Revision: The fun and the fear

Revision can seem never-ending. But when someone gives you feedback you know will make your story better, you have to act on it. I have embarked on yet another major rewrite and restructuring of my YA scifi. After some great feedback from an agent, I am now revisiting the story viewing it through a new lens.

I’m experiencing mixed emotions about this revision. On the one hand, I can see how her feedback will majorly strengthen my main POV story. So my body tingles with excitement when I think about tackling that part.

But the restructuring will also require cuts to my other two points of view characters. I will lose much if not all of my villain’s POV, which pains me because I love my villain. I fear she will become a two-dimensional cardboard character and that I will have trouble finding new homes for essential information that currently comes from her.

My other POV character is a secondary protagonist. I know I will need to keep SOME of his POV or the story will not make any sense. But I will probably have to lose much of his romance subplot. This is problematic for me because I envision this as a series, and the second book would focus more on him, growing out of the plot points in this book. The rest of his POV that remains I will need to tie even more closely to the main character’s plot.

So I am facing this revision with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Excitement for the way this will strengthen the story; trepidation because I am not certain my skills are up to the challenges ahead.

Now that my daughter is back in school, I can dig into the revision full bore. I’ll let you know how it progresses!

Do you experience the same emotional dichotomy when facing major edits?

Revision: 3 problems, 3 fixes

cover of manuscript revisionI’m deep in the revision of my YA SciFi manuscript VERITAS. Much of it involved minor mechanical fixes and flew along. Then I got to the ending.

My denouement  section was too long. My developmental editor suggested trying to get it to around 25 pages. After reviewing everything, I decided 30 pages was more realistic. I set my goal: trim from 64 pages to 30.

Once I dove into the revision, I found 3 recurring problems that inflated my ending.

Segmentation

I had several storyline arcs which I spread over multiple chapters. The love story had 3 chapters. The “consequences” storyline had 4. In addition, these events stretched over several days. Did I need to spend all that time and all those words?

Repetition

This revision problem piggy-backed on the segmentation issue. Having so many similar scenes meant I covered the same ground over and over. Even outside those chapters,  I tended to repeat myself, so repetition was an issue throughout the book, as well as the ending.

Addition

The denouement of a story should wrap up all the major loose ends. Taking place after the climactic scene, the denouement serves to allow the protagonist to process what has happened, and to settle into the new world she has helped create. Any major subplots also need to be resolved. What should NOT happen in a denouement is the introduction of new story questions. Leaving some minor things open is fine, but bringing up new “in your face” storylines is frowned upon.

So how do you fix those three problems with the ending?

Marked-up manuscript in revisionCombining

Segmentation can be solved by combining scenes. Creatively find ways where one scene fulfills the goals of what is now two related scenes. Sometimes it is as simple as shuffling two scenes together like a deck of cards, weaving bits of each to make a new whole. Other times it means throwing out the old scenes and writing a new scene from scratch.

Excising

Repetition is often most easily solved by cutting. Pick the moment that most poignantly embodies the idea or information you want to convey, and cut the rest. Alternately, you may be able to combine several of your favorite repetitive moments into a single scene that gets the point across.

Seeding

I added new storylines in the denouement of my story because I wanted to set things up for future books. The problem was not in wanting to leave clues for future books, the problem was visiting these potential storylines in deep detail. Instead, seed your denouement with hints that readers will remember when reading the next book. For example, I took a chapter and a half that examined new storylines and turned them into 4 lines of dialogue.

When your revision starts, look for these issues in your manuscript. Use these tips to fix them and make your manuscript tight and compelling.

Did I reach my goal? Not quite. I cut it from 64 pages to 34 pages. And unless my critique group sees a way to tighten it further, it will likely stay that way. I’m happy with it. The length feels right, and everything I needed in there is there.

What recurrent issues do you find in your manuscripts when you edit?

My manuscript before revision

Slimming Down the Ending

I have been revising my YA Sci-Fi Veritas, guided by developmental edits from fabulous editor Kathryn Craft. I chopped the first 4 chapters down to 2, then cruised through the next 70 or so chapters.

Then I got to the end, which is too long. I knew it was too long when I sent it in, but I didn’t want to believe it. After all, tightening my work is hard and everything I wrote is so perfect and necessary, right? I blame editing fatigue.

