Friday, November 5, 2010

One-Pass Manuscript Revision?

“Doing a seventeenth revision on a project does not make a writer an artist or move him above the writer hoi polloi any more than dressing entirely in black or wearing tweed jackets with leather elbow patches or big, black drover coats. These are all affectations, and smack of dilettantism. Real writers, and real artists, finish books and move on to the next project.”

      • Holly Lisle, Vision: A Resource for Writers, May-June 2002

I do love the no-nonsense quote from Holly there. In order to get a novel completed and get busy on the next, she advocates a one-pass manuscript revision, the full formula of which can be seen here:

I'm not always in agreement with what Holly has to say, and certainly, the one-pass manuscript revision seems, at first, like some kinda mythical beast: fill all the plot holes, delete all the extraneous scenes (and alter references to them), insert all the missing but needed scenes, hone the plot and character arcs, ramp up the tension and conflict wherever possible, all in one pass? And, aaand also, polish the prose.

I'm gonna give it a go!

I don't think it's possible, but I'm still going to give it a go.

Actually, I've already started. I've got to say that this idea is so big, so sexy, so damned in your face, that executing it is a highly engaging process, and... dare I say.. fun!

It's very satisfying to go through a novel leaving no stone unturned, to face every li'l barrier, every place where I know something needs doing, to mark it, make notes, and move on.

It's really interesting to find that I can't hide from myself when doing this. If problem x exists, then leaving it will necessitate a second pass on the manuscript, and that defeats the object. So I find myself being quite strict. I force myself to tackle issues in the novel that I knew needed tackling, but which I basically wanted to shove under the carpet and hope the novel would kinda work for someone, somewhere, and that'd be that.

Whether the one-pass manuscript revision is really possible, I don't know, but I think the sheer amount of lessons learned from attempting it will make the endeavor worthwhile.  


Ted Cross said...

I'm not buying it. I don't care how good a person is, a single pass is just not enough to make something great.

Elaine AM Smith said...

I believe in this process implicitly - right up to the point where I open the document the next morning and spot something that wasn't there the day before ;)

Andrea Mack said...

Interesting, but maybe impossible for me. I'm trying to do as much revision as I can during my first pass, but I find I keep going back to the early chapters with yet another idea for strengthening. So it feels like I'm never getting past chapter 8!

Jeffrey Beesler said...

Even when I get through the final revision, there's always something I can come up with to always strengthen the prose. The concept of a single revision sounds excellent, especially if you're a writer who only requires revising just 17 words (it's happened before, just not to me.)

But I think I'd rather go through many times to make sure I get every typo, nook and cranny which sticks out like a sore literary thumb.

Matthew Rush said...

Damn! I'm already too late.

R.S. Bohn said...

I love this idea. LOVE IT.

Deb Salisbury said...

I'm a six pass reviser. 1. known plot holes. 2. description. 3. characterization. 4. plot holes found in other passes. 5. voice. 6. typos created in other passes.

I can't hold everything inside my head to fix it in one pass.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Ah, wouldn't that be nice? A novel in one pass...

I like the idea. I'm not sure how practical it is for most people. Certainly not for me. I sort of like having certain things to focus on. And the book can keep changing, and changing, and changing... hopefully to something better.

And I'm not sure I like the implied idea that extensive revisions equals dilettantism - as if multiple editing passes somehow makes a writer a poseur. Yes, professional writers finish books. But each one does it in their own way. I don't know, something about that comment smacks of self-justification - like she's taken flack for only doing one revision, and this is her rejoinder. It probably helps, too, that she's a longtime pro, experienced, with a sales record. She also writes a ton of books to get by, if I'm not mistaken. Maybe if she spent more time on one it would be a better book, and earn as much as two quicker books? Or maybe she simply writes better that way, and that's what suits her.

Seems a little dogmatic, either way. Real writers do this, real writers do that...

There are no real writers. Just people writing. And people are endlessly different.

Though one draft does sound nice. Now that I'm on 37 or some other ungodly number. Somewhat morbidly, I've named my latest draft files as 100 and 101... Hoping that's an exaggeration, though not entirely sure. Feels like a hundred, anyway.

Bookworm1605 said...

I'm sure a one-pass edit is slightly more believable than most of your run-of-the-mill mythological beasts, Wanu. Of course, it probably helps if it's your 7th or 12th or maybe 20th novel. You can either write the same novel seven times or seven novels one time each. Either way, the seventh work is bound to be the best. I do think there is a point where re-re-re-hashing your words becomes counterproductive but it's probably a moving target. The biggest thing is to simply write. Now put down that pint, push away from Facebook and get to it. And excuse me while I go for a ride--I've got a unicorn tied out back.

Wanu said...

Wow, massive variance in response.

and Ink, wow, I feel like I wanna disagree with you, but you make so much sense I can't find any holes in what you said. Dammit.

I think as a counterpoint to the one-pass revision, though, it is worth considering some of the big names - Tolkien well known for tinkering with his manuscript, and James Joyce who took twenty years on one book, but it's a classic, so... time well spent? I'd say so, yes.

You've seen my two major projects though, and one of them might justify a fair amount of fretting and passing, but the other's never going to be a profound work, so I think that'd benefit from a one-pass.

I love the idea of bangin' out a novel every six months, and I think the one-ass revision would certainly be a tool for helping with that.

But! In some ways, the one-pass idea is actually a fallacy - because there'll be post submission edits and such, so a novel is never going to be utterly complete in one revision pass. I coulda included that as well in the starting post.

and Book, lol! Another great point that I can't disagree with. Absolutely, the seventh book will be the best, and I even wonder, writing the same book seven times could lead to a superior product to the simply seventh book in a row.


Oh, unicorns! omg, book, you've gotta write about unicorns now. Cute ones!

Wanu said...

lol one-ass revision, what a typo, I've gotta leave that one in place. What shall I blog about next? The half-ass revision?