by Arielle Haughee
Five Common Revision Problems and How to Fix Them
Writers often confront similar problems with their stories during the revision process. It can be frustrating to think your manuscript is too messy to fix or has more problems than other writers’ work. Fear not! Many authors confront the same challenges as they revise. Remember, any issue is fixable—some just take more time than others to set straight. So to help save you some time on your journey, here are five common revision problems and ideas for how to fix them.
Problem 1: Info dump
Let’s start with a problem many writers have at the beginning of their stories: filling up those precious first few pages with back story, what is commonly called an “info dump.” This is part of a larger issue: not giving information at the correct time and place to the reader. Either information is given too much, too soon, or too late, confusing the reader and making the story inorganic. Information such as backstory, worldbuilding, or other explanations should be integrated within the plot and given to the reader in small doses as needed to understand the story.
Solution: Story Information Chart
Make a list of information you need to communicate to the reader in order for them to understand the story (not active plot points). This could include things such as the childhood flashback that shows why the character is afraid of water, or for fantasy, how the monetary system works. Turn this list into a table using the example below. Notice a lot of info given in a certain place in your draft? Time to redistribute!
Problem 2: Saggy Middle
This might be the most common problem for writers with their manuscripts. The cause of a drippy, boring middle? Not enough conflict. This slows the pacing. Layering conflict as the story progresses increases the tension and maintains reader interest. Make sure your scenes contain conflict in a variety of forms.
Solution: Brainstorm and Integrate Conflict
There are seven different types of story conflict: battling self, others, society, nature, machine, the supernatural, and fate. Write out a list of the current conflict you have in your story and brainstorm other conflicts that make sense for the character. Do they have crippling self-criticism? (battling self) Do they have to deal with an incredibly judgmental person? (battling others) Does a major storm blow in? (battling nature) Plan where and how you will add the new conflict to the middle of your story.
Problem 3: Character Didn't Change Much
Steve is still the same Steve at the end of the book. He went through this whole saga and didn’t seem to learn or change at all. This one usually sneaks in without the writer realizing it. A critique partner or beta reader may point it out, or upon review, you realize Steve is a bit flat at the end. The root of the problem is an incomplete character arc.
Solution: Character Journey Examination
Write out your character’s learning journey. Start with their initial motivation or goal and which story events impact that motivation. Determine if their goal changed as a result of what happened to them in the story. Then write what the character has learned as a result of the totality of their experiences. How are they different at the end? Integrate this change in mindset in the appropriate places in your story.
Problem 4: POV Unclear or Not Distinct Between Characters
Point of view is the flavor of the narration. A bland flavor, or POV without a distinct voice, is boring for a reader. It can also be confusing when there are multiple POVs in a story and they all sound the same. POV is often something that is developed more during revision, after the writer has spent time going through the story and learning the characters. So don’t beat yourself up if you have this issue with all of your first drafts.
Solution: Put on Character Glasses
Imagine that you have a pair of tinted glasses for each of your POV characters. They are all different colors and each of them represent the lense in which the character experiences the world. Put on those green tinted “Steve” glasses. His green lense is built from all his previous experiences and his attitudes about life. Look around at your setting. How does Steve experience it? Do the bushes remind him of his grandmother’s roses? Now go through a scene with the Steve glasses. Let’s say he’s a very pessimistic person. How does he think and react when the woman bumps into him? Flavor your narration with everything Steve. Then take off the Steve glasses and put on a different pair for the next POV, adding in details specific to that character.
Problem 5: Cluttered Prose
This is the biggest issue that will cause a reader, editor, or agent to put down your book after the first page. Cluttered prose is a red flag showing the reader your book is going to be laborious to read. The brain has to work harder to determine meaning, therefore making the whole experience less enjoyable. Writers often tell critique partners not to worry about the small stuff because they only want feedback on big issues. Well, problems with the “small stuff” is a big issue.
Solution: Cut, Cut, CUT!
Writing crisp prose takes practice and ruthlessness in the revision process. Take out any unnecessary words and go by the Jefferson motto “never use two words when one will do.” Look out for these frequent offenders that clutter up sentences: that, just, very, felt, suddenly, really, began/beginning to, adverbs, and excessive gerunds (-ing words). Go through your manuscript and act like you have to pay a nickel per word to publish your book. See how much money you can save!
These are just a few of the frequent issues writers have during the revision process. What problems often pop up you as you revise?