Thursday, June 12, 2008

Revisions are like cleaning...

As I was doing my major basement cleaning, including delving into boxes unopened since The Dawn of Recorded Time, it occurred to me that revisions are kinda like cleaning.

See, I've cleaned that room before. In over twenty years, I should hope so! However, when it comes to some of those boxes, I've obviously either left them where they were, or just moved them to another place.

When it comes to revisions, you can do what I did -- just move stuff around -- or you can delve into the depths and really make some changes.

I think the general tendency, when first given revision suggestions whether by a critique group or editor, is to think the reader just didn't get it. You merely need to make something more prominent -- move what you've already got around a bit, doing the equivalent of the quick and easy tidy.

And sometimes, this is indeed all that's needed. For instance, when I first submitted TEMPT ME WITH KISSES, the editor had a problem with the hero. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, though. So I went back to the manuscript and called her about two hours later. I said, "He gets too happy too fast." She said, "Eureka!" (or the equivalent).

The first thing I did was take out every time he smiled for about the whole first half of the book. I did a few other things, I think, but this is the one that stands out, because it was easy -- the equivalent of the quick tidy.

Sometimes, though, that's not nearly enough. You need to open up all the boxes, take a good look at what you've got, keep some and throw out the rest. I've done that plenty of times, too, as agonizing as it is. In one of my first books, THE SAXON, there was a secondary plot that my editor felt threatened to take over the story. I could have tried to move it around, or trim it down. Instead, I cut the whole thing out. It was painful and I had to make other adjustments, but I could have been toting those boxes from shelf to shelf and still had the same problem. Better to get rid of the boxes entirely.

Now that I've gone through all the (real) boxes in my basement, I've got the material I want to keep all in one place, in better storage containers, and gotten rid of ton of unnecessary stuff that was just taking up space. In the same way, doing a major, deep revision can yield a stronger, tighter, better story than if you just move stuff around.


M. said...

hi margaret!
interesting analogy. i'm still at the 'can't bear to throw any words away' stage. i produced them with much pain and blood - and now i should get rid of them? inconceivable (to quote the sicilian in 'princess bride'). it's something i need to work on.

i saw 'the saxon' out of the corner of my eye the other day when i dropped off donations at my local second-hand store to benefit mental health patients. didn't have time to pick it up then - i'll have to go back. and wonder what the secondary plot might be!

Margaret Moore said...

If memory serves, the hero and heroine had friends who also had a little love story.

Re the cuts -- I make a file I label "dump" and put them all there, just in case I need them. And to assuage my wounded feelings.

Susan Anne Mason said...


I like the way your mind is always thinking about writing, even while cleaning the basement. How many spiders did you find? LOL.

Happy cleaning!

Sue Mason

Margaret Moore said...

Not too many. Spiders don't bother me (good thing, since the hero of my next book loves 'em). I get the willies from frogs and toads.