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Archive for the ‘Revision’ Category

It costs nothing to dream.

And everything not too.

-Anonymous-

 

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I’m about halfway through rewriting my newest WIP. One of the things I’m doing is changing from past to present tense. It’s a tedious job but so far, I’m liking the results.

My reasons for making the change:

1.  While writing the first draft, I kept breaking into present tense.

2.  My WIP is a survival story and I was looking for more of a sense of immediacy than I was feeling with the first draft.

3.  I’ve never written a novel in present tense and thought it’d be a good learning experience.

When I started my rewrite I had some major resistance to changing tenses because it looked like a huge job and I wasn’t sure it’d be worth the time. With writing, and teaching too for that matter, I’ve found that sometimes the things I feel resistance to are the very things I need to be working on.

Have you pushed through any resistance lately? How did it go?

What factors help you to determine the right tense for your novel? Have you ever rewritten a novel in a different tense? How did it turn out for you?

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"Hmmm... I need to make a decision soon. I mean, I won't live forever."

One of the things I’ve been doing in my current rewrite is looking at backstory.

Here’s my little off-the-cuff definition of backstory:  events that take place before the story that are potentially part of the story because they influence a character’s motivation and actions.

In my revision I’m both eliminating and adding backstory. I’m also moving it around.

Here are a few of the questions I’m asking myself (in no particular order) as I consider cutting or adding or moving backstory details:

Does the backstory detail in question move the story forward in some way?

Does the reader learn something that makes what is happening in the story more meaningful and/or intense?

Does the reader learn something that helps them indentify with a character?

Am I inserting the backstory details at the right times, i.e. just as the reader needs to know them?

Does the amount of backstory I’m including fit with the style and rhythm of the story? And, does the way I’m including it fit?

I don’t want to gut my story to the point where it is just a series of events happening in the present without context, but I don’t want to bog it down with unnecessary details either.

I took a workshop with YA author Jeanette Ingold a few years ago and she recommended using an eye-dropper (as opposed to a shovel) to insert backstory, and that image has stuck with me.

(And, just to bend your mind a little more in regards to backstory, Jeanette left a thought provoking comment below. Thanks, Jeanette!!) 

How do you make decisions on where and how to include backstory details?

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I’ve been happily buried in a revision/rewrite for the past ten days on a WIP I hadn’t picked up for over a year.

I remembered writing the first draft of LAST CHANCE, that’s the working title, in about six weeks. Then over the course of a year I revised it half a dozen times and finally gave it to one person to read. I had two other books I was working on, so when the critique came back I read it and then set it aside. I continued working on the two other books, and wrote a first draft of another book.

When I finally picked up LAST CHANCE, I was a little overwhelmed. I remembered being really excited by the story and then deflated by the critique. The critique did a good job of pointing out LAST CHANCE’s weaknesses which was what I wanted, but it also fired a couple of personal jabs my way which kind of threw me off balance.

Now I’m a guy who taught in a school for behaviorally challenged students for 15 years. I’ve been cussed out, lied to, and threatened too many times to count. I’ve even been punched and kicked a few times, but none of it was personal. By that, I mean those kids were going through tough times and for whatever reasons that’s how their anger, fear and frustration manifested.

My point: when someone is supposed to critique your writing, when that’s the understanding, and they start critiquing you instead, it’s not about you, it’s about them. Don’t take it personally.

Is this hard to remember? Sometimes.

Do the memories of those personal comments still get under my skin? A little.

Am I putting to use some of the comments directed toward the book? Yes.

Will I ever seek out this person for another critique? I haven’t decided.

Have I spoken to this person about where I thought the critique went astray? I haven’t and don’t plan to.

Since I started blogging—the above critique pre-dates my blogging-days—I’ve had the pleasure of trading manuscripts with some really great people who’ve totally focused on the writing.

