Tag Archives: revision

Aside

Thought you might be interested in how I revise my drafts.  I have a few writer friends whose opinion I value.  I ask them to read the draft and then post their comments (on another forum).  I consider their comments, … Continue reading

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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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The Pain of Revising and How to Cure It

Here what James A. Michener had to say about revising:

James A. Michener, author

“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.”

After reading the towering masterpieces of this American writer, works such as Tales of the South PacificHawaii, and Centennial, I believe it.

At the beginning of my career not only did I not believe Michener , but I hardly ever did any rewriting, other than correcting typos.  This one time I had spent hours on a short story, lovingly carving each word and bringing it to life with my own blood and tears.  When it was finished, in the flush of creation I deemed it perfect and sadly didn’t look at it again.  Instead I sent it out “as is” to an editor.  The story was rejected.  I sent it out again.  Rejected.  And again.  Rejected. 

The fourth time was the charm.  On the standard rejection slip, some kind editor had scribbled.  “Needs ext. revision.”  After getting over my first knee-jerk reaction of angry denial, I spent some time puzzling over what “ext.” meant—surely not “exterior”?  “Extra”?  Extant?  It finally dawned on me that it meant “extensive.”  I sank in my chair, amazed and chagrined…not my perfect story that was so beloved and contained so much of my bs&t (blood, sweat and tears)!

Sheesh, was I embarrassed!

I pulled the manuscript out of it return envelope and started reading.  My face slowly heated up as I became more embarrassed the further I read.  Not only did purple prose stare me in the face, but there were typos.  I struggled with revising it and sent it out again; but I never did sell that story.  I finally filed it under UNSOLD and moved on.

For a couple of years after that, I always read my manuscript over and tried to revise it.  Trouble was, I didn’t really know how to revise.  Then I got my hands on a book, which changed my writing life.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name or author of the book and I loaned it to someone who never gave it back.  However, I learned to enjoy revising, and it became a challenge to find the areas that needed revision.  Once that happened, I started to sell my fiction material.  Most writers I know of credit their success to successful revision of their first raw draft.  Some writers revise many times.  Some only once, but the ones that do no revision at all are rarely successful.

Here are some of the things I have learned about revising, which I will be demonstrating in my next post with my work in progress, Battle Cleric.  It’s sort of a first draft and needs work.  I will share with you how I do it.

1.  Start off stories with a bang.  It doesn’t have to be direct action, but it does have to be compelling, in a way that makes the reader ask questions and WANT to read on to find out the answers.  In short stories, it is called the sizzler, the zinger, or the hook.  In a novel, you want to introduce the main character and give the reader an idea of what the book is going to be about.  If you have a theme for your story, it would be helpful to put it in the first few pages as well in some way.

2.  Don’t give too much of the back story in the beginning.  Let the reader find it out through dialogue, through flashbacks later on, and through deduction.  If you see a man in a robe that is not a bathrobe, custom declares that this story is not set in modern times, and quite possibly not of this world.  That is a clue for the reader about time, place, and circumstance.

Throw away the throwaway words.

3.  Remove all throwaway words.  These include there was, there are, there is, there were.  Check all adjectives and adverbs to see if they are absolutely necessary.  Strength comes from your verbs, but watch out for purple prose.  If you have too many people howling, roaring, stomping, crashing, etc., it starts to become melodrama, which is often unintentionally funny.

4.  Be careful of dialogue tags.  You want to minimize such tags as whispered, sobbed, laughed, choked, gurgled, etc.  Said is the best and most invisible dialogue tag you have in your toolbox of words.  Said is your friend.  Occasionally, you can insert one of the more powerful verbs as a dialogue tag (roared, stammered, shrieked, etc.), but they are like strong spices in the stew of dialogue tagging…meant to be used sparingly.

Watch out for the eyes.

5.  Watch out for eye movement.  Hysterically, she threw her eyes around the room (and what? Spent the next hour searching for them blindly?)  I have seen eyes slanted at, cut toward, sweep a room, send a disgusted glance, and so on.  It has always made me laugh.  You don’t want uninvited laughter from a reader.

6.  Search for awkward phrasing.  For instance, you probably have been told never to end a sentence with a preposition.  But the writing can get stiff and overly formal if you hold strictly to this.  You can either rewrite the sentence to avoid the preposition altogether.  Or you can do it the way you were told not to.  See?  The world didn’t come to an end when I did that.

There is lots more to come.  I learned a ton over the last three or four decades.  And I want to share it all with you.  But not all at once 🙂  So be patient, and practice working with those first six I have just given you.  You will be amazed at the resulting cosmetic and intrinsic value of your writing.