Saturday, April 16, 2011

Finding "The End"

Scott D. Parker

I did something this week that I have not done in a long time: I wrote "The End" on a story.

Long-time readers might remember me discussing my feeble explanations to my extended family last Thanksgiving when I had to explain "what was I working on". The year 2010 was not a good year for me writing-wise, and I have been working hard to turn that around in 2011. One of the things that has been hanging over my head is a collaboration I'm working on with another writer.

Let me clarify "Hanging over my head." I have thoroughly enjoyed this project and I've learned something about my character (literary as well as myself) that I didn't know. It's just that when it came time to write, the words didn't flow as freely as I would have liked. Or expected, to be honest. I had this grand vision of myself blazing away through multiple stories at a time, maintaining a high word count/day, and just being this prolific machine. Some of my own past personal success has inadvertently led to a part of my writing brain to think that this is easy work. It isn't, a point made all to clear to me throughout my lengthy and unprofessional struggle to "get it right the first time."

My part of the project had gone so long that I had forgotten my original ideas. You see, I'm a note taker and a planner when it comes to stories. So, naturally, I thought I'd wing it with this one. Wrong choice. I should have blocked out my scenes and then I would have made more steady progress instead of the fits and starts I ended up doing.

It's also taught me some personal lessons. Among them is this obvious little nugget: Do not let rejections get under my skin. It's a natural course of this profession to be rejected. Everyone gets rejected. Get over it.

Through all of my self-imposed struggles, my writing partner stuck by me. I'm thankful for his patience and his faith in the project. And getting to "The End"--something our own Joelle Charbonneau recently reached as well--is a thrill. To be honest, I had forgotten the feeling. We writers are a curious bunch. The mere act of writing two special words can send us to cloud nine. Weird that.

But it also supercharges us, or, at least, me. Finally getting past that sisyphian hurdle was a marvel. It was the little thing that made me remember why I write in the first place.

Joy. Joy at at story told well (to me). Joy at reaching the end. Ain't nothing like it in the world. It has made me already start another tale because I don't want to go too long without experiencing "The End" again.

Song of the Week: John Renbourn's "Palermo Snow." Never heard of him until NPR put up this song on Thursday. He's a guitarist from the early 1960s, says the write-up of this tune. He is new to me, but I've listened to this song at least 10 times since I first heard it. That he pairs his finger-picking guitar with a clarinet makes me even more curious to discover more of his music.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Importance of Editing

Guest post by
Rachel Marsh

Today’s post is about the importance of editing. Editing can entail re-writing sentences so that they exactly convey the intended tone. Sometimes, paragraphs and chapters are shifted or cut in hopes of creating a bigger element of suspense. And, in the worst of times, entire novels are rewritten so that they in no way resemble the original.

So, like a copyeditor hunting for typos and grammatical errors, let’s play the “spot what’s wrong with this post” game. Figured it out yet? Yup, I’m not Russel McLean. Not beardy enough, and – as much as I wish I were – I’m not Scottish enough. Also, for the record, I’m not man enough to be Russel.

I ran into Mr. McLean few days ago when I was out promoting a course I’m teaching for ShortbreadStories. The course is a “How to edit your work” sort of dig, so he and I got to talking about the editing process: rewriting one’s own work is tricky, but editing someone else’s is even trickier. Quickly the discussion turned to commiserations, and we began trading “I edited someone’s piece for a publication and they were so unhappy with the changes they threatened to sell my kidneys on the black market” stories.

Personally, I think neither Russel nor I are bad editors; in fact, I think we’re fairly conscientious editors who respectively work to bring out the best in a story while still maintaining the author’s voice. Not an easy task. Unfortunately, not everyone sees the importance of the editorial process, or, more aptly, they do not see the benefits of having their work edited by someone else.

Which is where I come in. Russel has asked that I use his Friday post to give my opinion on the importance of editing. Before moving to the UK, I was a freelance cultural journalist (fancy way of saying art and theatre critic) and an editor for several entertainment magazines in the US; additionally, I was the editor of New Writing Dundee for three years. As you may imagine, I’ve had my share of pieces edited, and I’ve worked on an exhausting number of stories – both fiction and non-fiction – and what I’ve found is that editing occurs on several levels.

