Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Revising 101

So I'm about five weeks into the writing workshop I'm helping to lead. People are getting together their pieces of poetry and prose to mold into better shape by the end of the workshop. So tomorrow, I've been asked to lead a discussion about revising.

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 clich├ęs 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?
Small picture editing stuff:
  • 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)
Whew! That's a lot already.

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!

51 comments:

shelly said...

Hmmm...I have nothing to addd to your pearls of wisdom.

Anne Gallagher said...

All adverbs and adjectives are not bad. Just know when to use them.

Jax said...

Looks like you got yourself a pretty complete list! Wish I could you out a little more..but I'm stumped! Good luck :)

Jai Joshi said...

Great tips, Lydia!

I wrote a post of revision ages ago. Here's the link: http://jaijoshiz.blogspot.com/2009/08/revision-checklist_31.html

Jai

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I have one thing to add.

We all have "our darlings," those clever turns of phrase, snappy lines, or little scenes that we love because they show a witty bit of word play, or the words just rhythmically roll of tongue.

Sometimes those darlings have to be slashed anyway, because they slow down the story, repeat an idea, tell too much, or they just don't match your new revisions.

Darling or not, if it's gotta go, it's gotta go.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

*roll off the tongue*

I should have cut that one, or at least poured a cup of coffee before responding to blogs this morning!

Old Kitty said...

What great tips! Good luck with your group! Yay!!

I found cutting my backstories to the absolute minimum helps my writing - may not work for others though - but works for me!

Take care
x

Em-Musing said...

Great, great tips. For me, and I don't know why it works, I'll reduce the page to 50%. It reads very different than at 100%. I know, weird, huh?

Natalie Aguirre said...

I think you got most of it. I do look at word count and if the manuscript is too long. I regularly check for redundant words or unnecessary ones--I have a list. It often tightens up the story.

Ciara said...

I will set up Word to read the document out loud. I catch so many issues that way. Great points, Lydia!

Richard said...

Like Ciara from Florida, I read my ms out loud when I feel it's getting to the final stages.

Deborah Walker said...

This is a fabulous list. Thanks!

February Grace said...

Amazing post! But I admit that pic with the eyes in the box is freaking me out just a little LOL

xoxo
bru

Miranda Hardy said...

There is so much to know when revising. I know why it would encompass a whole series to teach. Lol

Distance is the best. It also helps to have another's opinion in order to see if the structure needs work.

mooderino said...

I find transferring it to an ereader is often enough to make me look at it differently (and cheaper than prionting it all out one paper).

mood

Jessica R. Patch said...

Looks like you nailed it to me. I do print a hard copy for a first read-through (after letting it sit awhile) and I print it in a bigger, different font to help me spot things better.

Meredith said...

I love your tips and tricks! Printing the MS out always helps me see it with new eyes. And reading it aloud while trying to give the characters different voices helps, too.

conchsaladesque said...

Great list. I'm linking to this in my Writer Wednesday post today.

Munk said...

The list is great... execution is the difficult part.

lbdiamond said...

FANTASTIC TIPS!!!!!!! Sounds like your workshop is going well--congrats!!! :)

Heather said...

Distance is the key to revising indeed! And oh so hard for me. Time away from my manuscript it always torture. ;) Thanks for the tips on revising poetry, these are excellent.

Suze said...

Wow. You really impressed lbdiamond.

I think temporal distance (those two words together seem funny to me) and reading out loud go a really long way -- and you've already mentioned both.

The only thing I might add is don't rewrite the whole damn story. If it's that flawed, just start something new. A tip that is vital for first-time novel writers. Or masochists who write three novels in one go.

Best with your workshops, L.

Carol Riggs said...

Good luck workshopping! And GREAT list here. I really need to do that print-out version, or else change the font on my Word document. Usually I read the ms aloud, and it's amazing how much I find that way. ;o)

Good point to use the senses w/o being overwhelming; I hadn't thought of that!

Karen Lange said...

Great stuff, Lydia! You seem to cover all of the bases. I love the reading aloud tip. I've heard it said that (by Roger Palms, author and editor), "The ear is your best editor."

