Tuesday, November 07, 2006

What exactly do I do when I revise? - Revised Version

Since I'm in revision mode of my work-in-progress -- that is, my revisions before the manuscipt is submitted, not revisions based on editor's suggestions -- I thought folks might be wondering just what I do when I revise.

I cut out the boring parts. I'm reading along, "La-la-la-la-la," and then "CLUNK!" Yawn.

How do I know it's boring? I can't really say. I just do. And by that, I mean it's boring/slow reading to me. What may be slow to me might be lyrical prose or emotional depth to another, so it's pretty much a matter of taste, honed by years of reading books I enjoy. I knows what I likes, and what makes me yawn, and if I'm bored, it's gone.

I add missing parts. Sometimes, I'll have jumped from Point A to Point C and realize I need Point B. This is best done at this stage. I once did that very late in the process and I gotta tell ya, I was beyond thrilled my editor let me do it. The thing is, it'd been nagging me but I kept telling myself the addition wasn't really necessary, and nobody said it was, but I continued to feel the lack. I was much happier when I made the addition.

I cut out repititions. When you're writing a book over the course of months, you can forget you've already said something (in my case, usually about backstory/motivation) already, and wind up saying it, oh, maybe ten times. So some of those have got to go. I also don't want my readers feeling like they've been hit over the head with a sledgehammer on a particular point.

The downside of this is, sometimes I think I'll have said something a gazillion times because I've read it what seems a gazillion times in the various drafts, so I take it out all ten times. Then a reader or reviewer will make some comment, and I'll be thinking, "But I said why!" Sometimes it's still there, sometimes...whoops, my bad.

OTOH, sometimes if I explain a thing only once, it's not enough, because people who read in a hurry miss the one part where the point's made clear.

I try to make the prose smooth and not "choppy." Unless it's a battle scene. Or other scene of high drama. Then I go for short sentences.

I try to make every character sound unique. One thing that totally fries my bacon is when a copy editor "corrects" my characters' dialogue. I personally don't speak with perfect grammar, and I certainly don't expect many of my characters to (see? I've ended a sentence with a preposition! Oh, the horror!). Copy editors are all about good grammar; I want my people to sound like people.

I try to get the grammar in narrative correct, watching for things like "it's" when it should be "its", etc. (as I had in this post earlier. D'oh!)

I cut out adverbs. Not all of them, because sometimes you need the modifier. But a lot of them.

So then I get hung up on dialogue tags (said, replied, declared, announced). A lot of times a lot of them go or get simplified to something less noticeable.

I try to ensure that it's clear who's speaking.

I look for continuity boo-boos. For instance, in the current book I'm working on (THE NOTORIOUS KNIGHT), my hero has an issue with the heroine over something in Chapter Eight (or it may be Nine now -- I've moved a scene or two). Anyhoodle, he's upset and doesn't want her to do something. However, there was another part earlier on where she does something not dissimilar and he says nary a word.

Ooops. That argument has now morphed into more of a discussion, and I went back and added something to the earlier scenes to address the issue.

I add details -- clothes, setting, lighting, scents. I do some of this the first draft, but add more as I revise.

Sometimes I move whole scenes. I realize I've got something happening too early or too late, and I have to move it. If it involves the hero or heroine, this is a lot more work than if it's a secondary character scene, because moving a scene with the hero or heroine involved is going to alter the whole emotional structure of the book. But if it's not where it works best in terms of the development of the relationship or plot, moved it is. I think of my scenes as building blocks, and sometimes, I've got them in the wrong order and my structure is not as strong as it could be. So I move the blocks. And then repair.

Sometimes I'll change the point of view character in a scene. If that happens, I'll "strip" the scene -- take out all the internal narrative, leaving just the original dialogue and "blocking" (that's a theater term for actors' movements on the stage). Then I'll rewrite with new internal narrative for the different point of view character. Of course that isn't all I'll do -- I'll probably add or delete dialogue, and all the other minor changes I do to any scene.

I'll double check historical details. Or realize I've mentioned something, but haven't really made it clear what it is. I can't assume my readers will know what I'm talking about. "Quintain" comes to mind as something I realized I ought to describe more fully. It's one of those training dummies with a crossbar with a shield at one end and a bag of sand on the other that spins if the shield's hit. If I just call it a "quintain", lots of people will know what I mean, but likely some won't. I don't want anybody scratching their head wondering what a quintain is during what should be a fairly exciting/dramatic scene. I want them worried about what's going to happen to the person with a lance charging the quintain.

I think about individual words. Is that the best one? Is there some way to say a thing more clearly? Have I used the same word, especially adjective or adverb, really close together? Do my metaphors and similes make sense?

I'm not about fancy; I don't write to call attention to my style. I didn't become a writer because I love words. I became a writer because I love to make up characters and tell stories set in the past. So I'll sacrifice a metaphor or simile if I think it's too "pretty" or otherwise calls attention to itself, rather than clarifying the character's mood, for example.

I try to make my chapter endings interesting/suspenseful enough that the reader will want to continue. Every scene has its own dramatic arc -- inciting incident, rise to a climax, denouement. Generally, I try not to end at the end of the denouement, because that's not a really dramatic moment. Sometimes I'll end a chapter just before the climax of a scene. Sometimes just after the inciting incident of a scene. Sometimes during the build-up, before there's some exciting action. Sometimes during the exciting action.

However, because writing is not an exact science, sometimes I will end a chapter at the end of the end of the denouement. But if that's the case, I'm liable to do a little foreshadowing. Or at least hint at the inciting incident in the next scene to come. One thing I try never to do is end a scene with somebody falling asleep. Fainting, yes, nodding off, no.

I want to make sure it's clear what attracts the hero to the heroine and vice versa. Why do they fall in love with each other, and not anybody else?

I want to ensure my characters' actions make sense, given what I've said about their histories and their desires/goals, and the time in which they live.

There are probably a few more things I do that I'm not recalling right at the moment (woke up at 4:45 a.m. -- bad dream about a serial killer (!!!) probably because I watched Prison Break last night), but now you know why it can take me a day to revise one chapter, or sometimes -- alas! -- just a single scene.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this Margaret. It's great to see just how much a manuscript can from draft to draft. It also reinforces the fact it doesn't have to be perfect the first time. :)

Margaret Moore said...

Perfect the first time? I can't do it. I never met a page I didn't want to "fix." Until it's actually a book. Then I get over it, in no small part because I can't change anything even if I want to. :-)