Sunday, April 10, 2011

The devil is in the details

by: Joelle Charbonneau

When you talk to non-writers they all express amazement at ability of an author to sit down at a keyboard and write enough words to create an entire book. I have to admit at one time I felt the same way. However, I would argue that as hard as it is to write a novel, it is even harder to go back with a critical eye and revise it.

Revising is a skill set separate from creating a story. I’m not talking about fixing typos and punctuation, although these are important things to do. True revising is the ability to look at your work with an eye for what works best – not for what you like best. Sometimes the sentences we love the most and the characters that pull at our personal heart strings are not the ones that belong in the story. Sometimes the scene that was written to give a fabulous “the reader really needs to know this” look at the past of the protagonist is totally unnecessary. Learning how to judge which scene, line, word is necessary to drive the story forward and which is just slowing things down is hard.

Really hard.

When revising you have to ask yourself:

1) Does this scene drive the plot?
2) Are my sentence structures varied?
3) Does every sentence (or every other sentence) start with the same words?
4) Does the chapter/scene end with a page-turning hook?
5) Does the dialogue read naturally? (Tip - read this stuff out loud. It will really make a difference.)
6) Do I really need every word in this sentence?
7) Are there large paragraphs of backstory? If so, do they slow down the pace? (Chances are they might!)
8) Is the Point Of View clear?
9) Is the scene in the correct character’s Point of View?
10) Etc…Etc…Etc…

The revising questions go on and on.

Each author has their own reaction to revisions which can range from loving them to hating them. Many who hate them feel that once they hit THE END the story is over. They would much rather be working on a new story than to be dragged kicking and screaming back to the keyboard and open the document again. Then there is the other end of the spectrum where the author revises the same manuscript over and over and over again always thinking there is a better way to tell the story. These writers often get bogged down in the revisions to the point that they can’t let go and start something new.

And just like writing the story itself, every author has their own process to revisions. Some authors need to take weeks or months away from their work before they can go back and revise. Others jump in the very day they type the last page. Neither is wrong. The most important thing is for an author to find what is right for them.

Regardless of which category you fall into, I can promise you one thing – learning to critically look at your own writing is one of the most important skills you can have as a writer. Yes, your editor is there to make sure your work is the best it can be, but sometimes they don’t have the time to put into your work or are having personal problems and aren’t doing their job as well as they otherwise might. And let’s face it, even when your editor is at the top of his or her game, you want their edits to make your really good book an excellent one. You don’t want them worrying about whether your sentence structure needs work when they could be working on finding the final touches that will make your book really shine.

There is only so much an editor (or an agent for that matter) can do. You have to do the rest.

Does that sound preachy? Probably. But I don’t think it makes it any less true. So tell me – do you love or hate revisions? And what is your revision process? Do you jump right in or you need distance from the story before you can start playing with it again?


Jay Stringer said...

I love revisions. Thats when I really feel like i'm writing.

Supriya Savkoor said...

I love writing but revising is painful. And funny thing is I'm getting better at it but it's no less painful. And yes, I definitely need distance! Thanks for a great post, Joelle. Looking forward to your new release!

Sarah M. Anderson said...

I just want to walk away. It's done, I'm done, and I usually have other people talking to me. I detest revising, because it's perfect the way it is--until someone tells me how it can be better. Then I sit down, shut up, and fix it. And amazingly, it gets better than the perfect it was before. I believe that's maturity or something...

Anne Marie Becker said...

Great post, Joelle, and so timely for me. Just got some edits in my inbox on Friday, and it was hard. I'm tired of looking at that manuscript, but it's so important to me to get things right. I want a good story to share with readers.

So, yeah, me and edits are in a love-hate relationship. At first, I drag my feet, but once I get going, I see the possibilities and how it'll make my manuscript stronger.

It's worth the effort. I can already see how my NEXT manuscript is stronger because I have a stronger "inner editor" now.

Charles Elliott/Beautyseer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joanne Young Elliott said...

I kind of like the revision process. I didn't at first, but as long as I look at it as just another part of the creative process I'm fine with it. It also helps me to do it in small chunks and if some time passes between the time I finish and the revision.

Thanks for the insightful post Joelle!

Dana King said...

I'm with Jay: I'd much rather do the revisions. Blank screens are intimidating. Once words are there, I have something to work with.

I don;t have another of the issues you mentioned, either. I never type THE END to anything until the final revision is complete. How else will I know that's actually the end?

Thomas Pluck said...

I've finally revised enough to hear the right voice and get the work done... this post felt like a pat on the shoulder reminding me this is the real part of the job.