Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Revising Early Drafts

Just like in many areas of life, there is no right way to go about writing and revising a novel. Many authors prefer to write the whole thing and then circle back and start the revision process. Others, like me, prefer to write and the circle back as we go. The benefits to this approach are, you can see where you need to revamp to foreshadow, more agilely shift character motivations and more easily keep all the layers straight. It's harder to start something and not follow through since you are living in multiple parts of your novel at the same time. For me, it helps make everything much more consistent.

However, some people prefer to write straight through. I understand this feeling. Sometimes my muse is just flowing through me and the words and plot just spill out of me. But, normally I revise as I go. Not chapter by chapter. I try to stay about 20k words ahead of where I am revising. Sometimes I go back even further, just to make sure it is all flowing together.

Revising is not fixing typos or grammar. That's proofreading. Revising is not just about finding better word choices or reducing redundancy. That's editing. You definitely need to proofread and edit as you revise, but revising is much bigger than that. It's thinking through your ideas more fully. If you haven't thought through them, rewording isn't going to do you any good!

I am blogging about this today because, after my econ exam, I am going to go home and work on revising my third chapter set. (I'm adding to the plot line of the 7th chapter set right now.) This is the revision so that my beta readers can read without wanting to gag.

The following are the questions I am going to ask myself as I flip through these pages. (I print out...killing trees, I know, but at least I recycle and print on two sides!)

What is it that the charectors are trying to say?
Is there tension in this section?
Do we learn something?
Is a secret revealed?
Can I hide something or just hint at it?
Can I describe something better?
Can you show instead of tell?
What are the motivations of all of my characters? Why is this their motive and is that coming across (or being hinted at so that it can be revealed (or realized) at a later point in time)?

But, be careful. Don't get so stuck on revising that you don't move on. Otherwise you'll never get to "The End." Sometimes Often, I have a tendency to do this. However, usually revision ends up adding a couple scenes, but I have definitely been known to remove or simply change a scene. Since my first pass is very rough,y my word count typically goes up by about 30% during the first revision, which is the main reason I have to revise as I go along. I have zero clue of the word count until I have gone through a few cycles of revision.

Set a deadline. Give yourself a certain number of days or hours and after that, move on. You won't get it perfect. That's the benefit of revising as you go through. You'll revise again at the end. It's just that when you do your revision at the end, there will be much less to clean up!

How do you revise and what questions do you ask yourself as you do it?

9 tidbits:

The Blonde Duck said...

I hate revising. It's the worst part of writing for me. I'm not good at analyzing myself at all, so I have to take long breaks between re-writes to keep it fresh.

stu said...

That's my reason for not generally going with the revise as you go approach. When I try it, the thing falls apart. That said, I do have to adjust things to take account of all the changes that seemed perfectly sensible when I made them as I went through the last couple of chapters.

PJ Hoover said...

I rarely revise as I go along in the first draft. I normally want to get through it and want to maintain the momentum. But I know everyone is different and the most important thing is finding what works for you.

Elizabeth Bradley said...

I agree with you. To my way of thinking revising as you go along leads to a more cohesive novel. It is difficult to do, but necessary.

TudorCity Girl said...

I love your blog! Am starting to write a book but suffer from chronic writer's block. Not good! I have trouble organizing my thoughts..Maybe blogging is better for me. :) Great tips here.
Thanks for the kind comment on my blog- yes, the 'you're fired' in the fortune cookie was my destiny, I guess!

Lauren said...

@duck- I love revising. My inital stuff sounds so bad so I love fixing :)

@stu- Yes, there is very much a trade-off between the two styles.

@PJ- I know what you mean about momentum! Sometimes it hits me (and then I don't revise during that time) but my momentum burns out before the end.

@Elizabeth- I am glad that I'm not the only one!

@TudorCity- Thanks for visiting my blog! And good luck on your book! I know what you mean about the writer's block thing. It takes me FOREVER sometimes :-/

Barrie said...

I check each scene to make sure it's necessary. And I loosely use Goal, Motivation, Conflict (GMC). I have to say, though, that I like revising. Better than that first draft which I basically slog through.

Charles Gramlich said...

I pretty much write straight through, with occassional returns to earlier sections to put in stuff that I've discovered needs to be there. Once the novel is running I don't do anything but the briefest revisions to the early part until the whole thing is done. Then I go over it all.

Anonymous said...

I'm a straight through writer. Otherwise I get bogged down in details and never finish.

I don't mind revising small works, but revising a novel is mad difficult.

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