So now I’m at the end, and I need to cut about 40 pages from the 64 that currently exist. Kathryn suggested many cuts, but I cannot cut everything she suggested, because I need some of it to set up future books. So how am I going to do this?

1) I’m going to highlight all the information I need to retain and number each.

2) I’ll put each number and a short reminder of what it is into an Excel sheet so I can see all of the pieces at once.

3) I will then see what information can be woven into existing scenes that I will be keeping and what information might be combined into new scenes.

4) As I put that information into the story,  I will mark it in the spreadsheet so I don’t accidentally leave anything out.

5) When I have done all that, I will whisper an invocation to the goddess of writing and chocolate and hope the page count is okay.

6) If it’s not, then I will go back and try again until I get it right.

That’s my plan for yanking 40 pages out of my denouement. I will report back once I have completed the process.

Do you have a specific process when you need drastic cuts to your manuscript?

 

 

 

 

November 1st: The Most Wonderful Date of the Year

And no, it has nothing to do with NaNoWri Mo. I have never done National Novel Writing Month in November, although I would like to at least once in my life. This year will not be the year, however.

No, I love November 1st because that means October is over! The last 10 days of October are a whirlwind for me: parents’ anniversary, my anniversary, my daughter’s birthday, then Halloween and all the concurrent festivals and festivities. For an introvert like myself, that’s a lot of socializing in a short amount of time. It’s also quite a bit of planning and errand running to pull off the birthday and Halloween so close together.

So when November 1st dawns, I take a deep breath and revel in the sudden silence of my social calendar. Not that November won’t be busy—I am the mom of an elementary school child, a working author, and there’s that whole Thanksgiving thing—but the month goes back to the normal level of crazy.

Although I am not doing NaNoWriMo, I plan on doing NaNoEdMo—National Novel Editing Month. I got my latest manuscript back from my editor in August, and didn’t get to look at it until October. So now I intend to buckle down and finish the revisions this month. By the end of November, I want to have a shiny manuscript ready to be sent out to agents.

Then I can spend December compiling my list of agents, readying the materials needed to send to them (query, synopsis of varying lengths), and be ready for a query storm in the New Year.

So now that I can breathe, that is my plan for the month. We shall see how well my plans pan out, since we all know how often life derails our plans!

What are you doing for November?

Raising the Dead: Giving an old manuscript new life

Every author who has written for any length of time has novels in the drawer that didn’t quite make the grade. They are “almost” there, but sometimes we can’t quite figure out what’s missing the mark. For the moment, they are dead novels.

The novel I am raising from the deadI have one such novel, The Oracle of Delphi, Kansas. It’s a YA contemporary fantasy that made the query rounds a few years ago. I had a few requests, but ultimately no one took it. The feedback I got pointed to a confusion on the reader’s part on the character’s goal, the driving force behind the action.

I didn’t know how to fix it, so I put it aside and moved on. Now, though, I am ready to raise it from the dead. I have learned a lot on the past few years, and have new ideas on what might help move the book from “almost” to “ready”.

One tool I am using with this review is Story Genius by Lisa Cron. Her book is meant to be used before you start writing, but can be used to revise. Her exercises focus on the “why” that drives all the character’s actions–and thus the plot. Since the feedback I got from the agents who looked at the manuscript was that they didn’t understand the main character’s driving motivation, Cron’s exercises seem tailor-made for bringing this to the front.

Hopefully my revamping under Cron’s guidance will move the manuscript from “almost” to “there”. I am having fun viewing this story through a different lens. Even at this early stage of revision, I see my protagonist more clearly, and I can hear her voice in my head more precisely than ever before.

Do you leave your dead manuscripts buried? If you do raise them from the dead, what methods do you use?

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Taking a Break before Revision

We’ve all heard this advice: put your manuscript in a drawer for at least a month before you revise/edit it. Generally, I do this as a matter of course (and because life often gets in the way). But lately I have been lamenting an unscheduled break in my revision plans.

My sci-fi YA Vertias is inching toward being finished. I wanted one more major sweep for voice and plot tightening, and then I think it will be ready for professional editing eyes to look at it. So, I printed it out—all 100,000 words of it—punched some holes and stuck it in a three-ring binder (2 three-ring binders, actually). Ready to go!

