On Revision

Jul. 6th, 2011 09:54 pm
allisonholz: Here I am in my writing cave, aka my basement (Default)
I’m hip-deep in revisions for my thesis novel, so naturally that is what I am thinking about at the moment.

The first and most important rule of revision is that it can’t happen unless you’ve written something. That should seem obvious, but many writers get bogged down in the search for perfection in their first draft and then never get out of chapter one. Perfection is not a realistic goal in any case (you’ll never get there -- even after your book is published you’ll still find places you could have tweaked or rewritten and made better), and it is especially unrealistic in a first draft. Chances are, you’ll end up with anywhere between three and seven drafts of your novel (or many more), each one a little bit tighter and better than the one before. As you write more, you’ll get better at writing well the first time. But on your first (or even fifth) novel, it’s important to remember what SJ Rozan told my class at Seton Hill (this is a paraphrase): “You can’t grow flowers in air, but they grow very well in shit.” It’s ok if the draft sucks, as long as you have a draft. Go through it and find the flowers, then dig out all of the rest.

The second rule of revision is the opposite of the first. It states that you can’t be so in love with your words that you aren’t willing to part with them. I’m cutting out some very well-written passages because they don’t mesh with what I now know is the overall theme/plot/character arc of my book. I don’t delete them entirely; I stick them in a file called “Excisions.FeyBlood” so I can find them later and maybe bring them back to life in another story or the sequel(s). It’s kind-of like deleted scenes from a movie. Sometimes the material is brilliant, and sometimes it even helps with character development or plot but just doesn’t fit anywhere. So you take it out, and maybe one day you’ll post it on your blog and people will go, “so that’s what Character X was really up to in that scene.”

The rest of the rules deal with the “levels” of a story.

The bottom level is the mechanics level, where you tweak the words as words. You make your sentences active, clear, and concise. You check for weak verbs and adverbs. You check for errors in grammar and spelling (YOU MUST DO THIS!!!).

Just above mechanics is the plot level. This is the bare-bones frame of the story. Does the plot make sense? Do your scenes follow a natural progression, one after another? Do they lead into the next, or are any of them leading you off in a different direction?

The next level is about character and conflict. What are your characters doing in each scene? Every character should have a GMC (goal, motivation, conflict) in EVERY scene. Even the secondary characters. Even the characters who only walk on stage for a moment. They want something for a reason but can’t get it because.... You fill in the blank.

And outside of that is the meta-level. This is where you consider things like theme and tone. This should be one of the last things you look at, because you probably won’t know what your theme or tone is until you’re almost done with the book anyway. Sometimes you start writing a book knowing what your big theme is going to be, and if you knew, then at the end is a good time to evaluate whether you achieved your thematic goal or not. For me, even if I had a vague notion when I started, my themes always end up changing and evolving as I write the book. I end up changing and evolving, too, as I learn more about my world, my characters, my process, and myself.

Revisions can be grueling work, but they can also be fun and informative about your project. Sometimes looking at your manuscript with fresh eyes is enough to trigger a new flood of ideas and creativity.

It’s happening to me right now...so I’d better get back to it. :)


allisonholz: Here I am in my writing cave, aka my basement (Default)
Allison Holz

October 2011

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