Years ago a magazine editor responded to my initial submission with a letter requesting me to make changes and to resubmit the story on spec. Excited about her interest, I made the changes, cutting the manuscript from over 700 words to less than 500.
The editor wrote again: “You’ve done a great job on this
revision! However…” and she went on to say how part of the story wasn’t
realistic. I politely wrote back expressing why I thought it was realistic, but
also offering to revise it.
The editor’s next letter began: “Sometimes the simplest
stories are the trickiest to get right! We like this a lot, but…” She then
pointed out a problem that made me say “OUCH!—I should have seen that.” I fixed
it and sent the story again. This time my reply was an acceptance!
Of course, the editor could have sent a letter saying, “No,
it still doesn’t work for us.” If that had happened, I’d have been disappointed,
but still would have sent the improved manuscript off to another market.
Here are ten tips to help you with your next revision:
- Refresh. Set
your manuscript aside for several weeks.Don’t look at it or even think about it. When you return to the manuscript,
your goal is to read it as if you’ve never seen it before.
Change the font size or style, before rereading. Even simply changing
margins will help you see the manuscript differently.
someone else read it aloud. It’s amazing the mistakes I hear in a
manuscript despite having silently read it over and over again. I also hear
where the reader stumbles or doesn’t give my desired emphasis—both hints that I
need to work on those sections. I may even realize I can’t decide who is talking
without the visual cues of new paragraphs.
- Get your
writing reviewed by other writers and listen to their critique with an open
mind. Don’t automatically shut out ideas and suggestions. Even if they don’t
work for you, looking through another’s eyes can stimulate your mind. However,
if several point out a problem, you know you haven’t reached your target yet.
stifle your own reactions. I don’t know how many times my inner voice
responds to someone else’s comment with, “You knew that wasn’t quite right,
didn’t you!” I also like asking myself if my story came full circle. If I can’t
give myself an honest yes, I have more work to do.
help. Sometimes, I know something isn’t working, but don’t know where to go
next. Another writer may make a simple suggestion that turns the light on for me.
Ask others what they think the theme or premise is. If you’re writing is
working, their answer should be close to what you envision. Tell them what
emotion you’re hoping to evoke in a scene and ask if you accomplished it. Ask
them to state your story problem. If your reaction is “Wow, they didn’t get
it,” it probably means you didn’t give it clearly.
with viewpoint. Not just from 3rd to 1st person,
although that can make a difference, too, but change who is telling the story. Make
that boy a girl. Or see it through her best friend’s eyes instead of her own.
- Reshape. Changing
the form sometimes purges the dross. Try writing poetry instead of prose, diary
entries, or a newspaper report of the events. You may discover the story takes
off on its own in another format.
- Rewrite. All
the thought stirring usually motivates me to get to rewriting. Sometimes it’s
with excitement; sometimes with frustration at how I’ve fallen short.
Whenever I feel like giving up, I remember how revision took my manuscript to published short story in Highlights for Children (April 2000). That makes it much easier for me to revise.
Despite emails that are misleading such as “Connect to your colleagues from SCBWI” LinkedIn was not designed as a social connection site, but for professional networking. Yes, SCBWI is a professional organization, but please bear with me and read on. The LinkedIn system has no idea how large of an organization SCBWI is—it’s only using keywords to create these messages. Connecting with someone on LinkedIn who is an SCBWI member you have not met is not the same as on other social media sites. Unlike Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, etc., LinkedIn says, “We strongly recommend that you only accept invitations to connect from people you know.”
LinkedIn’s Vision is to “create economic opportunity for
every member of the global workforce.” Two of the tabs are “jobs” and “work.” If
you’ve ever declined an invitation, you’ll see the “I don’t know this person”
small window pop up on the left. That’s a report system. If someone gets too
many of these, LinkedIn may restrict their account.
Dave Roos says, “a LinkedIn profile page is essentially an
online résumé.” This article, “The Difference Between Facebook, Twitter,
Linkedin, Google+, YouTube, & Pinterest,” by Karisa Egan,
explains, “LinkedIn is different from the rest of the social media outlets
because it’s specifically designed for business and professionals. Users mainly
go to LinkedIn to showcase their job experience and professional thoughts,
making it one of the more important platforms to use for those in B2B.” (B2B –
business to business).