Have you ever received a critique that crossed the fine line between the writing and the writer? How did you handle it? How would you handle it in the future? If you’ve never experienced this, what do you think is the best way to handle this type of situation? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

(This weekend I was interviewed at Frolicking Through Cyberspace. Here’s the link if your interested: Frolicking Through Cyberspace)

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I’ve been talking quite a bit about revision the past few weeks because of where I am with one of my novels. Two weeks ago, I talked about micro-level revisions, and last week, about how to maintain voice while revising.

Now, after several critiques and twelve drafts, and reading my manuscript out loud, I’m in the final polishing stage.

I always print out my manuscript for the final read-through. I find that I catch more errors on paper than I do on the screen.

 What am I looking for?

  1. Misspelled words
  2. Missing punctuation
  3. Formatting issues
  4. Any other errors

I’m about half-way through the hard-copy and I’ve found one backwards apostrophe, two misspelled words or typos, one place where I had to add a word, and a couple places where I’m considering using a hyphen.

Yes, it’s not much, and none of these little errors are deal breakers, but this read-through gives me something very important: “Peace of mind.”

How do I do this read-though?

  1. Mindfully
  2. Slowly

I know the story so well that if I didn’t force myself to read the words in a slow and mindful way I probably wouldn’t catch anything. It’s easy for my brain to fill in words that I know should be there even if they aren’t. And unlike a read-through for plot, pacing and character where I like to read the whole book in one or two chunks, this time I break it up more because I’m really doing more proof-reading than anything.

Do you do your final read-through on hard-copy or on the screen? How do you maintain your concentration when reading a story that you know so well? How do you train your mind to see what is on the paper instead of what is in your head?

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Maintaining Voice

The voice. I think I lost the voice.

When I’m in the latter stages of revision, and I’ve done everything listed in my Micro Revision post, and I’ve shared the novel with a few beta readers, there comes a time when I try to look at every word in the book. 

Of course, I can’t look at every word individually because words in a story don’t stand on their own. I look at words in relation to the other words around them. But I consider every word when I read sentence after sentence, and here’s the main question I ask:

Are there words I can eliminate while still maintaining the Voice of the MC?

I’m not a fan of chopping words just because the sentence will still read okay without them.

I’m not looking for okay, I’m looking to maintain my MC’s voice.

So, I’m a fan of focusing on my how my MC narrates, speaks and acts, and then going from there.

Do I cut a lot of words? I do. But I don’t cut them because they appear to appear too many times.

If there’s a phrase or word that my MC uses with some frequency, I’ll do a search to see where it pops up and I might delete a few of those entries because the same phrase, no matter how witty, has the potential to lose its punch, or become annoying, if used to often.

And yes, I don’t want my manuscript littered with little words like just, but, so, for, and that. However, I don’t cut these words just because a sentence will still read okay without them.

If you cut words without considering the voice, you might revise the voice right out of your story. And if you do that, it’ll be hard for anyone to connect with your story no matter how good the plot is. I did that once a few years ago and then had to do CPR on my manuscript to bring it back to life.

How about you? Have you ever over-revised a manuscript? How do you determine whether to cut or keep a word? All those little decisions can add up.

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Micro-level Revision

Here are a few things I read for on a micro-level  in my novel after the plot and character arcs are pretty solid, and after I’ve eliminated unnecessary scenes.

1.  Read the opening and closing of every scene and ask: Does the opening pull you in? Does the closing make you want to turn the page? If they don’t, then fix them so they do.

2.  Showing versus telling: Is there a balance? Am I showing things that I don’t need to show? Am I telling things that I need to show? There are a zillion and one ideas about showing and telling. Your decisions are going to depend on the type of story you are writing and your style.

3.  Setting: Do the setting details drive the story forward? Are they colored in a way that provides insight into the POV character and his or her current mood/emotional state?

4.  Voice: Is the voice consistent?

5.  Dialogue: I read it out loud—multiple times. If my characters are making faces or moving in other ways while they speak I act these things out to see how they look and how they feel. I’d recommend doing this in a semi-private writing space so you don’t freak anyone out. And, sometimes it’s helpful to be in front of mirror.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on micro-level revision. Do you ever act out what your characters are doing? Or make the faces they make?

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