Returning to the “spot what’s wrong with this post” game, a lot of editing is down to three things. The first is simply correcting things that are “wrong”, such as typos, misspellings and malapropisms. Second, there are rules to follow: avoid adverbs, cut unnecessary words, and don’t use the same word within a few sentences of each other. And, the third element of an initial edit is checking for continuity. Often, especially in longer pieces, a writer may provide a character trait, but by the end of the story the writer forgets about that trait and accidentally includes a contradiction. For example, a character may start off as a bearded crime writer living in Dundee and by the end turn into a leggy, sexy, blond woman living in Fife (yes, I do flatter myself).

While this first round of edits is important, an editor’s most difficult task lies not in “rules based” aspects of editing such as grammar, punctuation or continuity, but in more subjective concepts of writing such as flow, pacing, and story management. Changes that lie in these forms can be argued for and against, and it is these types of editorial amendments that cause rifts between authors and editors.

One particular example comes to mind. Early in my New Writing Dundee days, I desperately wanted to include a story but felt that the beginning slightly dragged. The story was well written and the concept was interesting, and I believed that the first few paragraphs were unnecessary and without them the reader could jump straight into the thick of the piece. I edited the story by cutting the first two paragraphs, and sent it the author unaware of the hailstorm of insults that I would receive in return. No matter how I explained my thought processes, s/he (I shall not name pronouns in fear of outing this individual) felt dejected by my edit. In the end, I offered to publish the piece as it originally stood, but evidently the mere suggestion of edits was too much to bear and s/he pulled the story from the publication. A result which was unfortunate for everyone involved.

As I write this I can almost hear the naysayers in the bloggosphere: “But I worked on my piece for hours/days/months/years, and I got it exactly how I like it,” “I meant for it to be that way,” and “It’s my story and you don’t know what I’m trying to say.” To a certain extent, these are valid replies. If a writer has…

1. Gotten a friend with a good eye for mistakes to read over it
2. Workshopped it with like-minded authors for feedback
3. Put the piece away for a while before returning to edit

…then that author could argue for the piece to remain untouched. However, a writer must still keep an open mind. The editor of a publication knows the market, has probably edited more stories than the average author writes, and can see your work in a fresh way. And, most importantly, the editor is a reader, and ultimately you want a reader to walk away satisfied. Remember, the writing process brings joy to the author, while the editing process brings joy to the reader. Therefore, it’s simply best to keep an open mind when facing edits to your work.

I don’t know if this post has been what Russel wanted when he asked me to contribute to Do Some Damage, and, to be honest, I feel a little uneasy. What if I’m preaching to the converted? What if the readers all have good relationships with their editors, and I’m just whistling in the wind? (Sorry for the mixed metaphors.)

Because, I love a little self-imposed hypocrisy and irony, I’m hoping that this piece goes on editing onto the website unedited by anyone’s eyes other than my own. I have not had a friend look over this piece, I have not had it workshopped, and I have not put the post away for a while before returning to it. I now say that you, the loyal followers of Do Some Damage, are welcome to edit the post. Find my typos, inconsistencies and misspellings. Should my train of thought have gone into a different direction? Are some of the paragraphs too long or two short? Or, possibly, you don’t really care. No matter what happens to this post from here, I just want to say thanks for letting me step in and have a little rant about editing.

PS-For some excellent Do Some Damage tips on revision and editing revisit Joelle Charbonneau’s post “The Devil is in the Details”. She summarises the essence of self-editing perfectly.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Hero Rises

As Jay so nicely pointed out, and I hinted at last week, I'm kind of binging on Doctor Who episodes. I started with the Moffat ones, but I've moved on to other episodes, giving me something to watch while the Yankees constantly get rained out.

I still stand by what I said, following Moffat around, but there's something compelling about the Who character. Something I find compelling in a lot of my fiction, be it comics, TV, movies, or novels.

It's the moment where the hero's been beaten down so badly that you don't expect him to get up. He can't possibly win. He's out. The bad guy's won.

And then, the music swells, the camera focuses on something near by, something in the hero's POV and he figures it all out.

And gets back up and wins.

