Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

“What You Need in Your Revision Toolkit” Presented by Harold Underdown – Notes 1/22/23

What is Revision?  It’s seeing what you’ve written and deciding what needs to be done. Then rewriting, acting on what you see.

General Principles When Thinking about What to Revise:

  • • Ask yourself: “Why was I getting this response?”
  • • Listen to your own worries. Was there a section or sentence that bothered you?
  • • Be open to new approaches.
  • • Let it sit.
  • • Work big picture (story) to small (words/sentences).
  • • Use the multiple pass approach. (Look for one thing to revise at a time.)

The Big Picture (Story)

Two ways to approach the manuscript: Holistic (look at the story and/or chapter as a whole) and Analytic (components or pieces of a story).

Holistic Methods
Looking at the story again

  • • Let it sit for a while. Read and make notes. Rewrite.

The One-Sentence Summary – Look at the big picture of the story.  It is NOT a tagline or pitch. The one sentence could focus on the emotional journey, emphasize action, or whatever makes sense to you. Include the ending.  This shows if the story is clear to you.

Ex: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurie Sendak focuses on Max’s emotional journey. A boy misbehaves and gets lost in his feelings but finds his way back to the love of his family.

Writing a summary of the manuscript

  • • Be aware of the difficult parts of the story. Where you struggle.
  • • Is there a resolution to the story?
  • • Is there more than one story?
  • • Are there too many characters?
  • • What is the heart of the story?
  • • Make a summary for nonfiction, concept books, and quiet stories mentioning the core or purpose of the story.

Asking Questions (and Answering them)

Three essential questions from Writing It Right! by Sandy Asher (Book out of print.)

  1. 1. Whose story is this? Who stands to gain or lose the most? Who has the most to learn?
  2. 2. What does the main character want? Is the MC’s need/ goal obvious; revealed soon enough; important enough to be worthy of the character’s effort and the reader’s time?
  3. 3. What’s standing in the character’s way? Possible obstacles:
    1. • External
    2. • Interpersonal (disagreements between the main character and others, often about how to deal with the external obstacle)
    3. • Internal (the main character’s own feelings of doubt/indecision concerning what must be done about the external and interpersonal obstacles.)

Questions are useful for a PB and each chapter of a novel. Make a list of questions based on your goals.

Analytic Method: Three Main Options: Traditional outline and its forms, charts and grids, and storyboards and other visual approaches.

The Big Picture Goal: See what you ended up with and whether or not this was intended.

Sentence and Word level Revision – Tighter Focus 

Line editing – Intermediate editing stage. For examples of line-editing, check – The Magic Words – Cheryl B Klein – Chapter on “Perspective and Polishing.”

Main approaches: Isolating/identifying favorite words, problem words, or phrases; Don’t hire a copy editor or proofreader. The publishers do that.

Favorite Words – Use a word-cloud generator to find words you use often. You may also have favorite phrases or sentence structures.

Some Common Writing Problems

  • • Passive voice (We don’t know who did the action. Ex: The ball was kicked.)
  • • Overuse of adverbs
  • • Use of empty words (Ex: very, just, that)
  • • Filter words (Ex: heard, felt, saw)

Things to Check: (Though not necessarily a problem)

  • • Overuse of adjectives or adverbs
  • • Strong verbs and how you use them and the tense
  • • Dialogue tags
  • • Character/characters repeating an action throughout.
  • • Character dialogue: catchphrases or something a character says often and not on purpose.
  • • Repetition
  • • Sentence structure: run-ons, fragments
  • • Punctuation problems