Friday, August 22, 2014

Whee! How Kids' Games Can Make Revisions Fun

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

As the old saying goes, writing is rewriting, but not everyone enjoys the revision process. For some, revising is the icky stuff you do after the book is written. Considering how much time is usually spent on those “icky” parts, that’s a whole lot of writers spending a whole lot of time doing something they don’t like.

But what if they could learn to like it?

I’ve discovered that so much of writing is in how you look at things. So what if you changed the way you looked at revisions? Instead of thinking about it as work, think about it as a game. Like the games you used to love when you were a kid.

1. Connect the Dots 

Remember those great puzzles? A bunch of numbered dots on a page, and when you followed them in order they made a picture. (And then you could color it!) Revising is like a giant connect the dots puzzle. Think about all the various plot pieces, character arc steps, themes—all of those dots become the larger story you’re trying to tell. Your subconscious remembers all those details even when you consciously don’t, which is why you often have those “aha!” moments when you suddenly spot an awesome connection you didn’t see before.

A first draft is like a basic picture of a flower. Try looking at all the various dots and seeing where you can connect all those great ideas to draw a vase full of flowers. (A more complex and rich picture). Instead of thinking about it as work, think about it like, "where can I make this even better?"

2. The Maze 

I loved mazes as a kid. Finding my way through all those paths and dead ends. After messing up a bunch of mazes with lines that led to nowhere, I’d follow one with my finger before I put that pencil line down. Can you think of a better metaphor for plotting? You start off in one direction and reach a dead end. Then you try another. And another. Eventually you get to the end, then you can go back and erase the wrong turns.

A first draft is like finding your way through a maze. When you reach the end of it you’ve uncovered the path through. Editing out those scenes or characters that were wrong turns or dead ends just makes you look like you knew the right path the whole time.

3. Word Search 

Rows upon rows of mixed up letters. You might even see others words on those random letters, but are they on your list? How exciting to spot that upside down and backwards “SPIDER” (or REDIPS) you’d been searching for forever. Just as awesome as writing that perfect sentence or the best line of dialog ever.

A first draft is like hunting for the right words. Revising is like a giant word search, taking what you’ve already written (that jumble of random letters) and finding the perfect words on your list. Get rid of the old or tired words and use the words that get you just as excited as finding that REDIPS.

4. Find the Hidden Picture 

A bigger picture with all kinds of smaller images inside, looking like other things. Finding a particular image within is a lot like bringing out your theme. Spotting meaning in randomness. Sometimes you know a theme going in, other times it shows up as you write. But it’s a thrill to spot that hidden meaning and draw a circle around it.

A first draft is like that larger image. It looks like a farmyard landscape, but the closer you look, the more you see the old boot in the tractor and the banana in the haystack. Small moments in scenes or even setting can be tweaked to carry deeper meaning to your overall story, and thus strengthen your theme. Then readers will praise you on your depth, and maybe one day English students will be forced to talk about the themes of your book in class.

5. Spot the Difference 

Two pictures that look almost the same, but have subtle differences. Can you see the missing hat? The tie that’s the wrong color? Didn’t it make you feel smart and clever to find them all? Even if you didn’t get them all (I never did), wasn’t it cool to check the answers and see how the differences were hidden right there in plain sight? It was like seeing how the magic trick was done.

A first draft is like two images that aren’t quite the same. The image on the page, and the one in your head. Now’s the time to find all those details that don’t match. You can also find the things that don’t match within the pages themselves. Maybe you changed the color of something, or the time of day, or even called a character by a different name. Spot the differences and make the story exactly as you see it in your head.

Revisions are hard work, no doubt about it, but it’s work that can be fun if approached as a game, especially if that game captures the wonder and fun we had as children. The simple joy accomplishing a task earned us is right there in that first draft. All those puzzles we solved and games we played went a long way to making us better writers—and revisers—and we never even knew it.

Try thinking of revisions as a game next round. See if it’s any more fun. Or at the very least, not as bad as it was.

What about you? Do you love or hate revisions? What do you do to make them fun? 

Looking for tips on revising your novel? Check out my book Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, a series of self-guided workshops that help you revise your manuscript into a finished novel. Still working on your idea? Then try my just-released Planning Your Novel Workbook

A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and the upcoming Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).  

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  1. Janice, it's no secret I don't always find revision fun, more-so with query letters and synopses, than the book itself, I just try to live with it.

