Monday, 16 September 2013

How I approached revisions

Hello! It’s been a while, but I am here! Quick update for my sake; after 7 months of being unemployed, I finally have a new job! It’s a replacement position, so I don’t know how long it will last, but it’s something! It’s also, for the moment, part time, which means, I still have time to write. Yay me!

The thing is, I’ve been mostly focusing my efforts on revising my completed manuscript. Let me tell you, revision is a bitch, especially if you don’t know what the hell you are doing. I was one of those clueless people. I used to write long ass, novel length fanfiction (yes, I admit it) and my editing and revising process was this: skim through the chapter, once all typos are corrected, hit post. Not a good idea. Amazingly, I had a few fans of my writing, but it could have benefitted from serious overhauls. Now I know better.
I combed the internet’s many writing blogs, read a writing book or two, and even took a Writer’s Digest Webinar on revising and editing. All taught me basically the same steps. And all of them said everyone has a different way of approaching the dreaded stage of revisions. Here is how I approached it:
1.       I set my printed manuscript aside for a month. I didn’t look at it. I didn’t read it. I refused to think about it. Get it out of your system. Catch up on your reading. Start writing something else. Watch some movies. Go have a life. It really did help because when I did get back to it, everything was fresh again.
2.       I read through it in one sitting. This is helpful to see the big picture. Of course, all those little errors glared at me with a vengeance, but I resisted the urge to correct them. I made note of them, but didn’t fix them on the spot. Instead, I focused on the plot, the characters, the structure of my manuscript. Was there enough tension in each scene? Did each scene move the story forward? Was every character needed? Could I combine one character with another? Did the conflict make sense? Did I start the story in the right place? I took note of everything I needed to change (i.e. rewrite or cut).
3.       I made the necessary changes. Some of it was painful. I cut out a lot. Let me tell you now, do all this in a copy of your document. You might want to reverse some changes. After tackling the big changes, I got to the little ones.
4.       I tightened my manuscript. At this stage, a lot more got cut. Here are some of the little things I looked for, (fixing these can make a big difference):
a.       Over directing. These are sentences like this:

She reached for the door knob, turned it, and pushed open the door.

Make your life easier and just write:

She opened the door.

b.      Repetition/over explaining. These are two sentences in a row that basically say the same thing. For example,

Her eyes drooped and she stifled a yawn. She was so tired.

Cut the telling one (She was so tired). You don’t need it. People are smart. They’ll get what you’re trying to say.

An example of over explaining:

She wore high heels on her feet.

Well, duh. Where else is she going to wear them? Same goes with gloves and hands, hats and heads, etc.

c.       Telling. You all know the show don’t tell advice. Here’s a simple one to get rid of:


“I hate you!” she screamed in anger.
Get rid of the “in anger” part. Heck, you could even get rid of the “she screamed” part depending on what happened before that sentence. Like I said, readers are smart; they’ll know if she’s angry. (Showing vs Telling in your writing|Show vs Tell in Creative Writing)

d.      Passive voice/to be -ing. You want to be active as much as possible. It just reads better. Grammar Girl can explain better than I can. Also, sentences that have some form of to be and –ing (which are not always considered passive). For example,
She was wondering what would happen next.

You could write it this way:

She wondered what would happen next.

e.      Filters. This is when you write something like,

She heard the flames flickering and sputtering behind her.

Change it to this:

Flames flickered and sputtered behind her.
Readers can assume you mean she hears the flames. This is especially good to look out for if you are writing in first person. For instance, if you write,

I saw the river sparkling in the distance.
There are some unnecessary words there. Just write:

The river sparkled in the distance.

Anytime you have sentences that start with I heard, I saw, I felt, I wondered, I thought, and the like (the last two especially in first person), it’s usually filtering. Sometimes they are necessary but most of the time they are not. (

f.        Word usage/placing. Sometimes you use the wrong words/phrases or words that don’t even exist, like quicker when you should use faster. It can be embarrassing. Or you can use them in the wrong order. That can be even more embarrassing. One example my crit group caught in my manuscript:
Instead of finishing Jackin off[…]

I’ll let that stew for a while…
g.       Favorite words/phrases. How many times do you write a certain word or phrase? For me, hands are all over the place. Ninety-nine percent of the time I don’t need to mention the word. But I do and I don’t know why. Cut them like there’s no tomorrow. (Word Choice)
h.      Backstory/info dumps. Watch out for these. Sometimes, you don’t need them and you realize they were only there to help you sort out your first draft. Cut whatever you don’t need. A long winded memory that has nothing to do with the story as it is? Cut it. A fat history of some mythical creature in the middle of a fight? Cut it or find somewhere else to put it.
i.         Dialogue. Is it cheesy? Is it realistic? I’ve often heard the advice to read it out loud. Also, is it a bunch of talking heads? Add some action to the conversation. Another thing about dialogue, the tags. Some people say vary the tags, other people say to keep it simple and stick with said or asked. I tend to stick with the keep it simple mantra. Once in a blue moon, I’ll use groaned or something else. Sometimes, you don’t even need tags, but make sure readers will know who is saying what. So, be careful.
j.        Adjectives/adverbs. You generally don’t need them. Cut most of them.
k.       Sentence length. Vary them. I wrote too many short, choppy sentences in a row and it didn’t work for my crit group. Also, fragments – limit the use of those.
5.       I re-read my manuscript on a different medium. Once I did all the changes, my story started to look familiar again. To combat this, I re-read my story on my Kobo. You can always read it off your computer and simply change the font. It will help to see your story in a new light. That way you can review your changes and see if they make sense. Or, gods forbid, you’ve made things worse. In that case, repeat the above steps.
6.       I shared my manuscript with my critique partners. They had all kinds of awesome suggestions and tips. I think this is an important step. You need to get other people’s opinions. They catch things you miss. They see your manuscript differently. And sometimes they’ll tear it to pieces. But it’s worth it. You don’t have to accept all their suggestions. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut.
7.       Revise again. Yes, that is why revision is a bitch. But you want to make your story the best it can be, right? So if you think it’s not ready and it needs more polishing, then polish it up some more. When will it be ready? I’m not sure. I haven’t figured that out yet. My manuscript still needs a way to go before I consider doing more with it.
So that’s how I approached revision. I hope my examples, as dreadful as they are, will be helpful. I did a few other things in between the steps. For instance, I wrote a chapter by chapter synopsis for a large overview of my story. That way, I was able to see the big picture and what was and wasn’t working. And I didn’t always do things in order. I’d go back and add things later on. I wish I would have been more organized. That, I think, is the key to a happy revision process.
If you want a pro’s process, check out Chuck Wendig’s amusing post on editing (25 Steps to edit the unmerciful suck out of your story). Also helpful, Rachelle Gardner’s short post, Tighten up your Manuscript. Until next time, happy revising. Wish me luck as I wade through the mire once more.
(Sorry for the weird formatting of the post, I wish I had time to fix it).

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