Your Revising Checklist for Your Children's Book

Revising is the fixing process you do when you go back to check whether all the major parts of your children's book are working. The revising phase is all about making sure the major elements of your story are in order — specifically theme, characters, plot, pacing and drama, setting and context, and point of view.

Each time you go through the manuscript from start to finish, attempt to tackle only one issue at a time. So if you’re ready to revise your characters to make sure they’re properly fleshed out, take one character at a time from start to finish of the manuscript.

Then go back to the beginning, and do the other characters one by one. When you’re finished, go on to the next issue. This way you won’t go crazy wondering where you are as you work your way through.

A lot of the points you need to check for in a revision of fiction also apply to nonfiction. The one main difference is that in nonfiction, you have to check and recheck facts while making sure to provide for a balance in the text and other ways of conveying information (such as sidebars, marginal factoids, illustrations or graphics, accuracy in headings, and the like).

Theme revisions

Is there a clearly defined theme? If another reader (like a friend or someone in your writing group) is unable to tell you in a word or two (maybe a sentence) what your theme is, perhaps you’ve not homed in on one. If that’s the case, you might need to revise your story with theme in mind.

To do that, make the theme apparent at the start of the story in the type of problem the character is going to have to solve. Then you need to insert reminders to the theme throughout the story in the form of foils — issues that get in the way of your character’s desire or need.

And in the end, you have to make sure that character finds what he has sought — or achieves an equally valuable replacement.

Character revisions

If the character is poorly developed in the text, no amount of magnificent writing or perfectly crafted plotting will save you.

Your main character and his supporting cast must be fleshed out and made interesting. They also need to sound their age. Additionally, throughout the book, your main character must actively change from who he was at the start of the story — preferably as the result of his own actions and choices.

To determine whether your characters are relatable, go back through your book and check each character from start to finish. In a chapter book, identify at least a few places for each character where a plot point (a place where the action moves forward in time) or dialogue contributes to developing that character beyond a name or a convenient one-time description.

Plot revisions

Ask yourself these questions about your plot:

  • Is what happens in the story from start to finish pretty clear?

  • Can you point out the beginning, middle/climax, and end/resolution?

  • Is there enough conflict between your main character and the primary issue he has to resolve?

If you haven’t created an action outline to help you determine answers to these questions and give you something concrete to check off, now might be the time to do this to help you revise. If you need to reconfigure your plot for more dramatic, engaging impact, the action outline is a great way to keep track of what action leads to what reaction, which conflict leads to which consequence.

Pacing and drama revisions

Pacing and drama are intrinsic to a well-written plot, particularly when you’re writing for children — an audience not known for its patience.

To judge the pacing in your book, simply ask yourself whether the rate at which the action is moving is fast enough to keep the reader wanting to turn the pages. In older children’s books, make sure each chapter ends with a cliffhanger or an unresolved conflict.

To check the pacing of a picture book, break your manuscript into about 26 separate book pages for a 32-page book or 36 pages for a 40-page book. Then put each page of text onto a separate sheet of paper, staple together along the spine like a book (you’ll have to staple pages back to back as well), and read them.

The first page of text should be a right-hand page, the last a left-hand page. See whether there’s a different action on each pair of facing pages (also known as a spread) so the illustrations differ from spread to spread. And make sure something happens on the right-hand page of each spread to make the reader want to turn the page to see what happens next.

Note: This division of the text is for your benefit only — don’t send your picture book to an editor like this.

Setting and context revisions

If the reader can’t picture a particular setting after reading about it, the author hasn’t done a good job of describing it. In any format other than a board or picture book, you must identify the place or the particular context in which the story takes place.

During revising, ask yourself whether the reader knows immediately where he is at the start of the story. Have you made apparent any contextual information, setting the story apart from real life? Are the setting and contextual clues elegantly intertwined in the action, or is the reader having to slog through long descriptive passages to get the information?

Go through and check each instance the place and/or time changes, making sure the setting is clearly drawn without wordiness.

Point of view revisions

The point of view (POV) you choose is how your reader experiences your story. If you’re writing a picture book, your story should have only one POV — period. If you’re writing a chapter book for older children or a YA novel, you may choose to alternate POVs, but you shouldn’t alternate them within a scene or a chapter.

You can check whether your POV is consistent by reading your story and paying attention to how you’re seeing the events. If you get confused, chances are your reader is, too.

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