Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Revisionist Attitude: Mentally Preparing for Revisions
I was talking with a writer bud the other day about something very nice my editor said in a recent interview. This let to general talk about revisions and why I found it "easy" to revise, even when those revisions were a pain in the butt. I kept thinking about it, because I know from doing this blog and talking to other writers that revisions are rough on a lot of folks. That's one reason the Re-Write Wednesday posts are so popular.
I thought I'd try to pinpoint why revisions have never been all that scary for me. I don't think I have any special revision gene or anything. It's a way of thinking. An attitude toward writing, and something I think any writer can do.
1. Don't be afraid of the delete key
Words are not set in stone, no matter how much you might like them. You can change them all you want. I'll delete chapters without a thought if they need to go. Favorite lines have been trashed because the scene changed and they no longer worked.
Sure, I wanted to keep them, but I learned long ago that trying to work in that great line or scene makes that line or scene feel forced and it ends up not working anyway. And often, they can be used somewhere else. I keep a file for stuff I delete that I might want to use again, and another for great lines. I also save each major version so I can always go back and pull stuff from it if needed. But in my working draft, if something is not working, it goes.
2. Remember the story
Plots change all the time, but the heart of the story stays the same. There are tons of different ways to get to the same place. Don't be afraid to re-plot or make drastic changes if it will make the story better. Plot is just the events. If your hero needs to save the girl by chapter nine, let them do that, but how can be any number of ways, and thus any number of plots.
One thing to think about here though: If you find yourself changing the story as well as the plot, you might have a bigger issue than just revising the plot. You could have a core conflict issue or story premise problem. But that's okay, too, because you can tweak the story and then work out from there. It only becomes problematic if you're changing the plot and story so much every revision is like a whole new book.
3. First drafts are just for ideas
It doesn't have to be perfect, or even the exact book you expected. Stories can evolve, plots can change. I'll try several different plots in a first draft. Change up when and where major events happen just to see how they play out. In Darkfall, my big revision breakthrough came when I realized one event had to happen in the first act of the book, not the last act. Once I moved that, everything else clicked into place. Problems that needed a lot of work to fix before now only needed a little.
4. Making the story better is always a good idea, no matter the work involved
"But that'll be so much work" is a common reason not to make a change, but it's a bad one. You've already put a ton of work into the book, why not make it the best it can be and give it the best chance it can get at being sold? That change I mentioned in #3 caused major rewrites, but a lot of what I had already written still worked. I just needed to tweak a few things and add a few new chapters to better weave the plot lines together. Embrace the work, because it's all still writing. It's not like the only "writing" is during the first draft. Some of my best stuff came after several drafts when I could see how all the pieces worked together.
5. Think macro
It's the big stuff that determines whether or not a story will work. The core conflicts, the character goals, the stakes, the premise. If these aren't working, no matter how much you polish the scenes or the writing, the story will feel bleh. My father-in-law has this very colorful saying: "You can't polish a turd." Major inherent story flaws need to be fixed before the book as a whole can work. Which is why Darkfall was troublesome until I moved that one event. I had the right scenes, but there was one big underlying factor that was missing, so they didn't come together as intended.
6. Trust your gut
If you think something needs fixing, odds are it does. And I'm talking about the larger issues, not the line by line edits. Minor word tweaks we can fiddle with forever and still not be happy. (that's just being a writer) But the plot stuff? The story? If it nags at you that a certain character does a certain thing, go fix it. If that big reveal doesn't have the impact you think it should, change it. If anything bugs you, trust your writer's compass.
We'll delete and rewrite a sentence or even a paragraph a bunch of times until we're happy with it. So why not take that same approach with the whole novel?
How do you prepare for revisions?