I love that moment. I love seeing people get back up. I think because in life we see people get down so much, we see them face horrible odds and often it's hard to get back up. But our heroes do it.

Jack Reacher always figures it out at the right moment.

Dennis Lehane loves to put Kenzie through the ringer.

That moment when hope it lost, everyone's given up, except the hero.

It's such a neat bit. The audience usually loves it too. The heart gets pumping. A smile crosses their faces. Because you know it's coming. And when it does, the audience applauds.

Evils been vanquished.

The bad things in life are gone.

All is right with the world.

And that's what Doctor Who, even the really bad episodes, do so well. They put Who and the world through the ringer.

But he always figures it out.

And wins.

The best fiction has that moment in it too.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


John McFetridge

This week I'm way behind on some deadlines. Well, truth be told, when it comes to the novel I'm working on I'm more than a year behind deadline. I just missed another deadline that would have seen the book published this fall so now I'm working on the next deadline that will bring the book out next February. Or March.

And I'm getting very close to finished.

It started out as a piece of flash fiction about a reunited rock band playing a casino and then another flash fiction and then I thought I could turn it into a novel. We'll know for sure in about three weeks.

In the meantime, here's the first chapter:

The High had been back together and on the road for a couple of months playing mostly casinos when the lead singer, Cliff Moore, got the idea to start robbing them. Not the casinos so much, the shylocks working them.

It was two in the morning, they’d played the Northern Lights Theatre at the Potawatomi Bingo Casino in Milwaukee, nostalgia show with Grand Funk and Eddie Money, and Cliff was in a minivan in the parking lot getting a blowjob. Out the van window he saw the bass player, Barry Nemeth, walking between parked cars, looking around like somebody might be following him and putting a wad of cash in his jacket pocket. Cliff said, “What the fuck,” and the soccer mom looked up at him and said, you don’t like it, and Cliff said, no, it’s good, honey, “Really good, I’m almost there.” When he finished, he signed another autograph, the mom saying the first time she saw The High was in Madison, must have been seventy-eight or seventy-nine, her and her friends still in high school sneaking into the show at the University of Wisconsin. She said, “It was you guys and Styx, remember? I had a crush on you ever since.”

Cliff caught up to Barry standing outside the tour bus having a smoke and asked him about the money, when did he have time to get into the casino, and Barry said, no, he didn’t win it, he stole it.

Cliff said, “You mugged somebody,” and Barry said, fuck no, “The money’s from a shylock. Come on,” and got on the bus. Cliff started to follow, felt a hand on his arm and looked around to see two very hot chicks, had to be teenagers, but maybe legal, looked exactly the same; long blonde hair, tight jeans, low cut tees, like twins, same serious look on their faces and he said, “Hey ladies, looking for some fun?”

One of the girls said, “No, we’re looking for our mom, she was talking to you before.”

Ritchie came up then, squeezed between the girls, shaking his head at Cliff, saying, “At least they’re not looking for their grandma,” and Cliff said, “Fuck you.”

On the bus Cliff walked past Ritchie and sat down beside Barry, saying, “What’re you talking about, shylocks?”

They were settled in then, heading to Niagara Falls, going to open for the Doobie Brothers and Barry said, “You know, loan sharks working the casinos.”

Cliff said, “They work for the casinos?” and Barry said, no, “They don’t work for the casinos, they work at them. They cash cheques.”

“We don’t get paid by cheque,” Cliff said, “it’s direct deposit.”

“They buy jewellery, cars, whatever. Usually the same guy sells the speed and meth.”

“So how’d you get the money?”

“This guy, I sold him a microphone,” and Cliff said, shit, “Now you have no mike,” and Barry said it was one of Grand Funk’s, “So the drummer doesn’t sing back-up, so what?”

Ritchie walked down the aisle then, going into the bathroom right behind Barry and Cliff and Dale, the drummer, sitting across the aisle beside his wife Jackie said, “You take one of your monster dumps in there, you fucking hot bag it,” and Jackie said, “Dale, please.”

She looked across the aisle at Cliff and Barry and said, “What is it happens to you guys, you get on the road and you’re teenagers again?”

