I use Word’s grammar check to find and replace passive sentences with active one. I also use it to find words that are misspelled, or misused. It also tells me when I have sentence fragments, which is sometimes not very helpful.
Sometimes, the wording in a description is wrong. By reading descriptions aloud, an author will often find that the words chosen first were not strong enough to evoke the desired imagery, or even evoke any image at all.
Reading the work aloud can help find where words sound strange together so that the author knows to change them. Authors often read their dialog aloud to determine if it is realistic. Listen to conversations around you and you will find that people don’t always speak in complete sentences. Fictional characters shouldn’t either.
The most effective form of revision, though, is the line-by-line revision. This is a technique where a writer reads a line and tries to determine if it could convey its information in a different way, or if it adds anything at all to the work and therefore, be eligible for elimination. That’s the hardest determination to make. Writers use word elimination carefully. I always use the version method, much like software companies do. This means that I can keep the older versions to compare with the newer one to see which may be better. This is the longest part of the writing process. It’s a very rare work that hasn’t been revised at least once.
Another method I use is to give the finished draft to someone else to read. I tell them to feel free to mark it up and ask me about passages, if they have questions. I figure if my friends and relatives don’t understand it, neither will anyone else and I can address the issues they raise for me as part of the revision process.
Sometimes, writers put the work in a drawer or something while it simmers in their subconscious. This is an especially good idea when they have been immersed in the work for a long time. Often you can’t see a problem because you are too close to it. Stepping back can change perspective enough to bring the problem out and maybe even the solution, as well. Total immersion in a piece can make the flaws disappear, but emergence from the work makes them pop glaringly out.
Another thing authors have to look out for are the so-called –ly words. These are words like ‘laughingly’, ‘funnily’, ‘knowingly’. These words are perfectly good words, but they should be used sparingly (another –ly word). I use Word’s find feature to locate them in my fiction.
Another thing authors look for when revising their work is whitespace. Whitespace is the part of the page that has no writing and is just as important as the writing itself. The above passages have little whitespace, while the following dialog almost has too much:
“I’m done,” he said.
“Good,” she replied.
“What do I do know?”
“I don’t know, think of something.”
Used with care, this type of dialog lets the characters convey information in an efficient manner. The danger of using this method too much is the reader loses the sense of where the characters are. They become talking heads to the reader. The above dialog is alright for a short passage, like the example, but if a reader sees too much whitespace, they tend to gloss over it. The same is true for pages with too little whitespace. Balance is important. Authors have to revise the whitespace as well as the writing. This is why revising a work of fiction takes so much longer than actually writing it.
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