Monday, August 1, 2011

The Art of Revising: Macro Revision

Ah, revision. Some writers hate it, others love it. Personally? I come down on the side of loving it. Revision is a chance to take a raw idea and make it really sing. It's one of the few chances we get in life at a do-over. First draft turned out $hi!!y? No problem. Because you can revise as much as you want to get it right.

Probably one of the most important revision tools is distance. Give yourself the gift of a little time between finishing one draft and starting on the next. You will be astonished at how much is revealed by that bit of distance.

A secondly, nearly as important tool is to recognize that revising is not the same thing as polishing. Polishing is about smoothing and shaping what you've got on the page. Revising is about really looking at the story and seeing if it's working. Revising is when it's time to look at what you actually managed to get out of your head onto the paper and see if the idea holds up under daylight. Or if there’s really as much there there as you’d hoped.  This is your chance to re-envision the story--to roll up your sleeves and see if the first attempt you made at telling it really utilized the best tools available for the job.

Revision, or Macro Revision, as I think of it, is all about the story. Does the manuscript contain all the vital elements needed to create a gripping story. Does it realize its potential? News flash: Most people’s don’t at the first draft stage. Seriously. Or if they revise as they go, you can bet their first pass at a scene isn’t perfect.

So here then, are the things to look at when sitting down to revise a story.

(I changed my mind. This isn't really a checklist, it's more of a list of questions to ask yourself as you try to analyze your manuscript. If you use it as a checklist of things you must have, you will go mad. So don't.)

Have you chosen the right person to tell this story?
90% of the time you will have, but sometimes there are times when the story is better told through someone else, less removed from the action. Think Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes.

Have your selected the right POV?
Is your first person narrative flat? If you can easily substitute third person pronouns and have the whole thing make sense and flow, chances are you haven’t taken full advantage of the first person form. Conversely, have you at least tried first person? What happens when you get totally inside your character's head? Does he come even more alive?

If you are working with a familiar scenario (dreaded move, new school, losing a best friend) what fresh, new, unique twist do you bring to it?

Have you selected the best setting for this story? Is there a different setting that would add more inherent conflict? Create more tension? Echo your thematic elements?


Does your character want something? Or not want something? Is that desire driving the story or at least some of his actions?

Is your character an active participant in the story? If not, is he taking baby steps toward becoming one?

Is there something that keeps getting between the main character and his goal? Would the story be stronger if there was?

Is there a source of tension?

Is your story building toward something?

If not, what provides the dramatic push or narrative drive toward the end?

Do the obstacles the protagonist faces increase in difficulty?

Does he ever fail? (Remember, we learn more from our mistakes than our successes!)

Are their times when he makes things worse by his own actions?

Is there cause and effect in your story, or is it more of a string of unconnected events. (This happened and then this happened and then this happened, but nothing caused any of the other things to happen.)

Is your character a different person at the end of the book than they were at the beginning?

Could he have solved this problem or puzzle or dealt with the core issues at the beginning of the book? If so, have you given him a big enough growth arc?

Will people be emotionally invested in his journey? Will they care if he fail? What is at risk if he fails?

Are there measurable baby steps he makes on his journey? Or does he just wake up one day, able to tackle the problem? Do we see his growth on the page?

Are the ideas and issues fully developed? Is there a true beginning, middle, and end? Or do you go straight from the beginning to the end without fully developing the issues in the middle?

Do the actions and events in the book impact different parts of the protagonist’s life? School, home, other relationships?

Do your secondary characters have arcs, too? They will be smaller and more subtle, but they should be there.


Why are you writing this story? What piece of You is in there? Why are you the most perfect person to tell this story?

Are the themes universal? Is there room for Everyman in your story?

Do the actions and events of your story support the theme you’re working with?

Now that you know your theme, is there a way you can make it even more powerful?

Next week? Micro revision....

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Also, last week's winners never checked in and I cannot find email addresses for them, therefore I have drawn a second round of names for the WRITING YA FOR DUMMIES prizes.

Erin Liles and Avery Michaels, you are our new winners! Please email me with you info so I can get these awesome prizes out to you!


Anonymous said...

Ahhh timely post! I'm revising a novel right now and I'm just finishing writing one character completely out--sort of folding her in with another. Not fun, but it's going to really help the flow (eventually ha!)

I think your list is excellent and I think this post is an especially good one because I think that it's easy for writers to avoid the heavy lifting of this first revision stage. I think that's why my first two books live in a drawer--there was nothing wrong with the premise of either one, but I just couldn't face going back through and making the major changes I needed to make so they could "be all that they could be."

This time I'm sticking with it, for better or worse. I think I'm going to print out your list and keep it on my desk as I work...

Sarah said...

I too, have tow novels put aside because the revisions seemed too daunting and I'd lost momentum. Now, as I embark on my third novel, I can see how these are excellent questions to ponder before I begin, as I go, and after the first draft is done. They offer a way to keep myself accountable to the story on many levels, in a manageable way. Thanks!

storyqueen said...

Great list of questions.

Revision=re-envision. I love this.

The chance to see our own work through a different set of eyes.

Love your posts!


R.L. LaFevers said...

Hey Melissa! I totally planned that timing thing. :-] And I love your description of this being 'the heavy lifting' phase. YES. Exactly that.

Sarah, you've landed on my secret! I, too, use these questions as I write the novel, thus hopefully, saving myself at least one round of revisions!

Thanks, Shelley! That re-envision thing has really helped me.

Kimberly Lynn said...

These are great tips, Robin. Thanks! I'm going to share the link with my critique group. One member is doing a revision for an agent and an editor. It can be so overwhelming at times.:)

Shari Green said...

Great list of questions! Thank you. :) Also, why has it been so long since I visited Shrinking Violets?! You always have something helpful and interesting. *scrolls back to catch up on what I missed*

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