Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dear Kerrie: Revisions

If you have a writing conundrum, leave your question for me in the comment section.

Dear Kerrie,
My real goal is to write a novel, but I already failed with three previous attempts. The problem I have is I have to do so many revisions to get the story to flow, and to eliminate grammar errors. This is not so bad when you are working on a five to nine page story. But when you have a three-hundred page novel, the scope of the revisions is daunting. Is there anyway that I can overcome my fear of revising the same writing for many months? Revisions are excruciating, and I don't know how do avoid them, except by writing a better first draft. This ideal goes against many other writer's ideals. Once again. Thank you so much for your help,

Dear Bill,
I personally have not tried writing a novel yet. My experiences come from shorter pieces--magazines, newspapers, personal essays.... But, I have critiqued manuscripts and some needed heavy revisions. If I were in your shoes, I would first look at the big picture first and not worry about the grammar errors yet:

* Find the slow points in the story and either rework or eliminate

* Figure out if you are starting your novel in the right place. Many times authors can cut the first chapter or two and it strengthens the beginning. Your catalyst should happen in the first 10% of the book. This is the point in the story when your character's life goes from ordinary to extraordinary. The point where the character can't go back until the problem is solved. So for a 300 page novel, this event should happen before page 30.

* Check the dialogue and make sure it moves the story along.

Once you have looked over the big picture items, then I would go back and look at the grammar.

* Cut out passive verbs (You can read my past post about active-vs-passive verbs)

* Get rid of "that."

* Check punctuation

Basically focus on one component of the novel at a time. Don't try to rework everything all at once.


**Those of you novel writers out there, what advice do you have for Bill with regards to revisions?


PDC said...

Dear Bill,
I feel your pain. Hopefully I can offer a speck of useful information that you can use.

I am working on my second novel (I didn't get the first one published yet, or even polished to a satisfactory level, really) and I am now wanting to "shake out some wrinkles" on a new project for reasons pertaining to focus.

I have had people tell me to just finish it and THEN to go on and do my first revision. Nevertheless, being the stubborn person I am, I plan to go ahead with my new-found inspiration while I have it.

First of all, I am going to print the 200 or so pages that I already have completed. I will then separate the chapters out onto my bed in "set pieces" and see if the order in which they are currently written can be moved around (some chapters more than likely being eliminated) for a more tenacious plot structure and overall story arc. Knowing the basic jest of what I have written, I don't plan to get too bogged down in the details of each individual chapter, and I will simply move quickly with the mentioned reroganization. I want to do this because in the process of taking my time on this book, I have lost some focus. So again, very importantly, I need to do this project over a couple days, both the reorganization and elimination of fluff and then move on to a quick character revision.

In the character revision, I will focus on the character's strengths, eliminating weak or superfluous attributes and/or characters and rewrite quickly with notes and set pieces close at hand. I plan to work diligently at this point to reach the climax and denouement within a week or two.

Once I have completed the story (hopefully in three to four weeks) I am going to do what Stephen King suggests, and put the manuscript in a drawer for about a month while starting something else. Preferably for me, some short-form comedy or maybe a short story or some poetry.

After a month has passed, I plan to pull the manuscript out and do my first full revision, whereupon I will deal with grammar and punctuation. Oh yeah, I suggest reading the whole manuscript as quickly as possible after pulling it out of the drawer before the full revision. A month of "simmering" as King puts it allows you to cultivate a reader's distance from your own writing so that you can read it more like someone's story than your own writing project. The shift from reading like a reader instead of reading like a writer will give you a hopefully fresh perspective that should lend a more evenly critical outlook...then go on to do a full revision. Then read and revise again.

A lot of this is mere speculation, but hey, you asked and I truly feel this is the process that will work, for me anyway.

This plan is formulated after melding an amalgam of personal experience mixed with the suggestions of the professionals.

I hope this helps you some. Voicing my plan in this reply has helped me visualize what I have planned for sure, so thank you.

Happy writing.
PD Cremers

Patricia Stoltey said...

Kerrie, I'd be happy to pass the "Self-Editing One Step at a Time" handout on to any author ready to tackle revisions. Another place to look for good self-editing tips is at the blog, "The Blood-Red Pencil": http://bloodredpencil.blogspot.com

Kerrie said...

PD, thanks for your insight into this. I am sure that will help Bill. Pat, thanks for reminding me about the great website, Blood Red Pencil.

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