The Pain of Revising and How to Cure It – Part 2 – Hands-on Rewriting

We are going to try something that might be very painful for me: we are going to revise the first few paragraphs of my WIP, Battle Cleric.  With your help, we might make it shine.  If we do, then I might continue the revising on parts of the rest of the manuscript.  None of this has been seriously revised—it is raw material.  So…below is the beginning of Battle Cleric’s first chapter, entitled “Whispers of the Lost Scroll.”  Before you start, I heartily recommend that you read The Pain of Revising and How to Cure It here.  Then you will know what I am talking about.

 The sun shifted shadows of dancing leaves across the walls of my tower office.  I had flung the window wide open to let in the early summer breeze, knowing full well that I was tempting myself to play truant when I should be reading urgent reports from my network of data-gathering agents and answering politely worded demands from the Shemaran Council.

 I sighed and went to the window, regarding the sweetly homey scene.  Molly, our young Halfling cook, sat outdoors, enjoying the breeze and deftly peeling potatoes into a huge pot for the night’s supper.  Aliss, the Huramesti housewoman, hung out laundry from the porch, singing a hearty trail riding song, and Tadman, the gods-touched half elf, collected wood from the yard firebox to power the huge oven Molly needed for cooking her delicacies.

 I had just returned to my desk and picked up the first report, an ink-blotted missive from our man in Challa, the northernmost territory on our continent.  It boded no good, these ink splotches, since Kenron was fastidious and known for his letter perfect reports.

 It was addressed as usual to Emerald Verity, High Priestess of the Temple of the Maker in Shemara.  That would be me.  Not as usual, it began, “Trouble is brewing…”  A sharp rap at my door caused me to look up.

 “Come,” I replied, laying the scroll aside with a sigh.

Okay, I am going to rewrite the above passage.  Everything I change will be bolded – at the end of the change, will be the item number of the mistake I am correcting (Nos. 1-6 from Part 1, and Nos. 7-13 below).

Sighing, I pushed away the stack of urgent reports from my data-gathering agents.  Just once, I’d really like a day off.  Getting up out of the carved and padded chair at my desk, I slipped over to the window and watched (1, 2, 6) Molly, our young Halfling cook, sitting outdoors, enjoying the breeze and deftly peeling potatoes into a huge pot for the night’s supper.  Aliss, the Huramesti house woman, hung out laundry from the porch, singing a hearty trail riding song, and Tadman, the gods-touched half elf, collected wood from the yard firebox to power the huge oven Molly needed for cooking her delicacies.  Yet I found my mind wandering to the latest demand from the Shemaran Council and trying to formulate a politely worded refusal. (2 and smooth transition)

 When my mind commanded and my desk beckoned like that, I usually answered the call. (10, 11)  I returned to my chair, deciding the agent reports were the priority and picked up the first one, (smooth flow) an ink-blotted missive from our man in Challa, the northernmost territory on our continent.  They boded no good, these ink splotches, since Kenron was fastidious and known for his letter perfect missives.

 The report was addressed as usual to Emerald Verity, High Priestess of the Temple of the Maker in Shemara.  That would be me.  Not as usual, it began, “Trouble is brewing…”  A sharp rap at my door caused me to look up.

 “Come,” I replied, laying the scroll aside. (deleted “and sighed” to avoid repetition of a word)

From the pain of having experienced every single misstep I listed in Part 1, here are my additional suggestions to help in revising:

Overheated manuscript cooling off.

 7. Make sure you give your manuscript some cooling off time before you read it with a view to revising.

 When you write, give it everything you have – don’t stop to research or do any revising.  Write and write hard!  Try to make sure you are not interrupted during this process.  Then when you are finished the manuscript, put it away in a drawer and do not look at it for at least a day.  If you have pressing deadlines, refrain from looking for an hour or more.  If it is a book length manuscript, put it away for a week or longer.

 The reason this is necessary, and the reason it works, is because you use a different part of the brain for revising than for creating and writing.  The cooling off period allows you to disengage the creative part completely from the project and tune in to the critical editorial part.  If you try to revise while you are in the creative mode, you will still be too in love with your words to do any effective revising.  I wish I had known about this earlier in my career.

8. Show, don’t tell.  Well, this is partly true.  Many emerging writers tell far too much and show not enough.  However, there is a happy medium.  Stephanie will probably correct me but I believe that the ratio of show vs. tell is 66%.  However, you have to be happy with the result.  Still, if there is too much tell, at some point you will lose your reader, because honestly the prose gets boring.

9. A good way to test dialogue is to read it aloud.  Play all parts yourself and differentiate between each voice.  Then you will be able to hear the mistakes or the stepping out of character that you might have given one or more of the players in your story.  Many writers, including Alison Croggon, the brilliant fantasy writer of The Naming series, advocate reading your entire manuscript out loud, perhaps chapter by chapter if it’s a novel.  They say you can really hear the mistakes and do it much better than trying to catch them visually.

