Jun 212010

Below is the table of contents of my book REVISING FICTION that asks the questions with which every writer must eventually deal, so this list alone will prove to be helpful.

Introduction: Revision Is an Act of the Technical Imagination -What are the Sources of Ideas?
-What Happens in the First Draft?
-What Is the Role of the Imagination?
-What are the Stages a Writer Goes Through in His Mastery of Revision?


1. Considering the experience you want the reader to have in this story, have you used a point of view that is ineffective?

2. If you have used the omniscient point of view, have you realized all its potentials?

3. If you have used the first-person point of view, have you realized all its potentials?

4. If you have used the third-person, central-intelligence point of view, have you realized all its potentials.

5. Have you used the device of interior monolog ineffectively?

6. Have you used the device of dramatic monolog ineffectively?

7. What are the negative effects in style of the point-of-view technique you employed in your first draft?

8. Have you failed to imagine other point-of-view techniques and their possible effects on the reader?

9. Have you ineffectively mingled several points of view at once?

10. Have you not yet achieved the proper distance between yourself and your material?

11. Do passages that reflect your own biases or judgments intrude?

12. Are there inconsistencies in your use of point of view?

13. Does the point of view you have used fail to express, in itself, some major aspect of the experience you are rendering?


14. Has your style evolved out of the point of view for this story?

15. Considering your overall conception, is your style inappropriately simple or complex?

16. Have you failed to imagine your style, line by line?

17. Does your style generally lack a sense of immediacy?

18. Does your style fail to work upon all of the reader’s senses?

19. Have you failed to make your style as clear, concrete, and simple as the various contexts demand?

20. Is your style literal more often than it is suggestive?

21. Do you tell your reader when to show would be more effective?

22. Do you neglect to prepare contexts that will enable you to use the device of implication?

23. Do you fail to use the device of implication?

24. Are your verbs passive, as opposed to active?

25. Have you neglected to use impingement as a device for giving your style a sense of action?

26. Do you neglect to provide contrast to your general style?

27. Have you failed to use repetition as a device for emphasis?

28. Is your style lacking in the elements of reversal and surprise?

29. Are your sentences monotonous in structure for lack of such rhetorical devices as parallelism?

30. Have you used parenthetical phrasing ineptly?

31. Do you fail to use the question device where it might be effective?

32. Have you created ineffective phrases that may be refined into key phrases?

33. Is your style overloaded with inappropriately formal phrases?

34. Have you failed to make each sentence (or sentence fragment) a carefully crafted unit?

35. Do you neglect to play short sentences and long sentences off each other and vary the length of paragraphs to achieve rhythm?

36. Is your style burdened with empty words and phrases?

37. Do cliches dull your style?

38. Does your style lack a play on words?

39. Is your syntax awkward or contorted?

40. Have you used adjectives and adverbs indiscriminately?

41. Do you use too many vague pronouns?

42. Do you use too many mechanical conjunctions or connectives?

43. Do you dull your style in your frequency and use of prepositions?

44. Have you committed grammatical errors?

45. Are the verb tenses consistent?

46. Does your use of punctuation fail to serve a conscious and controlled effect?

47. Have you used a singular where a plural would be more effective?

48. Does your style lack economy?

49. Have you drifted too early into lyrical passages?

50. Are parts of your story overwritten?

51. Are parts of your story underwritten in the negative sense?

52. Do you overindulge in abstract statements?

53. Is the tone of your style inappropriate?

54. Is your style overloaded with archaic or Latinate words?

55. Does your diction seem unconsidered?

[the other sections of the book are as follows, consisting of subsections that pose a plethora of relevant questions and provide examples, solutions, etc.; I've just provided samples under each subsection...]


63. Do you present characters too much through description and commentary?

66. Do you need to combine two or more characters into one?

71. Have you given your readers the wrong impression about any of your characters?


73. Have you inadvertently created stock situations?

75. Have you presented the narrative line too mechanically?

81. Are there long dialog passages that should be compressed somewhat into narrative?

92. Have you in some way defused the impact of the climax.


98. Is there a lack of proportion among the elements of narrative, dialog, description?

99. Have you failed to make dialog perform secondary functions?

101. Have you overused dialect, slang, or colloquialisms?


108. Do you devote too much space to creating atmosphere?

109. Are your descriptions of characters, setting, and objects unrelated to a conception?

111. Have you neglected to present description indirectly?


127. Have you neglected to imagine uses for the device of anticipation?

129. Have you failed to imagine an effective use for the device of reversal?

153. Have you missed places where you might cultivate an expressive ambiguity that is appropriate to the overall conception?


157. Do you merely use devices mechanically or is technique an agent of discovery?

168. Have you limited your imagination in some way?

183. Do you assume too much or too little of your reader, creating confusion?

IX. REIMAGINING “THE DAY THE FLOWERS CAME” [a deconstruction and analysis of one of the author's own short stories]

David Madden

David Madden

  50 Responses to “Revising Fiction”

  1. I’m two thirds through your book on revision and find it very instructive and thought provoking. I don’t always agree with examples of “improvement;” but some prefer vanilla, others chocolate, eh?

    Perhaps most valuable to me is your suggestion to review a manuscript several times, focusing each time on a different concern. So obvious. How come I never thought of that?

    Many Thanks.

    • I am a bit concerned about your subjective view of Madden’s suggested improvements. True, a craftsman and visionary can always improve and improvement but in art, beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. Taste is that. Beauty is the attractive power of perfection and does not admit of degree, as Coomarasway says.

  2. David Madden

    Neal, You make my day just as I am about to go to bed. Write again when you finish the book. Thanks. David

  3. Dear Mr. Madden–

    REVISING FICTION is another bible I thank the fates for putting into my hands–one of those happiest of accidents. The others are those by John Gardner, THE ART SPIRIT by Robert Henri and A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN by Virginia Woolf. Just this morning I was preparing to send off to a writer friend your “four stages in the matter of revision”. The postive enlightment when I first came across these years ago broke through an unknown and invisible barrier of ignorance on my part. Your book is like that–postive and enlightening, Thanks so much.


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