Does that mean SCBWI members should never connect on
LinkedIn. Of course not. I connect with those I’ve worked with in various
volunteer capacities. I can validate their “work experience” because I know their capabilities.
I don’t connect with people I don’t know. I personally leave that mostly to
Twitter, however, I do connect with many people through Facebook groups. And don’t
forget the SCBWI Blueboards are a great place to connect.
So, please don’t be offended if even though we’ve met at a
conference or event, or you’re also a children’s writer, that I don’t accept
your LinkedIn invitation.
I’ve seen writers propose the 5-draft novel writing process. Others talk about how many drafts they’ve been through before the book goes to their agent/editor. What draft am I on? I never know because I revise as I go. Some writers will tell you this is wrong, but I’m not alone in my process. Jared Reck says, “I write a few scenes by hand, then go back and type and revise, then back to hand-writing — the first finished draft of A Short History of the Girl Next Door was pretty polished; it just took me four years to get to that point.”
Revising During the Writing Process – How it Works for Me
When I get ready to write a new scene or chapter after a break in writing, I read the previous one or ones. This gets me back into the story, and yes, I will make changes and additions. Typos, misspellings, or wrong words annoy me, so if I notice any, those are fixed. (I write on a computer.) Then I move forward with the story. My break could be stopping for lunch, quitting for the day and coming back the next, the weekend off, or even longer depending on what else is going on in my life.
After I’ve made some progress on a novel (more than a couple chapters), I create a novel timeline or story ladder that is unique for each novel. You can read about that process here. This helps me have a quick overview of the story anytime I need one.
I also begin to share a chapter at a time with my critique group. This reading aloud helps me spot more typos or awkward phrasings. My critique partners are good at pointing out where I need more, have confusing areas, etc. Of course, this causes more revisions. Sometimes what they say means I create a whole new scene. If that new scene requires changes elsewhere, I’ll do that during this time, too.
Then I move forward with the story again, repeating these processes until I reach the end.
Meanwhile, I am always learning. I learn by attending workshops, conferences, retreats and other writing events, by reading blogs, newsletters, and articles, and by reading novels in and out of my genre. These often make me think about my story and I go back with new insights which most likely mean I need to add to my story. (I have a tendency to underwrite.)
I also learn from what my critique partners are working on. It may be what they are doing well. Or it may be something not working that I or someone else notices which makes me wonder if I’m doing the same thing.
Revisions Once the Story Is Complete
After some time away, I try to read the whole novel quickly with the purpose of thinking about the big picture of the story. I make notes on the major problem areas to work on. I also note bumps (where I stopped reading, felt something wasn’t quite right, etc.) When I’ve read the whole manuscript through, I attack the areas I’ve noted. When done, I wait a few days and reread the revisions to see if they are working.
I may ask myself questions. Sometimes, I ask my critique group the same questions about my story. E.g. Is the ending satisfying? Was the problem solved too easily? Did this scene feel realistic? Are the beginning and ending as strong?
I have several stages in polishing. Some add to the text, such as making sure I’m using sensory details in scenes (post here). Others take words away, which includes tightening, cutting overused words, getting rid of passive verbs, etc. (my post here). But whether adding or subtracting, these methods are meant to make the writing itself stronger.
I also revise after feedback from agents I’m querying.
In the End
Is my method the best? Probably not. But it works for me. Writing a novel is not a one-size-fits-all process, so please don’t let anyone try to convince you it is.
Image by ijmaki from Pixabay
Often, we can’t remember where we read that great article/post/quote and it can be frustrating trying to find it. Even if we’re sure what site it was on, site search boxes don’t always work well. Here are some helps:
Use your browser’s search box to find an article or post.
