Posted On June 1, 2009 by Print This Post

Revisions: Painful or Pretty?

Please help me welcome national bestselling author, Denise Swanson, to Romance University. For the past two years, I’ve worked with Denise on the board of our local RWA chapter. She’s been a tremendous mentor to me, plus she’s great fun. Denise’s eleventh book, Murder of a Royal Pain, in the highly successful Scumble River mystery series is in now stores. These books, featuring school psychologist Skye Denison, are a great mix of mystery, humor and romance.swan-blk

Today, I’ve asked Denise to share her “fashionable” process of revising her manuscript before she ships it off to her agent and editor. Denise will pop in a few times during the day to answer questions.

Denise, the floor’s yours…

There are two kinds of revisions. To me, one feels like accessorizing an outfit, and the other feels like getting a mammogram. I’m going to discuss the first one. The one that occurs after I’ve written my first draft. I have the basic black dress-a plot, characters, a setting, and most important of all, a solution to the mystery. Now I get to choose shoes and a matching purse-description, just the right earrings and necklace-the clues, and then something wild, something that gives the outfit oomph-the humor.

After those items are added, I look the outfit over, making sure all the zippers are fastened, hair and makeup is perfect, and there’s no lint, tears, or stains.

Here is where I check Point of View (POV). Have I been consistent in my choice of first person, third person, or multiple?

A. First person – “I” perspective. Is your “I” character strong enough, interesting enough, and someone with whom your readers will want to spend hundreds of pages?

B. Third person – you can only write about what your viewpoint character knows, hears, or sees.

C. Multiple POV – each “voice” must be unique. Stay in one character’s head for the entire length of scene.

Have I shown rather than telling?

I check my use of narrative summaries, both length and frequency. Are there long passages where nothing is happening, where I’m telling my readers things I could be showing her rather than involving her in an actual scene? I examine my characters. Have I described them or have I let their actions, words, and choices speak for them?

Dialogue is next.

I read it out loud or if possible get someone to read it to me. How often have I used an -ly adverb as a part of a dialogue tag? I try to use it very sparingly. Are there places I can get rid of speaker attributions entirely? All dialogue tags do not have to come in the beginning or ending of the sentence, have I put some in the middle for a smoother read? Have I varied the way I refer to a character? For example the same character could be referred to as Mary, her sister, the blonde, etc. Have I used too many interior monologues?

Pacing is vital.

I check for long paragraphs, too little white space, and scenes that don’t advance the story. Also, am I repeating myself? Do I have more than one scene that accomplishes the same thing? Echoing doesn’t just occur at the Grand Canyon-I make sure I’m not overusing words and phrases, especially at the beginning of paragraphs.

Neatness Counts.

I’m a terrible speller and don’t feel confident about my grammar so I have someone else read my manuscript for those kinds of problems-librarians and English teachers are excellent copy editors. I learned the hard way not to rely on spell or grammar check.

Once my outfit has been accessorized and passed inspection, I send it to my editor and agent. This is when the second kind of revision, the one that feels like a mammogram occurs. I know I need it, but it’s a painful procedure and a huge relief when I receive the news I’ve passed. I’d say more, but that’s another blog.


Denise Swanson is the nationally bestselling author of the Scumble River mystery series. She writes from her personal experiences as a school psychologist and small town resident. Her plots are inspired by incidents that occur in her own life. Her books have been nominated for the Agatha, Mary Higgins Clark, RT, and Daphne du Maurier Awards. Her current book, Murder of a Royal Pain, debuted number four on the Barnes & Noble bestseller list and number five on the Bookscan bestseller list, remaining on both lists for several weeks. Denise lives in Illinois with her husband, classical music composer, David Stybr, and her black cat, Boomerang.


 Thank you, Denise, for sharing your tips on revisions!

Please join Kelsey on Anatomy of the Male Mind day to learn more about A Young Man’s Fancy. You’re sure to enjoy stepping into the mind of a 21 year old mechanical and petroleum engineering student.

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14 Responses to “Revisions: Painful or Pretty?”

  1. Hi Denise,

    Welcome to RU and congrats on your latest release!

    What things do you look for to determine that you have too much telling?

    Thanks again for joining us!

