Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Bit o' Revision Advice

So, in my day job, as you may (or may not) know, I work as an editor and writer. The emphasis is usually on the former, but just last week I made a pitch for a new project that will combine the two. It looks like I may get to pursue this project (though there are no guarantees in life, and I'm not sure about the timeline), and I thought my Fellow Sophisticates may have some input.

The idea is to write a book about how to revise a novel, likely to be put out as an ebook. So! Questions for you!

1) Do you have any revision tips that you love and have helped you?

2) Do you have any artistic/philosophical/theoretical approaches to revision that have helped you?

3) What would you expect from a book about novel revision?

4) What would you like to see from such a book? What topics would you want covered?

I'm doing lots of reading and research, as I want to compile a lot of information and firm up some ideas of how I want to cover this (likely a mix of artistic and practical approaches). And I really hoped that asking all of you would provide another angle. What are writers actually doing out there, in terms of revision? What is it they want?

I'd love your thoughts, if you have a moment or two. Or three. Three is also fine. Four is good, but I can't pay you, so stop looking at me like that.


(And thanks)


Matthew MacNish said...

1) Tips? Hmm. Some things that have helped me (although I'm not even done revising my first novel, and am clearly no expert).

- Don't worry about line edits when revising for big picture things, like tension, character arc, rising and falling plot lines and so forth. It's too much to concentrate on at once.

- When you do get to line edits, try going backwards. Starting at the end helps you really focus on the structure of each sentence, looking at them through a microscope, and ignoring the big picture stuff.

- Another option for line editing is to print out and randomly select a page, but that's a lot of work and a lot of trees.

- When it comes to figuring out what scenes are truly moving the story forward, and which are there for your writer's ego, it can really help to rewrite into another point of view, even if only for practice. It's a lot of work to change the POV of an entire novel, but it reveals things to you about your story and your characters that even you may have never known.

2) Philosophical? No, not really. But I will say that I like to start a new document when revising. That way I can manually change some sections, and copy/paste others if I am already happy with them. It makes me have to work a little harder, but it gives more attention to detail on the whole, I think.

3) A robot, or a time machine.

4) A publishing deal.

Just kidding. I think it's a great idea, Bryan, and I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

mshatch said...

reading aloud helps me find those places that halt the rhythm of the words.

Steve C said...

My number one tip on revision would be don’t do it the way I do.

But I can offer this from Henry Miller:

I wipe out whole pages. Out with the balderdash, out with the slush and drivel.

Adele Richards said...

I think my first question is 'when should you revise and when should you realise that you need to start over?'

And help towards the goal of finding out 'is this the book I really want to write'.

Jeffrey Beesler said...

Well, when I began pursuing publication I wish I'd known how wonderful the revision process can be, and how the best writing is found in it. Maybe something to make the revising process less scary for the newbie writer would help in this type of book.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

1) Tips? Read aloud; break it into smaller, more manageable pieces; read quickly over your story once, to fall in love with it again.

2) Approaches? I do revisions in waves/drafts, focusing on one aspect: either story or voice or craft. It is hard to focus on voice when I'm getting the craft all pretty and vice versa.

3) Expectations? I've seen checklists in books on revision, and those are very fine. I think it's important to know what you're revising for, and in that sense, maybe a philosophical approach might be more useful. Or not. Revising (like anything writing) can be very individual - like plotting.

4) I'm sure anything you come up with will be worth reading! :)

Munk said...

Learn your strengths and weaknesses as a writer.

Revise only one major theme or thread at a time.

Marsha Sigman said...

Write the first draft like your ass is on fire.

Then rewrite for the next six months.

I have a three page bullet list of revision tips that someone was passing around and it is completely awesome. I'll email it to you.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Tip - get another set of eyeballs to look it over.
Questions - about pronoun confusion (something I'm good at apparently!), tenses, and unnecesary modifiers.

Jenni Wiltz said...

This sounds like a great project!

One of the most helpful things I've found in terms of revision is super-careful word-by-word editing. Every single words needs to justify its place. It's time-consuming, but the end result will be a million times smoother and easier for your reader to understand. Here are a few nuggets that have helped me:

1. I look to see if I've said the same thing in two sentences or given too many words in a description. Less is always more.

2. I look for unnecessary words, usually adverbs or adjectives. Keeping a text file with these can help--if you find them once, they're probably in the manuscript somewhere else. You can do a search and replace using the mistakes captured in the text file. Examples include "said aloud," "yelled loudly," "slow, plodding movement," "spun quickly," etc. Does the verb you chose already encapsulate the adverb? If so, get rid of it!

3. Always visualize characters' movements to make sure they're physically possible. I read a short story once where the hero lay down in a grave and literally buried himself with a shovel. How can a human being do this? This ruined the story's credibility for me.