My manuscript before my editing breakNot so fast! I did a few chapters of it, and then for some reason (or many reasons), it languished. From September 30, 2016 to March 8, 2017, it sat on my table waiting for me to return. That’s 160 days. 5.3 months.

Way too long.

My frustration built and built as the binders gathered dust on my end table, and they accused me of slacking every time I glanced in their direction. Finally, I got back to it.

Since March 8, I have made good progress. I finished polishing the shortest of the 3 POV lines in my novel and started the second.

For all that the length of the break frustrated me, there have been some good things out of it. Not only do I see mistakes more readily and clearly (the rationale for taking a break in the first place), but I can see what I did WELL with greater clarity. In a pleasant surprise, my writing is better than I remembered it.

Also, I hear the three POV characters voices more clearly in my head. I see where a sentence doesn’t fit the voice and needs to be tweaked. I have a better handle on their worldviews and can use the voice to crystallize that. In another surprise, the three voices are more differentiated than expected, allaying my fears of them all sounding like me.

So while I hadn’t planned on such a long break, it had some up sides to it. How long do you usually wait before coming back to revise a manuscript?

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When Life Disrupts Your Revision Routine

Manuscript awaiting revisionI printed out my 100,000 word sci-fi manuscript last week, fully intending to start the final big revision this week. Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you plan.

My daughter has been home from school for 2 days. She was sick enough to not go to school, but not sick enough to stop her wanting to play and run around. It’s been hard to get anything done, and forget about the concentration needed to edit! So the manuscript still sits on the table, untouched.

My daughter went back to school this morning, but did I jump into revision? No. Two nights of shattered sleep wiped me out. So I took a nap for 3 hours instead of the 1 hour I had intended! But it was just as well, because between the headache and the fuzzy brain, none of my edits would have been as sharp as I needed.

Tomorrow, assuming no relapse and a daughter in school, I will separate out the 3 points-of-view of my manuscript and begin the process of revising each one. I will sharpen conflict and tension in each scene, make sure I use enough sensory detail, and ensure that the character voice is consistent.

I am not a person who likes change. Routines help keep my anxiety in check, and keep me feeling productive. When life disrupts my plans, it makes me irritated and anxious. But life often has other plans for us. So instead of diving into the revision of my sci-fi novel, I spent the days reading to my daughter, playing games like Monopoly, Sleeping Queens, and Candyland, and helping her build a fort in the upstairs foyer.

And that’s not so bad.

How do you deal with detours in your writing process?

 

 

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Research, Balance, and Fish

Research could have made this easierAs regular readers of the blog know, we got a small fish tank over Christmas. Fish were supposed to be easy pets. How hard could they be? Throw some water in a tank, plop in some fish, feed them, they’re good. Very few things in life are as easy as they appear. If we had done a little more research, we would have been more prepared for what happened next.

We’ve had a total of 5 fish, but are down to 3. We lost one (quite literally lost him) the first night, while the second leaped from the tank about a week later and never recovered. How they got out of the tank through a skinny opening in the dead of night we don’t know. But we have fixed this issue with a new cover. A little research may have saved their lives, but who knows?

Research might have saved Seashell 1

RIP Seashell 1

Research might have saved Sparkleshine

RIP Sparkleshine

 

 

 

 

 

What more research WOULD have prepared us for is the difficulty of maintaining the proper chemical balance in our tank. We let the water sit and percolate for a week before adding the first 2 fish. Turns out we should have let it “cycle” for at least a month, maybe more, before adding the fish. Now we are trying to control the ammonia and nitrite cycle while fish are in the tank, which is very stressful, because a spike in either ammonia or nitrite can kill the fish in a mass extinction event (we very nearly had one a week ago).

So here we are with fish and struggling to keep them alive through this natural aquarium cycling process, when a little more research would have saved us the headache. And the same can happen when writing. A little research in the beginning can keep your manuscript from going off the rails.

Research may keep Seashell 2 alive

Seashell 2

Some people do extensive research before writing. Some research as they go along. I am in the middle. I do broad-stroke research before I write, and fill in the details as I need them. But by doing basic research first, I know the broad restrictions I need to work within. This saves me from writing the whole book, then finding out I had a fundamental flaw which now requires me to rewrite an entire plotline. So a little research can save a lot of angst later on.

