Updating a Novel

I wrote a mystery/suspense novel  quite a few years back. I wasn’t satisfied with the plot at the time, and I couldn’t quite hit on the right solution to what was bothering me.  Recently, I thought I might drag out that old manuscript and take another crack at it.

I read a bit of it and realized that I had more work ahead of me than I had imagined. In addition to correcting the major plot flaws, I realized that I needed to bring the whole world of the novel up to date. The communication systems alone were archaic with no cell phones and few mentions of computers at all. A character or two had pagers, but you don’t see much of those any more. So, I came up with this checklist on how to approach revision/updating an old manuscript. Thought it might help you too.

Updating/Revising an Old Manuscript…

1. Read the novel through once quickly. Use a highlighter to mark areas requiring obvious revision.  Based on your reading, determine if you want to tackle the project. If not… move on to something else.

2. Go through the novel again at a slower pace and

  • Cross out or circle all items that are antiquated or need some updating of some sort.
  • Make notes in the margins of the manuscript to remind yourself what you want to do to the crossed out or circled item.
  • Make a list of categories of items you want to delete from the novel, such as communication systems (pay phones, pagers, etc.), slang that is out of date, transportation changes, etc.
  • Make a list of categories of items you want to add to the manuscript, such as communication systems/devices, update the vernacular, modernize the settings and houses, update the TV systems, etc.
  • Geography…check to make sure that the location of your novel (if a real location) has remained the same. For example, have buildings been torn down and others put in place of them, or have roads changed?  It’s important to get the geographical layout correct, so people who know the area will identify with it.

3. Once you have gone through the manuscript carefully and marked what needs to be changed, go through chapter-by-chapter and start revising the manuscript. It may help to think of it in terms of writing a new novel, so you will not become impatient with the process. Consider the old manuscript as you would an outline and give it a fresh writing from start to finish,

Well, I’m off to take another look at that manuscript. Hope you have good luck with yours.




About loubelcher

I'm a freelance artist and writer. I enjoy anything whimsical and my art and writing generally concentrate on the lighter side of life.
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9 Responses to Updating a Novel

  1. Pat says:

    Thank you for this. I am in the throws of editing an old one too. And the communications are a nightmare. Have had to really re-think what is going on and how it might still happen even in a world of mobiles and Twitter.
    But I hadn’t considered trying it as an outline and making it a new novel.
    Thanks. I will give it a try.

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