Welcome back to Craft Thursday. This week, we’ll be tackling revisions. Mostly because I’m … in the middle of revisions and it’s all I’m thinking about right now.
Some people’s think revision begins and ends at spellcheck. Those are ridiculous people. But you are not a ridiculous person because you read my blog, which makes you awesome.
Because you are awesome, I’ll assume you know that revision is a very polite word for a very messy process. Think about gutting a house and rebuilding it. Think about dismantling a human body and using some of its parts to build a kick-ass monster a la Dr. Frankenstein. The application of lightning may or may not be necessary.
Are you getting the picture?
A full post on revision would take me forever because there’s so much involved, but I will share some of my tricks with you today.
TEN THINGS ABOUT REVISION
1. Ice, Ice, Baby. After you finish the first draft, walk away. A couple days is okay. A couple weeks is better. You need distance so you can read it with cold, critical eyes. Sit down, read your story like a reader might. Don’t worry about typos or commas. Make notes that occur to you about things that need fixing, but don’t get too anal about it. This read is about seeing the big picture of your story as it stands.
2. Arm yourself for battle. For me, this means redoing my story board to reflect scenes that need rewriting, shifting around or deleting altogether. I go chapter by chapter and figure out what needs to be done, so once I’m in the thick of the swamp, I won’t lose my way. I can hear the pantsers out there bitching, but revision is about taming that wild beast of a draft into a readable story. A plan will go a long way to making your vision come through for the reader.
3. RED PEN OF DOOM. Revision is not a time for the muse. It’s not that liminal spot where you’re floating through fluffy creative cloud of drafting. Send the muse to the basement with some Yoohoo and reruns of Buffy. Then rip the duct tape off your internal editor’s mouth. Chuckle when she bitches about the pain. She’ll be torturing you soon enough. Pick up your red pen and let that bitch go. Encourage her to be merciless. By the time she’s done with the pages, it needs to look like a murder scene–the blood of your pen everywhere.
4. Get Naked. There are few experiences for writers–especially new ones–more terrifying than asking for critique. It feels a little like stripping down in front of a group of catty sorority girls and asking them to circle all your fat in Sharpie. Obviously, being an awesome person, you’re too smart to ask for critique from malicious people. No, you’ve got someone you know is tough but fair. When you asked them for help, you told them exactly what sort of feedback you need. Even with my published author CPs, I still tell them exactly what I need. “Don’t worry about sentence level stuff. I just need a bird’s eye.” “Hey, can you read this and tell me if the subplot is working?” If you do it right, they’ll pay you back for your nudity not with sweaty ones, but with brilliant suggestions that will improve your story.
5. Every chapter, every scene, every sentence. Nothing goes unanalyzed. A book is a complex system with lots of moving parts. You need to make sure they’re all working together or face a massive malfunction. While we’re at it, every character must have a purpose, every plot twist must build upon the last, and every subplot must braid into the main plot to highlight your themes and conflicts. Sounds like a lot, right? Welcome to the big leagues, son.
6. Sing it, sister. At a minimum, you need to read your dialogue out loud. Yes, all of it. Does it sound natural? Is the rhythm authentic? If not, fix it. If you’re really ambitious–and you should be–you should read the entire book out loud, too. Not in the middle of revisions, mind you, but at the end. Once you’re sure you’ve dotted and crossed everything, pace around your house, reading your story to the dust bunnies. You will be amazed how many mistakes you missed and poor turns of phrase you discover. You’ll feel like an idiot, but do it anyway.
7. Seven Layer Dip. In addition to fixing plot holes, revisions also allow you to add complexity to your characters and world. You’ll be amazed how much of a difference a well-placed sentence or line of dialogue can deepen characterization. Finding opportunities to add these little gems should be on your Must Do list.
8. Get Thematic. By the time you’re ready to do your cold read, your themes should start coalescing. Maybe you set out with certain ones in mind, but ones your didn’t consider have a way of sneaking in when you’re not paying attention. If you’re writing genre fiction, you need to use a deft hand when it comes to theme. No one wants to be conked over the head with meaning. One way to subtly buttress them, though, is to instill your sentences with theme words. Come up with a list of words that help infuse your story with the right mood and thematic symbols. For a great overview of this, read Alexandra Sokoloff’s SCREENWRITING TRICKS FOR AUTHORS.
9. Don’t Panic. Bi-polar Writer’s Syndrome is a real thing. One minute, you’re all, I’M A GENIUS! THIS IS THE BEST BOOK EVER! Then it hits you that there is a distinct possibility you could die before you’re able to share this work of amazement with the world. Luckily, you listened to me and left a detailed revision plan. You email it to your baffled spouse, “No matter what happens, don’t let my literary nemesis finish this novel. It’s my LEGACY!” Five minutes later, you’re slumped over your keyboard, howling, MY EDITOR’S GOING TO TAKE A CONTRACT OUT ON MY LIFE. REVIEWERS ARE GOING TO CHASE ME WITH PITCHFORKS AND FIRE! You might daydream about quitting writing altogether or getting into an accident so you don’t have to finish the book. My advice? Learn to be patient with yourself. Try to enjoy the ride. Also, have a friend on speed dial who will bring you chocolate/bourbon/chocolatey bourbon.
10. The Fat Lady. There is such a thing as too much revision. Someone once said that novels are never done, just abandoned. I think this is true. At some point, you’re going to realize you’ve just spent four hours deleting and reinserting the same comma. This is a signal, friend. It’s time to let go. If you’re not under deadline, you have the luxury of revising as long as you want. But the wise writer won’t waste years of his or her life trying to turn a dog into a show pony. Set it in a drawer, send it out for critique, or submit it. Then move on to something new. A lot of wannabes have wasted good years using revisions as an excuse to not start something new. Don’t let that be you. Listen to the fat lady. She’s telling you it’s over. Move on. You’ve got new worlds to create.