Getting Nit-Picky With Revisions

Yeah, I know.  Revision is a complex, recursive thing, and it doesn’t really fit neatly into steps.  You can’t help but fix spelling errors at the same time you’re looking at larger issues of plot and character.

Nevertheless, if you make an effort to take your revisions one level of complexity at a time, you’ll find it yields dividends to your writing.

We’ve already covered the “afro-pick” level of revision (big stuff) and the “pocket comb” level (medium stuff). Now it’s time to break out the kind of comb you use when your first-grader gets head lice.  Yes, I mean the nit-picky comb.

Here’s how to get nit-picky with your revision…

Start with the read-aloud:

Make sure your story flows tripplingly off the tongue (this is especially vital for picture books).  And pay careful attention to ensure that you haven’t inadvertently left out any words.

Hunt down homonyms:

Spellchecking software often doesn’t distinguish between sound-alike words (they’re/their/there), so it falls to you to double-check to make sure you chose the right word.

Trim the fat:

See if you can find shorter ways to say things.  Remove all unnecessary words.

“Tom moved slowly and in a depressed manner towards the colorful peacock.”

“Tom trudged toward the peacock.”

Eliminate echoes:

When you repeat words too closely together, it creates an echo effect, which distracts the reader.  All of the editors I’ve worked with hate echoes.  Revise to eliminate or replace one iteration of the word.

“Agent Belly tossed back his curls.  ‘Don’t get smart with me.’

I stepped back, avoiding his eyes.”

“Agent Belly tossed his curls. ‘Don’t get smart with me.’

I stepped back, avoiding his eyes.”

Remove unnecessary modifiers:

Again, part of the tightening process.  Most adverbs can be eliminated by using a stronger, more descriptive verb.

“Squatted down” becomes “squatted.”

“Said noisily” becomes “shouted” or “cried.”

Eliminate redundancy:

Once in a great while, repetition can work for effect.  Otherwise, just junk repeated words or phrases.

“’I know you did it, I know you did it!’ said Kathy accusingly.”

“I know you did it!” Kathy snapped.

Supercharge your verbs:

Use action verbs and don’t be satisfied with the first verb that comes to mind.  Break out the thesaurus for a change.  Add some color.

“Spoke” becomes “whispered,” “growled,” “whined”

“Flew” becomes “soared” or “glided”

“Walk” becomes “stroll” or “ramble”

Check on grade-level appropriateness:

If you’re writing for kids, the Children’s Writer’s Word Book is a good way to check this.  It lists synonyms by grade level.  Also, most word-processing programs can tell you the grade-level of your writing.

“Inscribe” would work for 5th graders, but “sign” would be more appropriate for 1st graders.  Know your readers and what they can handle.

Vary sentence rhythm:

This makes for more pleasant, varied reading.  Mix long and short sentences, use parallelism for effect.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  Heck, who am I kidding?  My life stank.”

When you take time to break out the nit-pick comb, you’ll find that not only is your story lice-free, it’s ready for an editor to enjoy.

Bruce Hale is the author-illustrator of over 25 books for young readers, including the Edgar-nominated Chet Gecko Mysteries and Snoring Beauty, one of Oprah’s Recommended Reads for Kids.  He is a popular speaker and storyteller, having presented at conferences, schools and libraries across North America.  Subscribe to his free e-newsletter of writing tips at:  Or check out Bruce’s books at