I think it's also important to not completely banish descriptive words (like adverbs, adjectives) or passive voice. To me if they are used carefully in the right place at the right time, they help rather than hinder.

Good post!

Karen Lange said...

P.S. Enjoyed the interview over at Sally's. Didn't see a place to comment, so figured I'd come back here and pester you. Great to learn more about you!

Sarah said...

Great post! Is it weird that I kind of love revising?

Ugh, those info dumps are so hard to avoid in sci-fi/fantasy. That's one of the hardest ones for me.

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

What a great list. For me, reading the manuscript aloud is a huge help. It's amazing how much my ear picks up that my eyes missed. Also, a writer friend suggested dividing a novel into clumps of about 20 pages and then reading the clumps out of order. I may try this.

Tracy Jo said...

Lydia, this is all such great advice. I need to save this post so I can come back to it again and again for reminders.

Connie Keller said...

Great tips.

One of my favorite books on revision is Don't Sabotage Your Submission. It deals with the little things, but it's a big help in finding the things you miss. Plus, it uses examples from published books.

Krispy said...

I don't think I have anything to add. This is quite comprehensive!

Maybe - make sure plot things make logical sense? Like if you've removed an element somewhere before, make sure there are no lingering pieces of it in the end. Otherwise, we'll be really confused.

Carolyn Abiad said...

I read some more good revision ideas at http://www.anitanolan.com/theend.html.

Jennifer Hillier said...

I think you covered it! I pretty much (eerily) do what you do. Great post.

Carrie Butler said...

I think you pretty much nailed it! (Especially the reading aloud part. I have to do that.) Great post! :)

Carol Kilgore said...

I think you pretty much have it covered. Great tips from you and the previous commenters.

Southpaw said...

I have nothing new but I think the biggest help is stepping away from the project.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Um, no, because I'm not even using half of yours! Need to bookmark this...

DL Hammons said...

I just have one more to add. Does the end of every scene or chapter dangle something to compel the reader to keep going. The best books are hard to put down, and that's because of the hooks at the end of every break (or at least most of them).

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

One thing I always do is see what senses I've used in a scene. The more senses you use the more realistic it feels. You can do this by assigning a marker color to: taste, smell, touch, see, & hear. See if you use one too much or another not enough...

alexia said...

A great list! Taking some time between drafts is definitely important. I usually take at least a month. And I have lots of checklists of big and small picture things to go through in a certain order so I don't get off track when revising.

Clarissa Draper said...

These are great points. Editing prose is a lot like editing novels. Thanks for the tips.

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

This is such a complete list, I have nothing to add. Great list!

Sarah Pearson said...

I wish I had something to add, but I'm nabbing this list :-)

Theresa Milstein said...

Extensive list. Maybe about character motivation to make the person seem more believable?

How great you're teaching!

Crystal Jigsaw said...

A really informative post, especially right now as I'm currently editing my novel. Fresh eyes are a must - I've waited 3 months and I just know there will be many changes to make!

CJ x

Julie Dao said...

You've covered all the bases so well, I have nothing to add! Agree on the distance thing... I always need at least a week away from the WIP in order to see what's wrong with it!

Barbara Watson said...

Hmmmmm. I'm way too late to this to add any additional ANYTHING. In fact, before you asked that ending question I was thinking, "I'm bookmarking this post." So just a simply thank you is all I've got. :-)

Ghenet Myrthil said...

Thanks for sharing all of these tips! I like the one about visual distance. I want to read my WIP aloud when I'm done with this round of revisions, and also try reading it from my Kindle instead of printed out or on the computer screen. I hope it helps me find mistakes!

Barbara Watson said...

I meant simple thank you. Oops.

The Red Angel said...

Lydia this is such a great guide! I think one of my biggest challenges in writing is the pacing. Sometimes I feel like the story is just slugging along...and other times I have to step back and say, "Whoa, let's slow this down." It's so hard to judge your story objectively because, well, it's your own!

I like the revision process, but I love the first draft writing process more. ;)

Wendy Lu

The Red Angel Blog

The Golden Eagle said...

Excellent list! :) I can't think of anything to add, either . . .

I'm bookmarking this for future reference.

Deborah Walker said...

I hope it went well. I'm sure it did.

 
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