Some Scattered Thoughts on Revision

By Your Salonniere

There’s no glory in writing, not for most of us. We’re like sailors. We must lash ourselves to the mast and stay our course. We face horrors and fears, crushing waves of doubt, surges and swells of plummeting rejection. We experience the unbelievable in our creative journey, and no one who hasn’t tread these waters can quite understand our experiences, the dread and awe we go through. The phantom dreams like Saint Elmo’s fire beckoning on the horizon. Like mariners with tall tales, writers must stand on land, legs wobbly among non-writers, seen as oddities, misunderstood,  and kept at arm’s length for fear that the mania, this creative fever set in our bones might be catching.

Still we cannot give up our travels. We need that endless horizon before us. We pursue, vowing to travel the ends of the earth, yet knowing full well there’s no end except the final one.

Here’s some snippets of the life-long journey so far:

  • If you want to know what happens to a character ask him or her, ask what s/he is capable of
  • If you typically write in chronological order, try revising out of order.
  • If you change POVs throughout your manuscript why not write in order of each POV or start with the chapter that interests you the most, striking when and where the iron is hot? Many authors skip around chapters, which can sound crazy-making but might also be more sense-making than anything. Its the same idea as taking a different route to and from work so as not to deaden the mind and numb the senses. Keep the consciousness awakened by purposefully working out of order.
  • A partial listing of revision phases, in no particular order. Repeat as necessary:
  1. research
  2. messy draft
  3. more research
  4. strategize structure
  5. plot story
  6. Scrivener
  • Set deadlines and always work backwards! Consider the following eventual stages and perhaps collect snippets for the following as you move along:
  1. query letter/proposal/elevator pitch; conferences
  2. contests
  3. agent research
  4. general and abstract language

In revision, keep an eye for the following:

  • repetition- descriptions need to either move the plot further or dig deeper into character/story
  • the character is the story
  • concrete is always better than adjectives
  • watch for descriptions competing against one another or canceling each other out language and description can often be too pretty and drag down urgency- the moment counts more than anything
  • Re-read novels. When we re-read, we see what needs to be explained and what needs to be illustrated, think of different ways to illustrate, and come at it from different angles.
  • Outline the story knowing that the story can and should take different directions from how its been outlined.
  • Take out excessive background story
  • Keep scenes to a minimum and dialogue for that matter
  • List of details

For more rules of thumb to chart unknown territory, check out IO9’s “Rules of Storytelling According to Pixar” and share your random thoughts, experiences, and ignis fatuus seen during your revision journey.

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