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | June 1, 2009, 5:27 am
    • Hi Tracey,

      Thank you for inviting me to blog at Romance U. As you may have guessed revisions are both my favorite and most feared part of writing. To make sure that I’m not telling too much I look at the narrative parts of my book. If there are huge dense blocks of narrative, then I try to make sure I’m not repeating a point I already made by showing, and if that’s not the case I try to accomplish the same goal with dialogue.


      Posted by Denise Swanson | June 1, 2009, 8:38 am
  2. Denise,

    Would you mind sharing a little about how you handle the mystery aspects as you revise? I have the characters and setting in place and am quite far along, including the the crime that caused the murder. I’m having trouble creating the steps that occur to help the sleuth solve the crime. How do you do that? Do you work backward from the crime?

    Are “fixing” the mystery details ever part of your first revision process or are they the backbone of your first draft and already well established?

    Also, are your mysteries considered cozies? I’ve had mixed reactions as to whether calling them that is good or bad right now in publishing.

    Thanks for taking the time to educate us and make us aware of your books 🙂


    Posted by Cathy S. | June 1, 2009, 6:06 am
    • Hi Cathy,

      I’m with you, creating the steps that occur so the sleuth can solve the crime are the toughest part of the plot for me. I’ve often threatened to have an angel appear and just tell Skye what the answer is. 😉 Because I know this is a problematic writing point for me, I try to make sure I have at least a glimmer of an idea before I start writing the story and build clues in as I go.

      But sometimes I just don’t, and for those plot I write the whole story, hoping that at some point I’ll have an ah ha moment, which I usually do. In those instances “fixing” the mystery details are the first revisions I do after completing the first draft. One thing that helps me is that I use a radiograph for plotting so I have the crime, scene, suspects all laid out in front of me as I write.

      I call my books humorous mysteries with a touch of romance. They’re not quite cozy, although cozy readers like them, but they have a bit of an edge. In a query letter, probably wouldn’t use the word cozy in this market. Which doesn’t mean they are selling, just that they have to be a bit “more” than a standard cozy of say five years ago.

      Hope this helps. And if you’d like a copy of the radiograph I use for plotting e-mail me via my website and I’ll send it to you via attached e-mail.


      Posted by Denise Swanson | June 1, 2009, 8:50 am
  3. Hi Denise!

    Great article…I really enjoy the accessory/mammogram examples…made me laugh. =)
    Question on revisions, do you read your entire story all in one lump? take it one chapter at a time? or go all the way through and check POV, go all the way through and check dialogue etc?


    Posted by carrie | June 1, 2009, 8:38 am
  4. oh and one more q…lol….when you do go back and make your revisions, do you keep a copy of the original….just in case you might want to use a part you deleted in some other manuscript?

    carrie (again)

    Posted by carrie | June 1, 2009, 9:07 am
  5. Hi Denise. Thank you for being with us today. I had my own ah-ha moment when I was reading your post. When I’m reviewing my work I often find that I’ve left out setting details and the idea of thinking about it as accessorizing really resonated with me. What a wonderful way to look at it!

    Thanks for the tip!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | June 1, 2009, 10:25 am
  6. Thanks… that was insightful and a good metaphor for me to use as I revise. I’ll get back to accessorizing now…I’m not undergoing an invasive procedure, I’m not undergoing an invasive procedue, I’m not undergoing an invasive procedurere. Okay 3 times always a charm. Hope you can come back and discuss how to handle the “invasive medical procedure” side of revisions.

    Posted by Regena Bryant | June 1, 2009, 12:38 pm
  7. Thanks, Regina!

    I’m doing the invasive procedure for my 2010 book now, and it hurts too much to talk about, but maybe later.

    Posted by Denise Swanson | June 1, 2009, 1:47 pm
  8. Denise,
    Thanks for answering our questions today! It looks like we’ll have to have you back to discuss the mammogram side of revisions too. 🙂

    Take care,

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | June 1, 2009, 6:31 pm
  9. Hi Denise,
    And to think I keep spending all this money on books about editing. LOL. Just kidding. Any information is good information. I just had to talk to you. This was great and I know from experience not an easy process. You really simplified the process and the information really helps.


    Posted by Cindy Maday | June 3, 2009, 3:32 pm

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