Let’s say I remember a piece about not having time to write. I think the title had something like “so little time” in it and I think it is on the Institute for Writer’s site: In the search box on my browser, I type what I’m looking for followed by site: and the site url. So for my example, it would look like this: so little time site:instituteforwriters.com. The third entry pops up with “Time to Write” and when I read the blurb, it’s exactly what I’m looking for. (I was using Firefox and searching with Google. I got the same result with Safari.)
But what if I didn’t remember where I saw it? I’d still use the browser search box, but I might try different search combinations. Typing in finding time to write gave me lots of good resources, but it was mostly about writing for adults. Although that applies I know it was on a children’s writing site. So, this time I try finding time to write children’s literature and I find lots of sites related to kidlit. I still did not find the exact piece I’d seen before. Even if I remembered the exact title, unless it is very unique, it’s not likely I’ll find it by a straight browser search.
However, what if I know I only read info on a couple sites? Then I can add a capital OR in between sites, like this: so little time site:instituteforwriters.com OR site:site2. I didn’t find this very effective as my second site didn’t show on the first or second page and I usually don’t look farther than that.
Let’s try again with something else. I read a great blog post on theme and subplots. Fortunately, I saved the url by emailing it to myself because I knew I’d need to reread it several times. But if I hadn’t, let’s see what I get by putting theme subplots in a browser. (Note I left out the meaningless and.) Nothing looked like what I wanted until the bottom of the page where I found a post with similar content. Win!
whats-a-b-story-and-why-that-love-triangle-doesnt-cut-it When I used more of what was in the original title: theme subplots supporting characters, the post was the third entry down.
So obviously it works best if you know where you saw it and/or know the exact title.
Searching for quotes using your browser.
If I read this quote “Conflict is the engine that drives plot forward. You should be creating tension on the page at all times, no matter what else is going on.” by Mary Kole and only remember part of it, I search for that part. Searching for conflict is the engine, the quote I’m looking for doesn’t come up on the page. If I put it in quotes, I get more writing related ones, but still not the right one. If I add her name, however, the first entry is correct whether I use quotes or not. Here’s the article that quote came from: “Writing Tension Instead of Teasing.”
What about searching Facebook?
Searching your feed is difficult. But what if you think the discussion you’re looking for was in a specific group. That’s doable. Go to your group on Facebook (you must be logged in to see private groups). On the left there’s a “search this group” box. (Note: this is not the search box at the top of your screen!) I find “search this group” works well. If you’re not sure which group a discussion was in, try another group. Obviously, if you belong to a lot of groups this could get tedious.
I hope my examples help you.
But note to self: if I really want to remember something, copy details into a file and put it where I’ll find it!
Image by Prawny on Pixabay
Not long ago I read several blog posts about the value of a style sheet, although I’d call it a master character chart. It’s a place to put details about every single character in your novel so you’ll be consistent. It’s probably easy to remember that your main character’s name is spelled Maisie, not Maisy, but what about other characters? The more minor they are the harder it gets. Was that Zak or Zack or Zach? This chart is a helpful place to consolidate that info even if you make individual worksheets for your characters.
What should you include in a style sheet? It depends on your novel and on you. But suggestions include character name (and any nicknames), physical characteristics that you don’t want to accidentally change mid-novel, perhaps where they live and what kind of place it is, parents’ names and a few details, who the characters’ friends are, etc. For a kid in Middle School or High School, their class schedule might be useful. I could see having a style sheet for places in the novel as well. There are probably a myriad of other uses–especially for fantasy or historical writers.
Some style sheets include WHEN those details appeared in the novel. That would be too complicated for me. However, I do use a story ladder which may include those details. (See post here.)
How should your character chart or style sheet be arranged?
It’s a very personal decision. For me, I want to be able to see the details at a glance. I like using a Word table. An Excel spreadsheet would work as well. Evernote has a template you could use. Or you may be more a pen and paper person. This character map is aimed at students reading a book, but it could be helpful for writers too.
Perhaps what this author does would be helpful–she created a page with images and limited text. (Read more here.) Cut out images out of magazines and physically glue and paste, or copy images off of a free photo site, such as pixabay. I may try this with my next novel.
If you’ve used style sheets, and have tips, I’d love to hear them.