Thursday, January 29, 2015

Editing: Second Revision Strategies

It's Dan today, with more on revision techniques. Last week Karlie led a fantastic discussion of methods for draft 2 of a manuscript. Now we've filled all of the holes. We've chipped and filed this project into shape. Now it's time for the detail work: sanding out the rough edges until only a smooth, polished manuscript remains. I thought I'd share my strategies for draft 3, and then I'd love to hear yours.

So here's what your manuscript should look like heading into the second revision:

  • The narrative structure is in place, i.e. everything is in the correct order.
  • Plot holes have been filled. Major inconsistencies have been addressed.
  • The prose might not be perfect, but it's workable and complete (no placeholders).
In other words, we have a workable draft in hand, and now we want to make it a readable draft. A manuscript that grabs the reader and won't let go from start to finish. Areas that I like to focus on:

  1. Pacing. The opening chapters of the book are critical, but also look for stretches where it slows down and doesn't move the plot forward (i.e., places to cut).
  2. Transitions. I don't want to give the reader any chance to put the book down. So I look closely at the scene and chapter breaks, to make sure there's a hook to pull the reader forward.
  3. Text structure. Do you ever hit that groove when building a scene when the words just flow? I get that sometimes, and it usually results in super-long paragraphs. I break up big blocks of text into smaller ones. I also check sentence rhythm, to make sure it's as readable as it can be.
So, that's my smoothing-out process for the second revision. What's yours?

Lisa: This is usually when I really analyze character voice and look for any inconsistencies there. I'm not so good as you, Dan, for knowing what to do for each draft. But somewhere in the second or third revision, I read only for character wording, character line of thinking. It's important that I don't have a character thinking and deciding something because that's what the plot calls for. It has to make sense for his personality type to make that decision. If it doesn't make sense, then I adjust his growth - his arc, so that it's more obvious he has evolved into the type person who would make this decision. He didn't just flip the switch.

I also look at word choice. Every once in a while it's okay to have your characters' speech alike - as long as you have another character remark on it: "Julian, you're starting to sound like Emilie." But most of the time it's not a good practice. If one character says "Sure thing" in place of yes, then the other character shouldn't be saying "Sure thing" as well. Otherwise voice starts blending, and your characters don't sound like individuals. Instead of hearing various characters, we'd get various shades of Julian.

If one character doesn't mince words, she's curt and blunt, then that practice doesn't need to bleed into the other character's voices. It sounds obvious now, but it can easily happen when you're writing. This is when it helps to read out loud.

Karlie: I like that idea, Lisa, of doing one revision just to focus on character voice/dialogue. The main thing I focus on, after all the plot holes are filled in, is cutting the fluff. My writing tends to have a lot of purple prose, and I usually go over that with a fine-tooth comb to make sure I get it all. Something else that gets a hard look are fight/action scenes. I'm not very good at those, and I usually just gloss over them in the first couple of drafts. But in draft 3, I really buckle down and research and rewrite until they ring true.

There's always something to fix, I suppose. And one of the hardest parts of revision is knowing when to stop. I often catch myself editing something to death, and before you know it all the good stuff is gone.

Caitlin: While I certainly cut a lot while revising, in general, I tend to add more than I cut. That's why I don't worry too much if my first draft is only 40,000 words. Once I read it, I'll realize all the missing scenes or the scenes I run through too quickly. I have a tendency to want to get right to my favorite parts without building them up at all, but the build up is oh, so important! 

I have also often thought, this time I'll read it just looking for X. But I never end up being that disciplined. :-P However, I think with each read/revision, the story, voice, and pacing improves.

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