Cliff said, “Again?” pointing at Dale, saying, “He ever poke you as much as that iPod,” and Jackie rolled her eyes and looked away. She and Dale married nearly thirty years, she was the only wife left on the bus. Dale said, “Do not stink up this fucking bus, there’s bags in there.”

Now Cliff was whispering but nobody was listening anyway, saying, “They fired a roadie, it was you? How much you get?”

Barry said he got two hundred for the mike, five hundred for the Stratocaster he lifted from Eddie Money – guy never played it anyway -- and a hundred and fifty for the back-up singer’s leather boots back at the Northern Lights Casino in Minnesota. Cliff said, shit, “That chick was so pissed off, man, that was a catfight, she went after the black one hard.”

Cliff was looking right at Barry now and he said, “All this time we haven’t seen each other, it’s like I don’t even know you anymore.”

Barry said, yeah.

Cliff said, “They always have the cash to pay you, just like that?”

“Shit, these guys are mobile fucking pawn shops, they buy anything. They buy cars, it’s all cash, people take it right back into the casino.”

“Full service business.”

Barry said, you know it. “This guy tonight, he probably had twenty, thirty grand on him. I’d like to get my hands on that,” and Cliff said, what do you want to do, sell them the bus? But that’s when he had the idea.

Ritchie came out of the bathroom, dropped a plastic grocery bag in the aisle between Cliff and Jackie, and said, “Here, you want it so bad,” and kept going back to his seat behind the driver.

Jackie said, “Oh for Christ sake,” making a face like he dropped it in her lap and Dale reached past her, grabbed the bag, opened the window and threw it out in one motion, saying, “I’m not riding in a stinking bus.”

Cliff said to Barry, “Twenty grand? You think so?”

“Remember that hockey player’s brother, guy on the Red Wings, got picked up at the casino in Detroit, loan sharking?”

Cliff said, yeah, vaguely, he remembered something about betting on games, too, wasn’t the brother a goalie? “Wasn’t he tied to the Saints of Hell, the motorcycle gang?”

“Probably. Gotta be tied to somebody to work the casino. They picked him up, it was on the news, him and his girlfriend, had forty-five grand in cash on them, a pile of jewellery they’d bought, government cheques they cashed.”

Cliff said, shit.

Barry said if they could get their hands on a big money item it would make the tour worthwhile and Cliff said, “This whole reunion thing was your idea, you think I wanted to get back on the fucking bus, ride with these assholes?”

Barry said, no, “You wanted to keep selling yuppies million dollar fucking bungalows in Toronto, bust your hump seven days a week, suck up to everybody in sight, hoping they don’t do the deal with their brother-in-law.”

Cliff didn’t say anything but he thought, yeah, the real estate was getting tough. Tough to get a listing, tough to keep a client, working eighteen hour days, always on call, working every minute of long weekends. He was ready when Barry called with this idea of putting The High back together, heading out on the road.

Cliff said, “Maybe you don’t have to sell them anything,” and Barry said, what do you mean? Cliff said he had an idea, but wait a minute and he went in the bathroom.

There was a plastic bag full of other plastic bags in the little sink and Cliff got one out and stretched it over the toilet seat thinking it was just like all the dog owners in his neighbourhood back home, always carrying bags, always ready to pick up the shit. Won’t give the homeless guy in front of the Tim Hortons a dime for the newspaper he’s trying to sell, but they get on their knees to pick up dog shit.

He started to undo his belt and thought, no, really just need to take a leak, this is just nerves, butterflies, but bad ones, worse than getting up on stage ever felt, and then realized, well, you start thinking about ripping off connected guys in casinos, it’s got to give you some nerves.

Gives you a rush, too, though. Cliff pulled the bag off the toilet and started pissing, thinking, yeah, add twenty grand to what they were getting for a night on stage, putting the band back together starts to look like a great idea.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Continuity, Rules & Too Many Hobbits.

By Jay Stringer

beep beep beep

Before I hit you over the head with today's top-heavy blog, I have a quick announcement. Do you like Ray Banks? Of course you do, his books are awesome. Do you like Tony Black? Well, again, naturally, you're not fools. And do you like Russel D McLean? Why yes, because he has the finest beard in all of Dundee.

Well you're in luck. Because the three of them will be in the same place at the same time this week, at the Steps theatre in Dundee, this thursday (14th.) I'll be heading oop north to see what hijinks they can get up to.

