Thursday, February 3, 2011

Avoiding the Bite of Revision

Yes, that's right, revision has a nasty bite. It can fester. I know gross, right? It's sort of like Hagrid's Monster Book of Monsters, you have to know how to approach it. And if you do it just right, you won't come away with a scratch, just a shiny new manuscript. So how does it work, this safe approach?

1. Prepare
No, you don't actually need special gloves, or a cattle prod, what you need is a game plan. Start with this checklist:
  • Have I let it sit long enough to give myself some space? This could mean different things to different people, but you definitely need to put it away and do something else for a while - whether that's reading a book, or writing something new, or just going shopping.
  • Have I had it critiqued? You have to have other eyes look at it. Period. There are things that you just can't see since your mind automatically fills in spaces because you know it so well. Beta readers are great for this as well as a good and steady critique group.
  • Am I prepared to do what I have to to make it its best? Meaning chopping, injecting, and otherwise mutilating it.
2. Read.
Yep. Read it. Some people find it helpful to print it out first. I like using my Kindle. Either way, read it like you're reading a book, and make note of ANYTHING that stands out. You may have to make a separate pass for each topic. That's up to you. There are many questions to address when doing this, but here are a few major ones:
  • Plot - does the story follow a predictable and logical arc? Have you answered all the questions presented and does everything come together smoothly? Have you used foreshadowing and clues, without hitting the reader over the head?
  • Character - How soon do you really empathize with your MC? This can be hard when you are so attached. But pretend you're just meeting and give it a go. Are your other characters fully developed? How can you add dimension?
  • Dialogue - Is it natural? Too conversational, or does every line count? Is it clear who is speaking? Have you broken it up with enough description and action (look at the physical page, is it line after line after line of dialogue?)
  • World - Are you characters constantly interacting with the world around them? Do you weave the world into the story or does it come in clumps of descriptive paragraphs. Do you go overboard (be honest) or is it just the right amount? Does the description reflect the mood? Can it be an obstacle in and of itself?
  • Info-dump - How'd you do? Did you take a bulldozer and let her rip? Or did you trickle the info as needed? Did you get us invested first? Did you try to add it through dialogue when both characters already know what they're saying and they're simply reviewing it for the reader's benefit?
  • Is each scene both tight and complete. Is each sentence necessary? Have you used too much passive wording? Have you varied sentence structure and length
I'm going to stop now because this could get REALLY LONG. But if you have something to add or a question please - that's what the comments are for!!! I love hearing from you.

3. Get to work!
This means no putting yourself down. It was a rough draft. Those happen. :D This is where you prove you're made of tougher stuff. If it feels too overwhelming, just sit and do one chapter at a time, and only re-work it for one issue per pass. Don't forget to save all versions just in case! Once you get back in, you'll no doubt feel much better about it. You might even *gasp* ENJOY revisiting your baby.

And you're going to LOVE how it feels when it's done. Am I right?


  1. This is great motivation and a timely post for me! I agree that critique partners are essential. I just got some incredible feedback that will help me take my WIP in a slightly different direction, and you know what? The advice was so spot-on that it actually got me EXCITED to revise--to make the story better. Crazy, huh? Thanks for the list of issues to address :)

  2. Jess - that's great! Isn't that a wonderful feeling? Like something clicks and a light goes on. :D

  3. Such great tips. I've been cooling my heels for a little bit, but now I'm ready to dive back in for another pass. I do like printing the book out, then I can scratch notes as I go. Awesome stuff, Lisa!

  4. Julie - I think you're the first one that told me to try that! LOL see folks? That's why critique partners are so important!!!

  5. Great post once again. I'm about to embark on revising, so great timing, too. (thx to Julie for passing this on via twitter!)

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  6. Angela - thanks! Good luck w/your revision. Yes, I don't know what I'd do without Julie. That's a fact.

  7. Darn, guess I'll put the cattle prod away. ;) I have particular trouble with putting it aside for a time. My favorite part is the reading. I've found that by reading it aloud I catch so much more!

  8. Heather - I have a hard time with that too! But it really does help. And reading is a good tip. Missed that one I think.

  9. This is great advice. I always let it sit for a while. The first pass is the hardest, after that, I really enjoy it!

  10. Great list! I check for all my major plot points first, do the rewriting, and then let it sit before I do these passes. I'm not quite at that stage yet. But I will be. :)

  11. Laura - oh it all comes around full circle eventually. :D Glad you liked my list.

  12. I'm using Donald Maass's workbook and it's helping me see my ms in a different light.

    I used to have problems giving my ms distance. Now it's easy with all the beta reading, reading (novels and books on writing), and blogging I'm doing. :D

  13. Stina - it all gets a bit easier with time and experience I think. Which is great because then you move on to mastering the next thing. There is always more to learn, which I love!

  14. I find one of the great joys of revising is that you fall in love all over again with your story in its new form. Revising is like watching your kids grow up. You think you want them to stay a certain age, and when they pass on to the next, you love them even more and wouldn't have wanted to miss the new them for all the world.

  15. Aww, Leslie! That's so sweet. And a great analogy. Thanks.