10. Along with number 9, be true to the voices in your story, including your own as the creator of the storyline.  You have to admit that an Oxford graduate in literature will talk much differently than a cowboy on a Montana ranch.  Or a construction worker than a nurse.  Or a suicidal homeless woman than a religious fanatic.  So be true to your characters.

And be true to the voice you use in your writing.  My style is generally breezy, cheerful and in-your-face.  I often write in the first person, so my main character is generally breezy, cheerful and in-your-face.  These characters can be wise or shallow; old or young; queen or peasant, but that cheerful narration and dialogue must remain consistent.

11. Have due regard for supporting the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief.  This happy state is required for all fiction, but especially so for fantasy and science fiction.  The reader is willing to put aside certain of his own beliefs and thoughts if the story is logical.  You can’t just plunk magic into a story…you have to think of why magic works in this particular story, what are the steps to create this magic, and what are the consequences.  Then you have to stick to these “rules,” or once again you will lose your reader.

 12. Once you have finished revising to the best of your ability, have another person with a good grasp of English grammar and spelling read it.  If you have a writer friend, one who is familiar with your style, so much the better.  I am absolutely convinced that two heads are better than one.

13. Avoid repetition in proximity of words or phrases.  I once was editing a story for a friend and found the word “battle” nine times in the first two paragraphs.  Not acceptable.  In the same vein, be wary of favorite words that you use that stand out.  I once revised my own manuscript by deleting about ten “however”s.

 Try practicing these revisions, along with the ones in Part 1.  I guarantee you will see a difference in your work.

Also, if you see more areas in the above selection of Battle Cleric that could use revising, by all means let me know!

All text and writing excerpts are copyright © 2008, 2010 by Sandra Bell Kirchman.  All rights are reserved.
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12 responses to “The Pain of Revising and How to Cure It – Part 2 – Hands-on Rewriting

  1. Sandra,
    I would love to read and edit the paragraphs you have posted. However, it is really hard to read with the dark purple background and I can’t physically edit the post. Would you email it to me?
    ~Haley

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  2. Dark purple background?? That is not what I selected nor what I see…it should be a white background. How can that be??

    In any event, I will email you the whole article.

    However, I am very perturbed at this. Does anyone else see a dark purple background?

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  3. Sandra,
    I see a nice blue background now. Maybe when I tried reading your excerpt last night WordPress malfunctioned. I don’t know. Anyway, it is fixed nowal. I look forward to reading your excerpt later when I have more time. Thanks for sending it to me.
    ~Haley

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    • Hi, Haley – I changed the background to the light blue just today. I am going to change it back to black, which is actually the color I prefer for the outer edges. Please let me know if it turns the text background any other color but white. Thanks for the help.
      Sandra

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  4. Hi Sandra…great post! It hits home with me. I especially like your recommendation to let a manuscript sit. I so need that down time in order to “see” my words.

    Keep up the good work!
    Cheers,
    Hobbit Queen

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  5. Hm, that must have been a malfunction on the site’s part. I’m reading it fine.

    Also, I *think* the ratio was 1:4 show vs. tell. It might have been 1:5, I think Suzy & I mixed them up in our interpretations.

    I really liked the “sun shifted shadows of dancing leaves” but I guess it is a little purpley 😉

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  6. *mutter* That’s supposed to be tell vs. show. One tell for ever four shows.

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  7. Thanks, Steph, I knew you’d have the right ratio. I wasn’t far off with my 3 to 1 show vs. tell.

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    • Sandra,
      I really enjoyed reading your revisions. It was very interesting to look at the first version (which needed a lot of work) and the second version where you included the number of the revision rule you followed. I would love to have you show your process again sometime with a different section of your manuscript.

      The revised version is beautiful. I think this flows very well and I love your word choice. You introduce the characters, setting and the fact that there’s a problem very quickly. I am hooked and want to read more.

      My favorite line was “When my mind commanded and my desk beckoned like that, I usually answered the call.” I know how that is! My writing does that to me all the time 🙂

      Sandra,
      Will you visit my blog and tell me what you think of the first part of my manuscript? I posted it yesterday.
      http://haleywhitehall.wordpress.com/2011/01/31/hook-round-two/
      ~Haley

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      • Thank you for your kind words, Haley. I will probably revise again on the second round, but this will hopefully do for now. I’m glad you like the flow, since an easy flow is what I strive for all the time.

        I will likely do this again some time, since the main thrust of this blog was supposed to deal with the writing of Battle Cleric. I am happy that you are hooked by the story. The people who read this blog are really the first ones to read this story who do not have a personal connection with me and/or who have already read the short story I wrote that the novel is based on.

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  8. Pingback: The Empathetic Transformation « Soldiering Through the Writing World  

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