Sparkling Clean Writing: How to Revise Fiction

by Sylvia Nica, jaBlog! Blogger


Until a few months ago, I had never fully revised my fiction. I would take my draft, scribble it up, and then send it off to some random contest. However, after getting multiple rejections from publications, I developed a five-step filter system for revising any fiction prose. Just like a real filter, this method deals with the glaring errors first and then the smaller revisions.

Filter One (Big Chunks): Plot

When beginning to revise, the first thing you should filter is your plot. Often, there are inconsistencies or unanswered plot holes you don’t notice when writing your draft. To fix these, write a “first draft outline” of all the scenes and look where you can tie up these loose ends. If any scenes don’t fit, don’t be afraid to take them out and rearrange them.

Often in my own pieces I’ll rush the intro and then end the story in an abrupt and unsatisfying way. Putting the story through this first filter exposes such errors, even giving you time to rewrite the whole draft, before focusing on character development and imagery.

Filter Two (Muddy Gravel): Characters

After plot, the characters in your story are the most important element. This is where you make sure that your protagonist is sufficiently developed and dynamic. For example, if your main character is flat and uninteresting, add action scenes to challenge and develop their personalities. Like Ernest Hemingway said, “When writing a novel a writer should create living people.” Give your character a goal, and make sure they have believable flaws too.

You may even realize your so-called protagonist wasn’t the focus—it was a minor character that is leading the story. Use this stage to shift the story and focus more on this new hero. Double-check that dialogue and personalities are consistent, and, if any characters don’t add meaning to the story, remove them.

Filter Three (Slimy Stuff): Setting and World-Building

Characters and plot are great, but without a good setting, where will your story take place? Think about which environment best showcases the conflict, and what symbols you can incorporate into it. For example, if your story is sad, add shadows and mist.

Sometimes you can get stuck when working with a setting. If this happens, change it up. 

Filter Four (Nitty-Gritty): Sentence Fluency and Description

Now that you’ve gotten the big parts of revision out of the way, you can begin to focus on the smaller elements. By this stage, your story should be much more clear and organized. Read through and look for overused words (I always overuse suddenly). Replace any passive voice with active voice—the book The Elements of Style, by E.B. White and William Strunk, can help you with this.

While in this stage you can incorporate vivid metaphors or colourful descriptions, make sure you don’t overdo it. There is nothing more boring than flowery, over-complicated writing, and it’s easy to go overboard.

Filter Five (Pesky Pathogens): Grammar and Typos

You are almost through with the revision process. In this final stage, comb through your story to make sure you fixed any silly grammar mistakes, such as replacing there for their and it’s for its. What I’ve found works best is reading the whole story aloud to your cat or even a wall. This helps catch any errors you didn’t notice while filtering. A good practice is to give it to a friend or relative to read and critique before you send it out.

Though some people do it earlier, this is the stage where I finalize my title.

Final Result: Sparkling, Clean Writing

You’ve finally finished filtering your story! Using this filter system, you should be able to efficiently revise your messy first draft. Though everyone revises their story differently, this method takes the pain out of revising to create a clean, sparkling piece of writing. You’ll be getting published in no time.


Sylvia Nica

About Sylvia Nica

Sylvia is a writer looking to expand her craft in nonfiction articles and short stories, as well as fine-tune her novel writing. Having placed in several writing contests, including a regional gold key for the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, she divides her time between fiction writing and blogging.

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