In terms of things I'd want to see in a book on revision, I'd look for the following:
*tips for dialogue pacing--how can I take a slow scene and speed it up without losing anything essential?
*tips for interspersing dialogue with physical action or character description
*a checklist of commonly confused words, phrases, cliches, etc. that would be easy to run through a "find and replace."

Best of luck with this sounds fun to write!

Bane of Anubis said...

Good revision for me, as I've painfully learned, requires healthy doses of love and hate. Love: to keep you going. Hate: to make it better.

Scott said...

So I take it you disagree with Dean Wesley Smith. Fair enough, so do I.

I would, however, add a note of caution in the book to avoid spending inappropriately long amounts of time agonizing over every word. Novel writing is a lot like film-making, and if you think you care deeply about your novel, go watch a film-maker at work. They live and breathe the film for a year or two all-day-every-day, every aspect of it down to fixing the way that guy twitched his eyelashes in post "so that the emotion can really come through".

Anyway, there's a saying that "films are never finished, only abandoned". At some point you have to actually go and sell your manuscript. Otherwise it's a strange little private hobby, not Writing a Book.

Kai said...

Read aloud to your target audience, then ask pointed questions about theme, characters, conflict, action, etc. DON'T share your intent to sway their input. It's really fun to stop before you read the resolution to see where your audience thinks it's going. Are you predictable? Do you want to be?

Record yourself while you read so you can listen later and pick up on any stumbles or awkwardness and catch the words you automatically changed.

Mrs Me Reeves said...

I do not have any tips..... but if I were reading on revisions as a novice (my case: 1st novel in 1st round of revisions)... I would want to hear the truth:

CHAPTER 1: It's tough!!!

CHAPTER 2: If you are a creative mind (aka not-a-grammer-fan) the process just might destroy your self confidence. Here is how you can prevent this from happening.

CHAPTER 3: (spinning off of Adele's comment) What will take longer revising or re-writing. (Then Marsha) Redraft like your ass is on fire. ** BTW, Thank you ladies..... Great comments taken to heart **

Hollister Ann Grant said...

Great topic, Bryan.

Yes, I agree with others, read it out loud.

Put it away and don't look at it for a while. When you look at it again, you'll not only see a lot of mistakes, it might be better than you thought.

Print it and retype it by hand instead of combing over it. You'll say it differently, and better.

Remember the itsy-bitsy strip of paper that would turn from pink to blue (or blue to pink) in chemistry class? If you keep revising and revising, a similiar mysterious chemical change happens when you can See Your Own Crap... and rise about it.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Thanks, everyone! There's some really good stuff here. I'm definitely gonna keep it all in mind.

And keep it coming, if you have any more!

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

@ Scott

His view was interesting. I think he's right, to a point. I think a lot of writers, particularly less experienced writers, screw up stories with revision, but that's less because revision is umimportant and more because many writers simply don't know how to do it.

Which is part of the reason I want to write the book.

Mr. Smith had some good points, but I thought his logic was a little strange. He talked about how the most experienced writers, pros for twenty years or more, needed less revision, and he interpreted this as meaning that revision was not important, rather than the more obvious conclusion that such writers are simply the most skilled and most experienced writers, and thus simply need less revision.

And it was also funny that he downplayed revision drafts, but only after admitting that in his "first" draft he went back and added and changed and rewrote things. Which is, um, revision.

I think writers are often either revise-as-you-go editors, or finish-the-draft-and-then-revise editors.

D.G. Hudson said...

Reading this a little late, Bryan, but as I'm in the heat of a final revision after I massacred the beginning in the early part of the year, I do have a couple of things that work for me.

Here they be, Mr. INK:

-Do an outline after the first or even the fourth draft briefly listing what happens in each chapter (this helps determine if the story flows well). Doing this helps you see where things might be rearranged if needed. I resisted doing this but finally relented, and it got me back on track. (the enormity of rearranging made me procrastinate)

-Use the Novel Bible to record background details that affect the characters, and deepen their characterizations when integrated into the story. Useful for followup novels, and reappearing protaganists. This allows me to keep info in one place, since I tend to collect notes on story ideas as I go. It also helps me round out the characters in subsequent revisions.

-Refining the one line description, and brief synopsis at this point (even if previously done) helps me focus on the BIG idea so I don't lose that main thread in the revision process.

I think this is a great idea, Bryan. Will you keep us informed as to its growing pains?

Jane Steen said...

The very hardest thing about revision... is getting started. Commit to a set number of pages and a time of day when you're going to do it. Sit down and actually do it. Rinse & repeat.

Pay attention to what your beta readers are telling you. For example, if told I've used "somewhat" several times in the last few pages, I'll go back and do a Find in Scrivener for the whole MS. And then groan a bit and start editing out the "somewhats."

Good luck with the ebook!