How To Revise a Dog Ugly Manuscript

Notes on how to revise a very bad manuscript. Largely gleaned from the book 'How to Write a Damn good novel' by James Frey.

  • Analysis. For the entire book compose:
    • step sheet
      • logical flow
      • emotional flow
      • PREMISE
      • Choice of viewpoint
    • character profiles
      • physical
        • gender/age/height/weight/hair/face/features
        • deformities/health/strength/dexterity
      • social
        • names/nicknames
        • upbringing/childhood/family/friends
        • education/career/hobbies
      • mental
        • reactions/attitude/ego/outlook/temper
        • fears, neuroses, anxieties
  • Action. For each chapter/scene, consider:
    • cut irrelevant scenes (irrelevant to the premise)
    • fix logical errors
    • start as far into the action as possible
    • emotions/drama/style
      • empathetic:
      • reader's emotions in check with empathetic characters
      • consistent and effective:
        • characterisation
        • viewpoint
        • tense
      • conflict
        • not sudden or jerky
        • not stagnant
        • intensifying
        • start: hook
        • end: tag
      • dialogue parsing:
        • triteness/cliches
        • characterisation
        • 'indirect'
        • clever
      • prose parsing:
        • not vague
        • specific, detailed
        • tasty, fragrant, tactile, colourful, harmonious, melodious; (stimulating)
        • rhythm (suitable when aloud)
        • consistent tense
        • consistent viewpoint
    • mechanics
      • spelling
      • grammar
      • your checklist:
        • eg: 'ly' words, common typos, character names, cultural specifics


  • the Novel itself
  • Stepsheet
  • Character profiles
  • Executive summary
  • personal checklist
  • premise (1 line summary)
  • blurbs/taglines/teasers
  • scrap heap of rejected ideas/fragments
  • notes (from working through problems, research etc.)
  • Archive of old copies, backups (softcopies and hardcopies)

For a list of bad practices you can follow, see the ever-popular How to write a novel

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