Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Repost: Revision the Hard Way

I'm away from the blog this week, so hope you enjoy this older post, from when I was in the midst of revising Project Sparkle. Strangely it seems just as relevant now with Project Demo!

I'm in the midst of my first revision of Project Sparkle. As usual, I'm inventing the process as I go, trying to find what works best for me. At the moment, I'm going through the early chapters my classmates' workshopped, making sure characters, setting, and conflicts are set out clearly and consistently. I'm hoping if I can just get the first third or so right, then the rest will straighten itself out more easily.

Tomorrow I'm meeting with my tutor, Julia, to discuss my synopsis and a chapter by chapter outline. Plot is my biggest struggle, so I'm hoping she'll point out the overarching conflicts which are inconsistent with the characters or too complex or whatever, and then I can begin to work on some big picture stuff throughout the novel.

As I'm working, it's occurred to me that I have two revision modes: easy revision and hard revision. Easy revision is my favorite. Obviously.

Easy revision is when I craft individual sentences to make them pretty. Or I check every mention of a character to make sure her appearance is always described the same way. Or perhaps if I was told in class that a character seemed too angry in a scene, I might tone down some of her language. It's busy work and polishing, and therefore not overly taxing. As opposed to hard revision.

Hard revision is when I rethink (revisualize) everything. I think about the scene's purpose, each character's goals, each character's feelings. Sometimes I rewrite an entire scene in a new setting, or with different emotions. Sometimes I cut scenes. Instead of blithely making a character's language less angry, I'll explore her feelings, her motivations. If she's meant to be that angry, I'll show why, if she's not, then I'll tone down the language.

My problem is I'm lazy. Sometimes I'll find myself writing pretty sentences, when really the whole scene doesn't work. I have to remind myself every morning to start with the hard questions first, one after another, until I'm through them. And the worst? Many days I don't even let myself do easy revision because I'm still not sure I've got a scene right. It's a waste of my time to make it perfect if I may be drastically rewriting it. Though some days I can't move on from a scene until every sentence is lovely, even if I'll need to change it later.

It's not the most efficient process in the world.

How do you revise? Do you find yourself fixing the easy things first?


  1. I find I have macro and micro revising moods. Like you, sometimes I focus on polishing a single paragraph, other times I don't look at the writing at all but at the structure. Both can be enjoyable or painful depending on my mood at the moment LOL.

    Over the weekend I worked a bit on language - I love the micro editing where I tweak and polish the way a paragraph flows. But today I'm working on structure, trying to analyze my plots and subplots using a 7 step method that I just discovered (and blogged about), hoping to tighten up the tension and pacing. Not as much fun as the paragraph I played with over the weekend, but if I don't do it, the reader might not be interested enough to read said paragraph!


  2. Elisabeth: Yes. A lot more stressful, scary, and time-consuming, but if anything, the macro revision is even more important. I need to go check out your 7 step method... I always need help with plotting!

    I think for me it's about control. I like to be in control every step of the way, yet rarely feel that. I KNOW I can write a pretty sentence, but I don't know that I can craft a pacey plot.

  3. When I revise, I generally do it all at once, which is probably not the most efficient way. But my main aim is to cut down on the words. This is a tall order: I'm terribly long-winded. The more I write, the more I see that good sentences are clean and pithy, not rambling and overblown.

  4. Mary: That's interesting, that there's one thing above everything else that you need to focus on during revision. At least you know your task! =)

    I can be long-winded, but also short-winded, and also convoluted... makes things less clear cut! But yes, when I started writing, I really thought it was the longer the better, but have since really focused on keeping things short.


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