After you’ve gotten the entire first draft out of your system, it’s time to polish it up. Sometimes a bit of magic appears, but usually the fairy dust happens when you actually write the draft. Revision is fine tuning the fairy dust with your conscious brain to make everything sparkle brighter and at precisely the right hue.
1) Give Some Space
You can’t judge what you’ve written the day it’s been finished, or the next day. At least a couple days time, probably a week and hopefully a month. Give yourself some breathing room. Appreciate what you have completed. Praise yourself for accomplishing this story. And once you return to your beloved prose, you will be able to see it with fresh eyes. You’ll notice things you would have skimmed over before.
2) Read Through Entirely WITHOUT Editing
This is important so you can see how the work functions as a whole.
If you start cutting sections and sentences, you might miss the fact that briefly mentioning Granny’s yellow scarf is actually super important in the end of the story; you just didn’t realize it until now. Your subconscious mind plants little surprises for you as you write. They may seem stupid or irrelevant when you write them, but later they might be extremely helpful.
Make notes of what you don’t like AND what you do like. This will help you later in discovering what to keep, and what to throw away. You need to understand what’s not working so you can focus on that section later, but you also need to praise yourself for the things you did well.
3) Break it Down – Scene by Scene
I think the best way to edit is devouring your story, scene by scene. While also a bit more time consuming, it will save you from completing too many multiple drafts. Instead of checking the spelling and grammar for the entire story, and then checking the plot for the entire story, and then checking the pacing for the entire story and then checking the character development for the entire story… do it all one time.
Take your very first scene. Edit your story by answering these major questions and fixing up the scene in question. Then move to the next scene and repeat.
Is this scene necessary? – If this scene was removed, would the story still make sense? Does it help propel the story forward or does it seem irrelevant? If you don’t need it – cut. If you do need it – keep. If you don’t need it but still really like it – try to make it work, but don’t force it.
Is this scene a petite story in itself? – Make sure each scene tells a full story with a beginning, middle and end. Think of it as a baby story inside your bigger story. It should be able to function on its own if it had to.
Am I bored? – If you’re skipping over a section because you’re not interested, your reader won’t care either. Delete these boring sections or make them stronger. Focus on enhancing plot and increasing the tension in action. If some section still isn’t cutting it, it needs to go.
Is it logical? – Make sure everything makes realistic sense in your story. The characters have to follow the elements of time; they can’t be in two places at once and they can’t time travel (unless you’ve written a story containing time travel, but even then it still has to be logical). Stay true to their actual beings in the way that you invented them. Would they naturally act that way? Is it realistic and believable to the reader? Even if you have invented the Hollumbatua, a fire breathing spider that can grow to the size of the sun, make sure you follow the rules you defined for it.
How’s my language? – Check descriptions; are you too wordy or do you not use enough detail? Fix your issue to avoid being on one end or the other. Make sure a reader can picture the setting and the look of the characters. Be sure to add sensory details from all the five senses and not just particularly sight. What does it feel like? What does it taste like? Smell? Sound? Thoughts? This will draw your reader into the world and characters you have created and make it more realistic.
What about the dialogue? – Make sure you only use “said” after someone speaks. Don’t clutter it with adverbs, no matter how bad you want to. The focus is then turned onto the actual content of the dialogue which will imply the way it was said, if written correctly. See if you can hear your character’s voice based on what they say.
Play with Pacing? – Determine whether this segment is supposed to move quickly or slowly based on the plot of what is currently going on. Use shorter sentences, even fragments to move quicker. Longer sentences and paragraphs can be used to slow down. Play with your pacing to see what works best for this particular scene.
What about how well it’s written? – Grammar, punctuation and spelling only come at the end. As they are crucially important to make sure you sound professional to your readers, the actual content is what counts. Don’t stress over this type of editing, but do make sure to address it. Also, eliminate all clichés and replace them with your own original examples of metaphors and similes.
Overall flow? – Change anything else that you think would better enhance the scene. This could be anything mentioned above or something of your own devising, but don’t change something just to change it. Make sure you can have a clear explanation on your reasoning to make the change. Ask yourself: why are you changing this? And be prepared to give yourself a quality answer.
Think you did a good job? Did you answer all the questions? Good. Now, move to the next scene and go through all the questions again. Do this for ever section in your story.
Following these questions will help you cover a lot of area at one time. You're on your way to revising right and helping your story reach its full potential.