That very last (honest, I mean it) revision – what I look for

I’ve been doing  a lot of revision recently.  On top of finalising the second and third books for Inspector Kirby I am also revisiting my first book, for which I’ve had books two and three sitting on my hard drive for a few years now.  I’m not saying I’m an expert, however, I have got into a sort of rhythm with it.  I write the story quickly.  I rarely go back and tinker until the whole thing is finished (unless I have a eureka moment).  The first few revisions are easy and I find it fun.  I’m assessing the plot, adding interest, finding better way to describe, correcting clunky prose etc.  At some (undefined) point I draw the line on this and go into to polishing mode.  I’ve done that for Kirby and that’s what I’m doing now to that other series, including the one I’ve published (after all it was my first book).  I don’t know if doing so much revision has sensitised me however I find myself, in that last run through, obsessively looking for certain things i.e.


OK I’ve always been a bit obsessive about adverbs.  They creep in without you knowing it.  I don’t issue a total ban, but they have to earn there place, they have to add something.  The acid test is take them out and ask the question “does it diminish the sentence”.  More often than not the answer is no.  In fact sometimes the use of an adverb is hiding lazy writing i.e. there are better ways of expressing what you mean.


As in, ‘what am I doing,’ he said.  In this case I don’t have anything against the use of the word, I am actually looking for where I have used something different i.e. could I have used “said” instead.  I’m not a great believer in using: he cried, he explained, she derided, she moaned, etc. etc, you get the picture.  I read early on that it should be obvious from what they’ve said as to how they’re saying it.  Also, that readers kind of don’t see the word “said” so repeating it is not an issue.  Unlike a book a read recently where one character “shouted” all the time, to the point that it became irritating


I don’t know if this is an official term but it’s just what I call them.  There, I’ve used two of them, “but” and “just”.  You know those words that you end up using every other sentence at times.  “But” is a difficult one, we use it all the time when we’re speaking.  However, on the page it jumps out when it’s used a lot.  So, sometimes I take it out and as with adverbs see if I can do without it.  I also replace it with other words / phrases for variety.  The same goes for “just” and “only” etc.  (I’m sure can come up with your own filler words).  It’s the same as adverbs, they creep in and most of the time you can live without them.


This is something a reviewer pointed out and I have taken to heart.  I had fallen into the habit of passive writing e.g.  ‘What happened,’ Kirby said as he walked down the road  What’s wrong with ‘What happened,’ Kirby said, walking down the road?  Even “as he was walking down the road” would be better.   Like an insidious disease it had crept into my work.  I even went back and re-edited then re-published the published book.  No one had complained, but I could see it.  So now I’ve had the inoculation, I’m aware.  Sometimes it’s right and I leave it, however most of the time it can be changed for the better.

So there they are, some of my pet hates that still creep into my writing.  That final revision is where I attack them and weed them out.  I’m not saying you won’t find examples in my books and when you read them you’ll gloss over most of them, as I do when I’m reading.  I know as writers we can over obsess on these things.  However, I also know that when they are over used they stand out and once you’re aware of them it becomes “look at me” which is distracting.  So happy revising everyone.  As always the devil is in the detail.

All comments are welcome.

Ian Martyn

Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

2 thoughts on “That very last (honest, I mean it) revision – what I look for”

  1. Thank you. An enjoyable post, touching helpfully on matters which crop up in any writer’s life. I am thinking about revising my very first two books, from eight years ago. They are largish productions of 123,000 and 130,000 words, and I imagine the first thing I do will be to cut, although I can’t imagine where I can begin. Perhaps you could write something on your blog sometime about cutting, if you have not done so already.

    1. Thanks. I know cutting can be difficult. I was once told “if it doesn’t move the story along take it out”. However, I would treat that with caution. I think a little deviation and time for reflection etc. is good. It allows the reader to take a breath. I guess it’s a case of not over doing it. Also, separating the good from the self-indulgent.

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