Questions to Ask While Revising

21 March 2016

Joanne Merriam, Upper Rubber Boot Books1

Grammar, Syntax, Usage:

  • Is the grammar, punctuation, and spelling correct?
  • Does wrong or non-standard syntax serve the purpose of the work?
  • Does the diction [ornateness/simplicity] fit the meaning?
  • Is there music? Is the music serving the work?

Serving the Reader:

  • Is it true?
  • Is it ethical?
  • Does it go deep enough?
  • Is it based on cultures I don’t belong to or don’t have a deep knowledge of? If so, have I run it past people who do belong to those cultures, and/or done extensive research to avoid misrepresentation and mistakes?
  • Are there places that would be confusing to an outside reader or where I’ve assumed non-general knowledge or mind-reading?

Serving the Story:

  • Is it predictable? Are there clichés in words, images, ideas, or plot? (Strange Horizons lists cliché plots: http://www.strangehorizons.com/guidelines/fiction-common.shtml; Teresa Nielsen Hayden lists dreadful phrases: http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/007425.html.)
  • Can I strengthen the story by changing my world-building assumptions? (Charles Stross’ list: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2016/01/a-world-building-puzzler.html.)
  • Are the transitions serving the work? Is every scene serving the work? Are the ideas and rhetorical gestures in the right order?
  • Is it in the right voice [first person/second person/third person]?
  • What does it actually say on the page (as opposed to in my mind)? Is it saying what it wants to say? Is it confused?
  • Would saying less be stronger?
  • Does it follow its own deepest impulses, rather than my initial idea?
  • Do I know more than I did when I started writing it? Did I discover anything?
  • Do characters follow their own goals and impulses, or have I forced them to act against their own character to fit the plot? Do they talk, act, and think authentically?
  • Is there anything that doesn’t belong?
  • Do any digressions serve the work?
  • Is it self-satisfied/smug?
  • Does it allow strangeness? Is the strangeness it allows accessible?
  • Should it go out into the world or is it the seed for another story (or poem)?

1 Also includes questions from a talk given by poet Jane Hirshfield at Vanderbilt University, and from a workshop given by poet Sue MacLeod at the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia. Feel welcome to reproduce or excerpt this list, provided attribution and this notice are included.

Entry filed under: Fiction, Poetry. Tags: .

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