Monday, September 24, 2012

Michael Crichton said... “Books aren’t written- they’re rewritten.  It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.” 

I like this quote by Michael Crichton. Especially since I can relate so well. Can you? Hmm, I thought so.

I just finished the revision process of my novel... or did I? Is it ever really done? I think not.

Let me share with you the process I used, and what it taught me on my journey through this often torturous, yet necessary venture.

First, even if you use a computer, I would suggest that you print a hard copy of your manuscript. It will be easier to see and flip through, and will give you a fresh impression of your work. After making any major changes to your work you should reprint that section so that you will have a clean copy when you finally go through it from beginning to end. Next, I made a simple list:

- Review your characters: do they seem alive to you? What do you like about them? Hate about them? Do you think you understand them? Does your MC change throughout the story evenly and sufficiently or is it abrupt and trivial? Be very careful here with the development of your characters. If you can't relate to them as real individuals, then either will your reader.

- Do the same thing with your antagonist: ask yourself questions like is he supposed to be morally bad or just badly behaved? Does he enjoy behaving badly to people? Is he an element of his upbringing or just a 'bad seed'? Form villain or villains as carefully as you would your protagonist. The reader needs to be able to relate with him - hating him or loving him - but relating no less. Try to make sure your villain has some redeeming qualities - charming, interesting, possesses a certain charisma. He must have some traits that entice his victims to him.

- Don't forget your minor characters. Their development needs must be met with careful precision as well. They are your supporting 'actors' and will help your protagonist and antagonist through their adventure.

- Review the conflict between your protagonist and antagonist. Is it credible?

- Check your scenes: yes, each and every scene must be checked. What is your most memorable scene? How about your least favorite? What makes them that way? If you don't like a scene, if it doesn't move the story forward, if it doesn't contain any action, then you most likely will want to cut it. But if doing so removes some piece of information that you feel the reader needs, you may need to find some other way of conveying that information in the existing scene.

Note: I've found it helpful to walk away from my novel for a week or more and return with 'fresh eyes'. The scenes are easier to review for the true usefulness in my novel.

- Now check the motivation of your writing. Are the main actions motivated to the best of your ability? Remember, motivation either has to be planted ahead of time, or provoked by circumstance. You want to make sure the writing is credible and not the hand of the author at work. Your reader is intelligent. Don't underestimate them. They may be tolerable of much and willing to suspend disbelief more readily for a fast-paced, action packed scene, but they know... they always know.

- Now... ready? Now you begin from page 1 and move on through your novel, but not as a writer. You need to read each word, each line, look at each scene, as if you were the reader and the editor. Read critically. Utilize your margins, or better yet, a separate notebook where you can make careful and precise notes about certain scenes, characters, words, etc.

- Work toward tightening your manuscript. Now is the time get rid of those adjectives and adverbs, unnecessary words, bad scenes, unworkable characters.

- Look at your between scenes material. Chances are it is unnecessary. Your book should be written in present tense through dialogue and action. Back story should be avoided whenever possible. 

- Watch your POVs. Make sure you know which character's view you're supposed to be in throughout a chapter. Of course, you can switch POVs per scene, but this is not something you should do unless you are a master at writing. It can easily become confusing to the reader.

- Shh.. don't speak. I mean you - the author. During revision you should be reading something that draws you into the story where you become part of the game. You don't want to hear the author jump in and start telling you about the story - you want to live it. Just as your reader does. Be careful not to let 'author intrusion' tarnish your work.

- Is the intensity of the characters - stress, tension - enough to keep the reader moving forward? Is your reader sitting at the edge of their seat, or holding their breath, or perhaps saying a silent prayer for your characters? I hope so.

- Review your sentences to be sure you know who is talking. It may be something as easy as where you place your tag. Place the tag at the beginning of the sentence unless you are certain of who is talking. You don't want to pull the reader out of the story trying to figure out who is saying what and when.

- Read your sentences carefully. Do they sound right they way they're written? What would they sound like if you changed them around a bit? Play with them. You'll be surprised how different things can sound just by moving a few words around.

- Be careful of 'purple prose' or flowery speech. Unless your novel is meant to be written this way, change or eliminate writing that is over the top: "The cry of the tortured soul swept away on the tail of the midnight wind..." Um, get my meaning?

- Review your dialogue. If your character is speaking in complete and proper sentences - change it. Have you used enough dialogue? Dialogue makes the scenes come alive. Make sure you add interjections throughout so that it isn't all dialogue. Keep the image of the scene in the reader's mind. Have someone sip a coffee, light a cigarette, cough, get up and stroll across the room... something, some action.

- Speaking dialogue, did you use anything other than 'he said, she said'? If so, now is the time to go back and remove all the "he muttered", "she screamed", "he yelled", and replace them with "he said" or "she said".

- Now go and make all the revisions you've noted and come up with a clean manuscript. Think you're done. Your not! ha ha ha Nope. You need to let it sit another few days while you completely get your mind off it. Go work on a new book, or a short story, or an article for a magazine - anything that will get you away from your masterpiece. After several days... yep, you guessed it... do another revision from start to finish.

NOW you should be somewhat satisfied. NOW you can pat yourself on your back for a job well done. NOW you can send it to the editor... for more changes. :)

A bit longer than my usual blogs, but I feel there is quite a bit of information here for anyone interested in revisions. If I've left anything out, please leave a comment and let us know. We're all here to help one another. 

Until next time, all my wishes for your success!