Go on, you know you want to.

beep beep beep.

Dave's blog from last week set me thinking in a million ways. Most of it applied to comic books, but there's also some film, TV and books thrown in there.

First he talked about following writers rather than characters. We do that, of course, in novels. Aside from the many tie-in books to franchises like STAR WARS or JAMES BOND, we tend to follow the writer. In TV it's trickier, because the writer is not always a selling point. The internet makes it easier to track down, say, which episodes of DOCTOR WHO are written by Steven Moffat, or which X-Files are written by the potato guy. But the show itself is still the selling point, or those two cute vampires, or that dude with the moustache and the list, or other references that show how out of touch I am with the small screen.

Films tend to be sold with the concept, the lead actor and the director. The writer is usually an afterthought at every stage of the process, unless they're also the director, in which case suddenly the marketing men are really interested in telling us who the writer is.

Now, in comics, it's front and centre. Every few years the focus changes between writing and art, each one gets a few years as being the hip element. But no matter which discipline is on top, they're both listed on the cover. And that allows comic fans a choice. They can pick it up just because it's got Batdude in it, they can pick it up because they like the artist, or they can pick it up because they like the writer.

Or any combination of the above.

Me? For new comics I'm where Dave is. I follow a writer. I find a voice that I like, and I follow him or her wherever they go. I have loyalties older than that though. I'm still programmed to pick something up if Daredevil is in it. And I'll take a look if John Constantine or Batman are in it. And the same does hold true of film, books and TV. I'll pick up any new Indiana Jones novel that comes out (not exactly a boom industry) or any film featuring Batdude. But by and large I'm following the writers in those industries, too. When I see a film poster that looks interesting, I check out the small print to see who wrote it. I'm usually looking for the words "Christopher" and "McQaurrie," but that search is rarely rewarded. There was a time when I would pick up any comic that had the name Frank Miller attached to it, but we've long since agreed to see other people.

So I follow the writer in most things, but with an eye on the character, the larger story or the director involved.

But what this leads to, for those of us with geek blood, is questions of continuity.

The word gets used way to much. There are people out there who will declare war if a character is depicted with the wrong shade of hair, or is an inch to short, or if the writer doesn't drop in a reference to everything that's ever happened ever.

It's become such a dark and dirty word simply by it's mis-use. I remember when I was slating the Wolverine movie to anyone and everyone who would listen, and I was raising issues of continuity, and they would roll their eyes because I was just another geek moaning about something that doesn't matter.

But I like to argue for the kind of continuity that does matter. Internal logic. For instance -do i care whether or not Wolverine is portrayed as a six footer of as a five foot runt? Nope. Do I care whether he's Canadian? Well, That feels like an important part of the character to me, but I can accept if the film needs to tell it a different way. However, when the film has a villain who can produce a six foot sword out of his wrist, I want to know how he bends his elbows when the sword is retracted. If a character with mutant healing powers can be given amnesia by being shot in the head, I want to know how that works.

The only sense of continuity that really matters is to the telling of the story. Does it flow? Does it make sense? If it doesn't make sense, is it confusing in a way that's leading to something? Do all of the different parts of the story fit together, and has the writer done the heavy lifting?

Get those issues sorted first and foremost, then worry about the geekier details later. It's useless being able to reference what Bruce Banner was doing in 1996 if you can't remember what he was doing earlier in the story, or if you cant sell us on the motivation of what he's about to do. So get the internal continuity nailed down first, then as an added bonus try and fit the story into the history of the character as best you can.

But if we're following writers rather than characters, how do we deal with those larger issues of continuity? Dave has been binging on Doctor Who. It's a show with 50 years of history, but the quality writing of the episodes he's watched would (I assume) mean that he's not had too many sleepless nights about what the Doctor said to the bishop in 1972. You can watch the first episode of season 5 (31) as if it were a brand new show. Sure, the characters clearly have a history, but then all characters have a history. And if and when your favourite writer steps off the comic book or TV show, you can choose to follow. That can be the end of the characters story.

Here's the thing; We make our own continuity.

We do it all day every day, filtering what we need and what we don't. Which bits of our lives are important to remember and which aren't. Which movies exist and which don't.

