I took these examples of revisions from a story I’m still working on. The first version is dated August 15, 2010. The second version is dated February 26, 2011. Between those two versions, I began changing this piece from a novel to a much shorter story, though that probably won’t be evident in these small examples. What will show is how, as I read over my previous work, I often make small edits along the way, before I start on a new section. Sometimes I’m barely conscious I’m making these changes, but they’re very close to changes I make deliberately, usually working from a printed copy of the manuscript.
Tanneken Claes stabbed the German guard deep in the heart. Her strike was clean; he made a choked sound and collapsed forward, his helmet sliding from his head and his rifle from his hands.
Tanneken Claes stabbed the Boche guard deep in the heart. Her strike was clean; he made a choked sound and collapsed, his spiked helmet sliding from his head and his rifle from his hands. Blood bloomed on his gray uniform.
I removed forward because it weakened the verb collapsed. I changed German to Boche because the latter is more in character, and is a cue to the time period. I added spiked as an additional historical detail. I added a sentence to change the paragraph’s rhythm as well as indicate that the uniform is gray, another historical detail.
Two men sat at the table. The elderly bearded one froze with his hand in the air, a rook dangling from his fingers. “Who are you?” He had the sense to speak quietly. From his shabby wool suit, she guessed him to be the town’s schoolmaster.
Two men sat at the table. The old bearded one froze with a rook dangling from his gnarled fingers. “Who are you?”
He had the sense to speak quietly. From his shabby wool suit, she guessed him to be the town’s schoolmaster. It was his misfortune that respectable persons such as he were most often taken hostage by the Boche, to ensure the good behavior of their towns.
I split this paragraph into two, to emphasize the line of dialogue and set it apart from its sequel, which is Tanneken’s thoughts upon the old man. I added a sentence to provide additional historical information. I also tightened the second sentence, removing a clause that weakened it, changing a word to better fit the pov character’s voice, and added an additional indicator of the man’s age.
These examples demonstrate two of my most frequent revision issues. When drafting, especially when I’m writing very fast, my sentences tend to ramble more. A little thought can usually tighten or clarify a great deal of what I’ve already got down. And when I’m writing historical or fantastical worlds, or for that matter any genre, I’m always looking for opportunities to unobtrusively slip in more relevant, distinctive detail that will make the story richer.