Thursday, January 14, 2010

My mad revision plans ...

So, I finished the first draft of my novel on the 3rd of December. Saved it, backed it up on my external drive and emailed it to myself … and have not opened it since. But I will, very shortly, in order to step into the world of revisions. I have to confess, I’m kind of excited about this next stage. I know there are a whole bunch of problems with my first draft (indeed, unless I’m very much mistaken, the entire first half will probably need to be torpedoed) and I’m looking at a whole lot of work ahead of me, but still, it’s kind of like being given the chance to re-take an exam, over and over again, and each time come out with a higher grade. What’s not to love about that? (g)

But I don’t want to be endlessly revising, either. So I’ve been reading everything I can about revisions and how to go about them … and I think I have me a plan. I may be wrong - I may, in fact, be crazy - but I think this is what I need to do.

First, I’m going to start with the big picture stuff, and do an initial read through – sitting on my hands, for no editing or re-writing will be allowed - to work out the answer to this simple, but crucial, question - what is the story I’m trying to tell?

Erm, should I not know this already? Well, see, this is the first time I’ve ever written a novel, and I didn’t set out with any concrete ideas or plans, or even the slightest clue what I was doing … consequently, I need to get a big-picture perspective on what I have written – what themes and patterns my subconscious has thrown on to the page without me noticing, which parts are good, which parts are complete and utter crap – mull it all over, and then be prepared to roll up my sleeves and make some big-time plot changes. In fact, I can see I’ll need to do a fresh outline (I’ve actually made a tiny start on this already), incorporating the changes that need to be made to really clarify this tale I’m trying to tell.

(N.B. This process may leave me wanting to go stick my head in the oven, but for me, this hard slog really does need to be done.)

Next on the agenda: to use my new outline to check that this new version of my book has all the structural elements necessary for a story. Act breaks, key climaxes in the right places, and so forth. Basically, checking that the story doesn’t drag or sag, and progresses in a logical, comprehensible and compelling manner. Once I've identified the problems, the scissors - erm, make that, the chainsaw - will come out, and the heavy-duty rewriting will occur.

Hopefully, after this I’ll have a MS capable of standing on it’s own two feet; and then it’ll be time to get a bit more specific.

Alexandra Sokoloff (a brilliant writer of suspense and a former screenwriter – check out her blog, here) advises doing a dedicated “genre” read-through of your manuscript, to check that it follows the precepts of your chosen genre. For suspense, for example, she suggests doing a read-through with the aim of amping up the suspense wherever possible - the chapter level, the scene level, the sentence level.

A pass through to analyse each character’s arc is also on the cards, to ensure their journeys makes sense, that they face compelling conflicts, and that the people on the page are interesting enough to follow around for a whole book. If not … time to throw more trouble their way, or show more inner conflict, or, perhaps, to cut certain characters altogether, if they’re not pulling their share of the story’s weight. Ouch.

When that’s all been attended to, it’ll be time to attack each scene. Are any scenes repetitive? Cut. Dragging? Boring? Amp up the tension or cut. Then down to the nitty-gritty of language. Paragraphs, sentences … cut, pare down and tighten wherever possible. And I’ll need to pay attention to dialogue, to ensure each exchange contains tension, conflict, and above all, is crystal clear.

Then I think it’ll be about time to fill in all those square brackets, those bits of research I left to do later. And lastly, a read through for the sake of continuity – to make sure those blue eyes on page ten haven’t turned brown by page fifty.

And after ALL this work is done, I suspect I'll look something like this -

Holy smokes.

Am I mad? Is there an easier way to go about all this? I don’t think so; but I’d love to hear how any of you approach revisions, to make sure I’m not going off on some insane tangent.

I’ll leave you with the quote I’ve taped above my computer, which I hope will inspire me enough to see this new phase of writing through to its end:

“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.”

James A. Michener.

I wish. (g)


  1. Woo! I think you've got a perfect plan. Er, so said because those were pretty much my steps when revising The Face of A Lion. Only thing is, I didn't do them in order - I suspect the revision time would have been shorter if I *had* done them in order.
    Good luck Rachel! Can't wait to hear progress reports and soon see the book on the shelves!

  2. Thanks Deniz. I start revising this Monday, and I suspect I'll need all the good luck I can get!