I'm taking time over a few posts to share some of my knowledge about novel writing. I've had at least five people moan to me recently about how hard it is to revise. I've shared a thing or two about revision before, but I thought I would expand on that today. Once you have written your first draft, do a jig out on the back deck. That is a big accomplishment! Next, you need to sit on a lawn chair and realize that this book is bad. Really Bad! I know that there are a few one draft wonders out there, but the rest of us write gosh awful first drafts. It's time to get to work. I break revision into segments, or I would never do it.
My first thing is to make sure the plot makes sense and that it has enough twists and turns to keep the reader reading. This is a vicious time and I toss entire chapters quite regularly, and, just to give you a hint, those chapters that get tossed, inevitably one of them is in first five. You may also have to toss out a third of the novel and rewrite it. You may have to toss more. Once you realize this, perhaps shut the laptop and go in search of chocolate, coffee and other useful medications. A great plot takes guts, grit and determination on the part of the writer.
Next, I print a few chapters at a time and take a red pen to them. Lots of scenes get cut. The question is simple: Does this scene move the story forward? I delete all inadvertent rambling about sunsets, excessive delving into how my characters feel, and gorgeous page long descriptions of rainbows and waterfalls. Yes, I delete them. No matter if they are genuis (and of course they are). When I'm done, I'm certain that I'm left the solid bones. This framework is cohesive and sound.
I run back on the deck and do another jig (my neighbors love me) and then throw the manuscript in a drawer for another few weeks. Whoa, what happens to the time. I pull that manuscript back out and work on characterization. I read the manuscript aloud and listen. Do my characters sound real? Are these characters worth caring about? Are their voices all true and unique? For some reason, in my first draft, I often find that I give a scene to the wrong character. I fix that. Does each character have a flawed personality or did I create perfect card board cut-outs? Do I need all the characters or do some need to be deleted or integrated with others?
That's about a month to a month and a half of revision for me. I hope you've found something helpful here. I'm going to add more later. Keep checking back.
If a teacher told me to revise, I thought that meant my writing was a broken-down car that needed to go to the repair shop. I felt insulted. I didn't realize the teacher was saying, "Make it shine. It's worth it." Now I see revision as a beautiful word of hope. It's a new vision of something. It means you don't have to be perfect the first time. What a relief!
Naomi Shihab Nye