    Length is often the biggest reason why. The more compact I'm forced to be (Query Letters, anyone?) the more fanatically paranoid I get about cutting. To the point that it just sounds choppy, vague, and tactless, just so I don't turn people off with scary word/line/page counts, even if they're not above restricted levels to begin with.

    It's also why short stories are a nightmare for me, because I often sacrifice depth and quality just to stay under word count, and no amount of revision will shorten it without turning it into a voiceless mess. What does seem to help cut down the agony is having a couple people I trust work through parts of the revision with me.

    Sometimes, you need new eyes to reaffirm what you weren't sure about removing, or what to keep.

  2. I actually like revisions. When I go back and see how I can improve things and how I'm becoming a better writer, it feels great. Making it a game is a great way to look at it.

  3. I have "finished" 4 novels in the last 3 years. They are all sitting there waiting to be revised. I hate revisions. :( Cute post though! Love your info!

  4. That's a good point, Natalie.
    I'm still trying to grow into that myself is all, and for me, it's a slower process than I wish were the case, but I've come too far to quit.

    Since this process requires so much stamina!

    I'm always searching for ways to make the journey (Especially the waiting) fun, as the destination is taking however long it takes.

    It's been hard for me this year in that area.

    I know the end result will be worth all the time--but I'm not getting any younger...LOL.

  5. I feel like I've been revising for a year. My WIP keeps getting better, richer, and....longer! EEP! Its been good, bad, frustrating and has made me panic about ever finishing it.

    Finally I realized last night that I COULD chop it into multiple books (as not writer friends have suggested for months). As I drifted off to sleep, I was contemplating the perfect places to "break" it. You cannot imagine the weight that is off my chest now.

    I have a new purpose! And though I've cut over 25,000 words already, perhaps I won't have to cut off any more toes to squeeze my epic YA adventure/romance into the Cinderella slipper of 100K words.


  6. I am probably very odd in this, but edits and revisions are my favorite part. I do the first draft to tell what happens in the story, make sure it flows and is logically consistent. This is the hardest part. During the first edit/revision, I add much of the color to the settings and and characters. After that, I edit for prose and grammar. The initial draft is work, not unlike building something functional out of rough words. The edits and revisions take that unfinished scaffold and turn it into a tale worth reading. For final edits, I use word searches and grammar and spelling checks, and you're right. It is sort of like a game. In fact today, as I was searching for overuse of "ly" adverbs, I thought it was like playing a video game. It's fun!

  7. I love this article on comparing revision to children's games! I love games so this will help inspire me during revision :)

  8. I'm totally going to have to try this method out...
    The vase (book 1) is crying to be connected to those flowers (books 2 and 3). *giggles*

    But I find it interested you picked spiders for your wrod search as it's re-dips backwards... maybe I"m the only one giggling at that? :}

    Mine's going to be swolliw O.o *giggles*

    :} Cathryn

  9. Taurean, you might try ignoring word count until you get a story you like and get good feedback on. Then start looking at where you are word wise. The number of words is important, but if it's preventing you from working on the story in the best way you can, don't worry about it until the end.

    To help keep the fun in, maybe try writing the story to find the story, and make revisions *part* of finding that story. Not something that happens afterward.

    Natalie, I'm the same way :)

    Catyork, wow, 4 in 3 years? Very prolific. Have any beta readers critiqued them? Maybe you'd do better if you had feedback to work with vs just working on it yourself?

    Amelia, grats, that's wonderful. Some books just take longer to get right. I have one of those now. It's with the crit group, but I figured out another way this week to improve it, so I know I have a lot of revising to do once the feedback comes in. Every time I "finish" it I look back, think, "no, it's not there yet" and dive back in. We'll both get there, and the books will rock because of it.

    DL, I don't think that's odd at all. It sounds similar to how I write actually, doing passes and working on different layers at a time. It IS fun!

    Jo, thanks, and good luck :)

    Cathryn, lol love swolliw. No clue where spiders came from :) We did just watch the Nightmare Before Christmas, so maybe that was the cause.

  10. Oy! Fabulous! Have been beating brains out looking for a way to help my latest author move forward on re-writes - this is perfect!

    As always - there when I've a need...

  11. What a fun idea! I actually love revisions. It's when the story comes to life for me. First drafts? Not so much.

    1. I love them, too. I get to see all the breadcrumbs my subconscious left me to figure out.

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