keep these close by.

  8. Thanks so much for this, Sara! Your number 3 is my newest epiphany. Writing the pitch early on helps to clarify the arc of the story and the tensions needed in the plot.

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