Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Horror Known as Revision

Okay, I'm being a bit dramatic here.  There are worse things in life than revising a manuscript.  It's just, I can't think of any right now.  My deadline (release date for Bait) is drawing closer, and I am still rewriting.  Every day I think of something else I need to change.  A friend of mine commented that she is one of those who notices the tiny mistakes writers make, the little things they forget in their books.  I will use Bait for an example.  The main guy in my book has coffee in one of the early chapters and adds three sugars to it.  This wasn't something I gave much thought to because it was used to break up dialogue and to give him something to do with his hands.  Then several chapters later a friend he hasn't seen in a while comes into town for a talk.  He offers Nick a cup of coffee and innocently says, "You still take it with cream and no sugar, right?"  Ooops. 

Most readers have no idea how many thousands of minute details go into a book.  I was thinking about it the other day, all the little decisions a writer has to make for each character, setting, conversation, etc.  If you think too hard on it, your head might explode.  I tried to make a list of details from this first book so I can remember them all for later books in the series.  Yeah, right.  The task was overwhelming, and I didn't get very far before I quit.

At least I have awesome beta readers who point out things that I miss. 

The revision process:

(Keep in mind this is how I handle it, and other writers may have a different way of doing it.)

1.  TAKE A BREAK: This is crucial.  When you finish writing, take a break before you tackle rewrites.  Get away from it and take a deep breath, maybe work on something else.

2.  READ YOUR BOOK:  Read it as if you bought it and didn't write it.  This is a difficult thing to do, and that is why you need to take the break.  If you're lucky, you'll forget some of it and be able to better pretend it isn't your book.  I like to print it off using both sides of the paper.  I put it in a pretty binder and read it without a pen in my hand.  It isn't easy to keep from crossing things out or writing in the margins.  You need to read it as if you didn't write it so you can get the feel of the reader's experience.  What are they going to think about your plot?  Your characters?  Is it a satisfying read?

3.  GET OUT THE RED PEN:  You don't have to use red, but I like to because it takes me back to when I was in school and the English teacher went to town on my assignments.  Cross out stuff you don't need, make corrections, and fill up those margins with suggestions.  Some people like to do this on the computer, but I love a fresh copy and a pen.

4.  ADDING/DELETING/CHANGING SCENES:  The next thing I like to do is get on my computer and go through each scene.  Is it working?  Is it doing what I intended?  Are there holes in the story?  I always add at least a couple of missing scenes at this point and delete at least one.  Sometimes I break a scene into more than one, each changing POV or location. 

5.  DIALOGUE:  Now I go through the entire book, reading the dialogue aloud.  Do the characters all sound the same?  This is something I enjoy doing because I notice things about the way the characters talk that I didn't put in on purpose.  When I first start a book, I don't go into it thinking this character is going to use this word all the time.  My characters become real people, and some of them favor certain words.  It's awesome when your characters evolve.  For instance, in Bait there is a girl named Keisha and she constantly says, "Sorry," but she says it ironically.  She doesn't mean it, and this fact adds to her competitive, outgoing personality.

6.  BACK TO CHANGING SCENES:  After I get the dialogue worked out and I'm feeling pretty good about the book, I start seeing problems with some of my scenes.  This is usually when I start doing rewrites on the story again.

7.  LISTEN TO THE BOOK:  I used to read into a tape recorder, but I hate the sound of my duplicated voice.  So when I discovered Y-Writer, I was excited.  You can copy and paste scenes into this program and it will read it to you.  It started off sounding mechanical, but they've fixed that.  There are a few glitches still.  The guy says some words wrong so you need to take that into consideration, but this program has helped me find errors like extra words that should be deleted.

8.  READ IT BACKWARDS:  When I get to the final stages of editing, I like to go backwards.  I've heard of other writers doing this in a variety of ways from taking it a sentence at a time moving backwards to a chapter at a time.  I like to do a paragraph at a time.  I read the paragraph and pick over my word choices, work on grammar and punctuation.  If you go backwards, you're less likely to miss stuff.  When you read it from the beginning, you know the story and your eyes will fool you.  The eyes move over words that shouldn't be there as if they aren't.  Since you know your story so well, your mind is telling you what you think you said instad of what you actually did say.

Hope this glimpse into my revision process helps you to write better.  Share your tips below.  Happy writing!

1 comment:

Mary Ellen Quigley said...

You have quite the process. When I finish a book, I try to go back and read it as though I didn't write it. I like to have the experience of being a first time reader. It's so hard though! I constantly find things I want to change or edit. It's something I need to work on.

I never thought about reading just the dialogue or reading backwards. These are two things I might end up stealing from you.