The other thing about the aquarium is that the ammonia and nitrite need to be kept at 0 ppm, or you end up with stressed and perhaps dead fish. Bacteria are supposed to eat the ammonia and the nitrite, keeping the whole thing in balance. But little things can throw the cycle off and suddenly your water is testing in the danger zone.

Research may keep Gem alive

Gem

The writing life is like that, too—a delicate balance. Writers juggle writing and daily life, often including family and a day job. It’s not easy to keep the water balanced right. One little thing can send one part of your life spiraling into the danger zone. All we can do is keep testing the water and try to head off any problems we see. One way to do that in an aquarium is partial water changes. We can do that in life, too. If one issue is causing undue stress, can we change it up, change it out? Sometimes a small change can make a huge difference.

Research will save you headaches. Balance will save you heartaches. And fish…well, fish are cool when they’re not jumping out of the tank in the dead of night.

When do you research your manuscript? How do you maintain a healthy balance in your life?

Research may keep Flower alive

Flower

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The Art of Second-Guessing

Handwritten page showing second-guessing with crossoutsMy massive revision of Veritas (a YA sci-fi) is moving apace. Some chapters fight me hard—I have so much to revise and add that I virtually (and sometimes literally) rewrite them. But some chapters I tweak. Perhaps add a sentence or a few phrase. Those chapters provide a break for me, but when I get several “tweak” chapters in a row, I start second-guessing myself.

After struggling with a chapter that knocks me down, talks back to me, and generally kicks me around, when I get a tweak chapter I feel like I must be missing something. I mean, it can’t be that easy. Not when the last chapter was so hard. There must be some glaring mistake I am not seeing.

So I scrutinize and I poke and I prod, but I end up back where I started. I think this chapter is all right. But am I right? Second-guessing.

Marked-up manuscript--no more second-guessing!Luckily, this is where critique partners come in. They will look at my chapters, the fighters and the tweaks, and tell me if I’ve missed something. If weaknesses hide beneath the polished surface. They will tell me what doesn’t ring true, what doesn’t feel real, and what knocks them out of the story. Hopefully, this revision will have fixed most of those things.

Once I get their feedback, I will no longer second guess myself. Until then, I will continue to plod through the revision. I’ve just finished chapter 36…of 83. So there is plenty of second-guessing ahead for me!

What about you? Do you find yourself wondering what you’ve missed when revisions seem “too easy”?

Writing Longhand: A generational divide?

Last week, I talked about changing my writing process because my current process wasn’t working well anymore. One of the changes I made was returning to longhand for some of my writing. I outlined the reasons for this last week, but the two main reasons are:

1) Longhand writing engages my creativity in a different way than typing.

2) I do not get hung up on the typed words on the page.

It’s been shown that writing longhand does engage different parts of your brain than typing on a screen. I know that the writing I produce is significantly different writing longhand vs. on screen. For me, there is something soothing about the feel of smooth paper under my hand as I write. I love the feel of the pen sinking into the paper. Watching my words appear on the page when handwriting is a creative thrill that I do not get when typing. Perhaps it is akin to artists seeing their drawing or painting come to life from their fingertips.

I know that once I type something, my brain has trouble revising it with sufficient depth. I get stuck on the words on the page. I grew up in a time prior to computers (we got our first PC when I was in high school), so I remember vividly that when you typed up your final paper on a typewriter that was it. NO CHANGES. And all of my life, those black words on a white page have signified a final printed product—a newspaper, a magazine, a book. So I wonder if I have subconsciously equated the black-on-white Times New Roman of my computer screen as somehow a “finished” product. I do not have this revision paralysis problem with longhand pages—crossouts, arrows, and numbered citations abound. It’s very freeing.

What surprised me last week was that a number of writers mentioned to me that they, too, were considering a return to longhand writing as part of their process. All of us were my age or older—in other words, we teethed our writing on pen and paper. Perhaps this indicates that our brains are wired to be more artistic when returning to our creative roots. Or that we’re all technologically exhausted and crave something simpler. Or something else—what do you think?

It also got me wondering about younger writers these days—writers who grew up on computer screens and keyboards. Would this impulse to go longhand ever arise in them? So I am asking the younger generation out there: Have you ever tried to write longhand? Did you find a difference in how and what you wrote? Would you ever consider mixing longhand writing into part of your process?

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