There is some overlap amongst these terms. Hence, the definitions are somewhat arbitrary and will depend on whether you are in the publishing world, writing for a college class, or composing an a personal statement. In general, when I ask authors to revise something, it is because large, sweeping changes need to be made to a piece. For instance, I might want them to make a particular bit of copy compliant with authors' guidelines or add a section about a subtopic or expand their thoughts on some identifiable point. Revision means having the writer change the text based mostly on suggestions. Revision is about the general aspects of the piece.
Editing on the other hand means focusing on particular points. The editor goes line by line through the writing and gives detailed instructions "check the spelling here," "re-phrase," "fix the grammar," "trim this to three sentences." The writer then is expected to make those changes and re-submit for the final stage of the editorial process: proofreading.
When I "proofread" something as an editor, I am assuming that I'm at most one step away from the final product. In this stage, the editor him or herself is making minor changes to make the piece into its best possible version.
Remember, if you're a writer--whether working with an editor, your professor, or a friend who has agreed to help you--always submit your best work. Before sending the piece, you should be your own "editor" making sure to revise your rough draft, edit it, and proofread it. The fewer changes required once it gets to the next "level," the less likely there will be grammatical errors, ill-formed phrases, typos etc. in the final product.
Ah, revisions! And you thought the first draft was tough.
Before we dive deep into the revision process in future posts, we need to cover a few basic questions: What is the difference between revising and editing? And exactly how many drafts of your novel do you need to write before it is complete?
That's what we're digging into today, and we have a lot to cover, so let's get started!
The first thing you need to know about revising and editing is that, technically speaking, they are two separate tasks that you will complete during your writing journey. However, the words are often used interchangeably, and that is okay.
Sure, purists may correct you on your usage of each word from time to time, but don't let them stress you out. Language is a very fluid thing; you are free to use it as you see fit.
So, yes indeed, today, I am going to teach you the technical difference between editing and revising.
But don't be taken unawares if I use them interchangeably in future posts on the blog. In fact, I've already "incorrectly" used them in my post, 10 Things To Do Before Editing Your First Draft (the "right" word to use would have been revising).
Without any further ado, let's get to the definitions...
What does it mean to revise your novel?
Technically speaking, revising is the act of altering the content of your novel rather than the words themselves. This includes:
Plot Holes. A plot hole is an obvious missing element or mistake in a story. This could be something small, like a continuity error in a character's appearance, or something massive, like a character whose fate is never explained.
When you're revising your own novel, you definitely want to be on the look out for plot holes. Readers will allow for some suspension of belief if they're enjoying what you've written thus far, but don't expect them to push aside all common sense in favor of going along with your novel.
Your Hook. Your story's hook is the event in the first chapter that grips your readers' attention, encouraging them to continue reading the book. In essence, your hook will determine whether or not your readers will actually read your novel; some people even read the hook before purchasing the book (hurray for unintentional rhyming!).
As such, you need to make sure that your novel has a killer hook! Chances are, you probably didn't nail it in the first draft. You'll need to revise your hook until you get it just right.
Purpose. Everything in your novel needs to have a purpose. Extraneous characters and scenes will only drag your story down, adding to any reader confusion or overwhelm. While making revisions to your novel, keep an eye out for any story elements that don't serve to expand reader understanding of the context, reveal something about your main characters, or move the plot forward.
Character Arcs. Your characters' actions and reactions will determine the plot of your story. As such, you need to pay extra special attention to getting your characters' arcs just right.
Character arcs are journeys, and journeys have ups and downs. Readers need to see your characters succeed and fail if you plan on crafting a believable journey. You'll also need to line up events so that your characters grow and change in realistic ways. Any issues with your arcs must be identified and fixed in revisions, or you'll be stuck with them forever.
Exposition and Backstory. Exposition is the base knowledge readers need to know in order to understand the dynamics of your story. Think settings, relationships, context, etc. This may also include your characters' backstories and/or history that shape the story's events.
It's important to remember that our novels are present stories, meaning that they need to be focused on the events that are currently taking place in our characters' lives. If you spend too much time on exposition and backstory, your present story will get lost in all of the explanation. Too little time, and readers won't have a firm understanding of your story. Take a good look at this dynamic as you revise your novel.
Pacing. Your novel's pace is the speed at which your story flows. Both slow- and fast-paced novels can be effective; having a consistent pace is what is truly important. Take time during revisions to ensure that your story's beats come at consistent intervals. You can learn more about this in this article.
Foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is a warning or an indication of an event that is to come later in the story. It's good to include foreshadowing in your novel as it helps to build suspense, letting readers know that something big is coming without actually revealing to them what that event is.
It can be quite difficult to include foreshadowing in your first draft, especially if you are a Pantser and let your story discover itself as you wrote. Use the revision stage to work in some of that foreshadowing.
Consistency. We touched on this a bit earlier when we discussed plot holes, but let's dive deeper. Continuity and consistency are extremely necessary if you plan on writing a good book. Without them, your story will seem ill-planned and unprofessional.
