Revising and Editing Part 1: Macro revision

So you’ve just written the last words of your manuscript, and you’ve even typed THE END nice and big, even though you know that no self-respecting book ends with THE END anymore (you naughty thing, you), but it just feels so good, doesn’t it? It’s over.

Well, not really. Now (more like after a few weeks to a month to let the text marinate) it’s time to start revising and editing your manuscript.


Macro revision Vs. Micro edits

There are two parts to the revision dyad: macro revision and micro edits (Laurie Hals Anderson, author of Speak, refers to these as ‘logic’ and ‘polish.’). Macro revision, or just revision, refers to big-picture edits, such as making sure your plot makes sense, your characters are sympathetic, etc. Micro edits, also known as editing and copyediting, refer to line-edits, like spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax, and word choice.

Rule of thumb: Macro revision deals with elements of storytelling (plot, character, inconsistencies, etc.), Micro edits deal with language and writing conventions (syntax, word choice, spelling, grammar, and punctuation.)

Macro revision always comes before micro edits. Think of it like carving a statue: Michelangelo didn’t carve the facial features before making sure his block of granite was whittled down to roughly the human form (If he did, he’d end up carving the face again when he realized the head wasn’t shaped quite right). Likewise, you shouldn’t make line edits before you have the larger layout of your story hammered down, unless you like extra work for no reason.

In part 1, we’ll be focusing on Macro revision. (Click here to go to Part 2: 6 Easy Edits to strengthen Your Final Draft.)

Macro revision, Step-by-step

Step 1: Print it!

Print out the entire manuscript (add page numbers before you print for easier reference). All of It. Don’t try to do this on your computer screen. You will go insane.

Step 2: Read it!

Block off an entire weekend to sit and read through your manuscript. Keep a writing utensil close by (I’m obsessed with those retro 10-color pens). Make a note whenever something makes you laugh, cry, or otherwise evokes a strong emotional response. Conversely, also mark down whenever you get bored or start skimming. Note down any inconsistencies, characters, or subplots that need tweaking.

Cross out anything you want to delete. A list of easy deletions include:

  • Characters waking up
  • Characters moving from one place of action to another
  • Dialogue unrelated to the plot or character development
  • Characters doing nothing
  • Character’s internal reflection
  • Excessive exposition (especially at the beginning)
  • Excessive Description
  • Excessive backstory (replace with one sentence of summary)
  • Dreams
  • Characters or sub-plots that only appear once or twice

Tip: be sure to make notes of any important info you’re deleting that you need to insert elsewhere!

Ignore all line edits, such as spelling, grammar, punctuation, wording, etc. (We’ll be discussing line edits next week in Part 2). It’s hard not to fix those small mistakes, but it saves you time in the long run.

Holly Lisle’s notes on a page from “Vincalis”

Step 3: List it!

Go back through your manuscript and make a list of all the scenes. You can do this on any old piece of paper – Anderson suggests using the largest one you can find. Some writers like to use index cards, one scene per card. This is what I did for the book I’m currently working on (you can download my flashcard template here). Though I liked the extra details I could put in with the cards, they were a lot to deal with, and I think next time I might just try the sheet of paper.

Me laying out the first act of my book using scene cards.

Me laying out the first act of my book using scene cards.

In her post on the NaNoWriMo blog, A 7-Step Guide to Big Picture Revision, Wendy Mass suggests highlighting all your subplots in different colors. When you’re done, all the un-highlighted text is your main plot line.

She also suggests reading these over (especially the main plot), and asking yourself these five questions:

    • Are there holes in the plot?
    • Would it help build suspense if plot points played out in a different order?
    • Is there enough of a character arc?
    • Does the action start too slowly or quickly?
    • Do you quickly see what it is the character wants, and do they have to overcome enough (evenly-spaced-out) hurdles before reaching a satisfying resolution?
    • Edit Accordingly. I would also suggest checking to see if you can move any scenes around, or consolidate any scenes. What purpose does the scene fulfill – does it develop character, or move the plot along? If not, you’ll want to consider taking the scene out. What’s the worst that could happen if the scene wasn’t there?

Step 4: (re-)write it!


Start at the beginning of your draft, making all the changes you marked down. Again, don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or making the words sound pretty. That’s for next Friday, when we discuss Micro-editing: 6 Easy Edits to Strengthen Your Final Draft.


References and Resources

NaNoWriMo 7 Steps for Big-Picture Edits

Laurie Hals Anderson’s Revision Roadmap

Holly Lisle’s One-Pass Manuscript Revision

The Difference Between Macro-revision and Editing (Yahoo Answers)

10 Things Not to Do at the Beginning of Your Book

Nine Ways to Cut a Story that’s too Long

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H. Duke
H. Duke writes fantasy, horror, and more. Her works include the weird west / urban fantasy serial mashup, Jeremiah Jones Cowboy Sorcerer and the Christmas horror collection, Things on the Shelf: Three Tales of Christmas Terror, as well as the forthcoming Pagewalker series. She wrote the first season of Jeremiah Jones Cowboy Sorcerer while living in Arizona with her husband, Giru, and a shiny black dog named Jupiter. To see what she's up to now, visit her website.

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