When I think of the James Bond films, I think of a handful of films and ignore the rest. When I think of Doctor Who, I think of the many years worth of episodes that I've enjoyed and filter out the ones I haven't. I definitely ignore the fact that the USA/BBC TV movie decided he was half-human, which has never been referenced before or since. Writers tried for years in the tie-in novels to find ways to explain that strange bit of writing, but I just say, ignore it.

As a Batman fan I have to leave out whole decades worth of stories that don't fit with the time line I hold onto. When I read Spiderman I read it with no memory of the clone saga or of Spidey revealing his identity to the world. When reading Green Lantern over the past few years, I did so with no notion that Hal Jordan went insane in 1994 and killed all his friends before turning into a super-being, re-igniting the sun and getting reincarnated as a spirit of vengeance.

Being the Indiana Jones geek that I am, I have choices to make there, too. The films are canon. But the TV show and the books contradict each other ever so slightly, so certain rough edges have to be ignored. He went after items in the books that he also went after in comic books, so I have to simply go with whichever story worked best.

In books I'll take long running series, like Scudder or Rebus, and tend to think only of the four or five that are essential to the character. I'm also currently under the spell that Rebus ended a book earlier and that (until recently) Scudder's story skipped a few books in the early 90's and then stopped altogether after EVERYBODY DIES.

I spent many years in my youth continuing to buy comics out of duty, long after I'd stopped enjoying the story. I still have friends who continue to pick up titles that they don't enjoy every month simply because they want to see where the story or character is going. You can choose your ending at any point. I know that new issues of THE WALKING DEAD come out every month, and I hear good things about them sometimes, but I reached a story beat that felt like a satisfying close for me and I stopped buying the issues. And we each have an opinion over where Peter Jackson's RETURN OF THE KING should have ended, right?

And that's before we all get together to argue over with cut of BLADE RUNNER we want to roll with.

So these are my simple steps to a stress free life in the world of comics, films, TV and continuity;

-Follow the creator(s) that you like.
-Don't sweat on continuity as long as the story is making sense.
-Over time, build up your own version of continuity that allows you to sleep at night.
-Walk away whenever it stops working for you.

Hey, did I forget to mention the rule about slash fiction? I did? Well, here it is; Never, ever read slash fiction.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Wolves and news

By Steve Weddle

We were honored to be mentioned along with some great folks for this year's Spinetingler Awards.

The Do Some Damage collection, TERMINAL DAMAGE, has been nominated for Best Anthology. Incidentally, the BEAT TO A PULP antho, containing work by our own Scott Parker, was also nominated.

In addition to the collection, the Do Some Damage site itself was nominated for the David Thompson Community Leader Award. This, I think, has more to do with the community of people joining us each day to chat about issues in crime fiction -- and Wolves football. So, you know, congrats to all of you reading this. And thanks for the support and the interaction. You can vote here.

And speaking of Wolves and interaction, this week we start the discussion for our most recent pick in the DSD Book Group -- THE WOLVES OF FAIRMOUNT PARK by Dennis Tafoya.

From Publishers WeeklyStarred Review. Dennis Lehane fans will welcome Tafoya's second crime novel, which delivers on the promise of his debut, Dope Thief. A drive-by shooting in front of a Philadelphia dope house claims two victims, Michael Donovan and George Parkman Jr., and leads to an intense search for the gunman. Both fathers--Brendan Donovan, a cop whose son was wounded, and George Parkman Sr., whose son died--can't help wondering if the incident was somehow connected with Brendan's younger half-brother, Orlando, a ne'er-do-well drug addict. Tafoya skillfully shifts among the perspectives of the two grieving fathers, Orlando, and Danny Martinez, the primary investigator on the case. The bleak worldview Brendan articulates ("Nobody knew anybody. Nobody knew the first goddamn thing about their wives or their husbands or their kids or their friends") will resonate with classic noir readers, who will hope Tafoya is their guide through the mean streets for years to come. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
So head on over to the DSD Book Group and let's chat about the book. Ready? Go.

By the way, check out THE LINEUP, a collection of crime poems.

And thanks again to Spinetingler and all who support us and our work.

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?