Re-vision. Looking at your words with fresh, critical eyes.
(Not to be confused with proofreading, or checking for grammar and spelling mistakes.)
When I revise, my first step is distance. The temporal distance of days, weeks, or months really helps me see a draft more clearly.
Then, consider visual distance. Reading it aloud helps, or having another person read it (with poetry, this is super helpful). Also, reading it printed out instead of on a computer screen, or in a different font.
Obviously, the input of readers is hugely important! Let's assume that's happened, too.
I have my bag of tricks when it comes to revising poetry.
- remember why I wrote the poem, and if that focus is still there after each draft
- play with each grouping of words so the meaning has more clarity and a sense of newness
- rub out clichés and make my own new metaphors
- listen to the rhythm and the pace, and consider balance in the whole piece. Not perfect, tidy balance, per se. Just a sense that it all the lines belong together somehow.
- try not to use cute, tidy conclusion-y lines. Let the poem speak for itself; no need to summarize for your reader at the end.
As for prose, there is big-picture revision stuff, and smaller picture editing stuff.
Big picture revision stuff:
- Are the goals of the main character known? Are there stakes clearly set up?
- Is there a story and character arc in this? Have the characters changed from the beginning to the end?
- Am I weaving in the sub plots and stories of others and playing them off each other okay?
- Why am I writing this, and am I making sure that the reader cares?
- Am I taking the easy way out in telling this story? Or the reverse--are things so out of hand as to be too cartoonish or unbelievable?
- Make each sentence count
- Show when it's possible; tell when it's necessary
- Make sure the pace is okay. Cut prose when it's bogging down the pace. Add more description when the reader feels ungrounded and lost. Interplay the slow and the fast. Fast, fast, fast is not good. Slow, slow, slow is not good either.
- Fine tune dialogue, and use it as a means to show more about the characters
- Is there tension threaded within the scenes? And is it real, not fake, tension?
- Did I start in the right place?
- Did I layer in my backstory without infodumping? Or if I did have to infodump, is it presented in a way that is truly engaging to the reader?
- Try to make my descriptions feel new
- Use the senses without being too overwhelming
- Avoid flat prose (repetitive sentence structure; exhaustive linear sequences of events)
So here's where I need your help. I'd very much appreciate your collective experience. Do you have any other important revision tricks that you can add?
Two other quick notes, if I may.
A blogger from my neck of the woods, Sally Deskins, invited me over for an interview last week. (read it here!).
And this week, Laura is blogging on this month's Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog topic:
"Prologues: good idea, bad idea? Discuss!" Next week, I'm up! Thanks guys, and have a great Wednesday!