When revising, look for consistency in your POVs, tone, voice, themes and motifs, descriptions, and character personalities, among other elements we've already discussed.
Research. Finally, you'll also need to double check your knowledge when revising. Make sure that you have your facts right, and take the time to do more research if necessary. The last thing you want to do is get called out by a reader on a mistake when you could just have easily looked it up.
But how about editing?
Technically speaking, editing consists of the changes you make to the actual wording of your novel. There are two main types of editing: line edits and copy edits. Line edits consist of changing the wording of your novel as to make it better understood and enjoyed by readers.
When making line edits, you'll literally go through your novel, line by line, and look for the following things:
Flow. By checking the flow of your novel, you are ensuring that your novel is readable. Unless you are breaking this rule purposefully, you'll want to make sure that your novel utilizes varied sentence structure and word choice. If you overuse any one element, your novel will seem choppy and unedited. This makes it extremely hard to read and also makes you look like an amateur.
Redundancy. You'll also want to make sure that you aren't repeating yourself or stating the obvious. Doing so will just make readers roll their eyes, so take the time to ensure that your novel isn't redundant.
Filler. Nothing is worse than reading a novel that is full of unnecessary description. During line edits, cut out any information that you included simply to add to your word count length. If it doesn't explain something that is vital to reader understanding, reveal something about your main characters, or move the plot forward then it needs to go.
Show, Don't Tell. Readers like to picture the scene, to have the novel play out like a movie in their heads. If your novel is too straight-forward, you may want to consider editing what you've written to reflect a movie-like mindset. You can learn more about how to accomplish this in my article on the Show, Don't Tell rule.
Copy edits are the technical changes made to ensure accuracy of the text. Here is some of what you should look for when making copy-edits:
Grammar. You can certainly use incorrect grammar to make a point in your novel. This is especially helpful when you'd like to reveal something about your characters through their speech.
However, you'll want to make sure that the grammar in the body of your novel is correct. Check for noun-verb agreements, proper tenses, unnecessary modifiers, etc.
Spelling. Hopefully this is fairly self-explanatory. You need to ensure that you've spelled words correctly if you want to look like a professional, unless you are misspelling something with a specific purpose in mind.
Formatting. When copy-editing, you'll also want to check your formatting. This includes proper capitalization, punctuation, indentations, line spacing, dialogue, font etc.
Clarity. Finally, you should ensure that every word choice makes sense. Put yourself in the mind of your readers, as though they were reading through the novel for the first time. If something you've written doesn't make sense or is confusing in its context, now's the final time to make the change.
It's important to note that you probably won't do much copy-editing if you choose to publish your novel traditionally. In that case, your publishing house will have copy-editors to do the job for you. If you are self-publishing, you may make the copy-edits yourself or choose to hire an editor to do it for you. The choice is up to you.
How many drafts of each do you need to complete?
Now that we know the technical differences between revising and editing, as well as what each process entails, let's talk about drafts. You've written one thus far (congratulations!), but how many more must you write before your novel is complete?
The truth is, that is completely dependent on approximately a million different circumstances.
I suggest writing at least three drafts: your first draft, a revisions draft, and an editing draft. However, you should write as many drafts as your story needs. Some novels will require ten rounds of revision while others may only need one. Other novels will need several drafts for line edits, while others may not.
At the end of the day, only you will know how many drafts your novel will actually need.
However, it's always a good idea to have a target goal in mind before beginning your revisions and editing. Without a plan, you may find yourself revising your novel to death, never knowing when it is time to simply call your novel complete.
Of course, you may find it necessary to complete more drafts than you originally had in mind, but at least when you've set a goal, you have an idea of how long it should take until your novel is done.
Consider bringing beta readers into the mix!
Keep in mind, even if you believe your novel is complete (or at least ready to send out to potential agents or publishing houses), you may find it helpful to first send it out to beta-readers.
Beta-readers are friends or writing buddies that will read your manuscript for free and give you feedback on the story, and possibly even the writing itself. Beta-readers are extremely helpful because, quite frankly, they aren't you.
In all likelihood, you've been staring at your manuscript for months, reading and tweaking the same lines over and over again. You've probably lost whatever tiny bit of objectivity you once had.
Beta-readers are a fresh pair of eyes, and often an honest one at that. They will be able to catch mistakes you didn't notice, and give you a critique on the content that you could never make yourself. Once your beta-readers have given you their reviews, you may choose to write yet another draft, accounting for what they've seen.
Keep in mind, the critiques you receive from beta-readers aren't the be-all and end-all. If you don't agree with something they've said, you don't have to make the change in your story. However, consider it anyway. After some introspection, you may find that they were right in the end.
All that being said, don't stress over how many drafts you'll need to write for your novel.
You may see other authors writing way more or way less than yourself, and that's okay. There is no correct number of drafts. There is only what is right for your novel, and only you can truly determine that. Stick to your guns, and you'll be golden.