Thursday, September 8, 2011

Revision valley

I've mentioned before how I find story critiquing and writing/revising to be mutually exclusive activities, engaging my mind in vastly different ways. My mind is old, creaky, and slow to change gears between one activity and the other. I need to get settled into a frame of mind before I can be productive at either, so trying to do both in the same week leads to unacceptable beer consumption, hair loss, and nil progress.

I've been on a critiquing hiatus since the middle of August so I can: (a) Enjoy vacation without battling the overloaded wi-fi at the campground, and (b) Get back to revising Ghosts.

Vacation duly enjoyed. The kind with lots of late mornings, lazy days, and nothing exciting to report (apart from the odd boat launch escapade).

Revising also progressing.

More important than the revisions themselves, though, I seem to have finally found a revision process that works for me. Something I've struggled with horribly ever since my first round of critiques on this novel three years ago.

Typically, I find a novel chapter gets on average half-a-dozen critiques from the queue in Critique Circle. Many of these are from a core of die-hards who've been following the story from early on, which is wonderful for continuity and overall thoughts. Comments vary from little nit-picks (typos, and grammar corrections), to issues of clarity of a description or sequence of actions, to bigger issues like motivation, connection with the characters, pacing, tension, and balance.

It's a lot to take in, and a lot of it is contradictory. For example I had three different suggestions for where to start chapter one (other than where I actually started it).

So, my approach now is as follows...

(And it looks a bit like crossing a valley)

Look at the big picture from the high ground: Scan the comments for common themes, other than minor line edits, and summarise what these themes are telling me.

I don't want to tackle these yet. I just make notes at the head of the manuscript.

I use MS Word, with the story split up into about a dozen individual documents to keep them to a manageable size. I often put a few carriage returns to create white space around the segment I'm working on, and put editing notes in red font to make it stand out from the text.

So, I'll end up with a few lines in red at the head of the chapter, like:

Shorten descriptions, up tension, more assassin's POV from Shayla.

Now I've parked the difficult stuff, I delve into the weeds and go through the minor stuff: This is a paragraph-by-paragraph edit, picking up the nit-picks.

The "inline comments" feature in Critique Circle makes this process a dream. I can get a view of all the comments together, so I can see all the critiquers' suggestions on any given paragraph together. Great for seeing where several people have issue with the same thing.

Some are obvious errors - easy to deal with. Some are more a matter of style and I'll filter those more carefully. Some I'll agree with on the spot. In some cases, I can see what the critter is saying but will choose to correct it my way. In some cases, I choose to disregard the comment and we'll simply agree to disagree.

These last two points I believe are crucial to keeping this "my" story. I've gone through the experience before of editing the life and soul out of a chapter in an effort to please everyone. Never again!

This phase is relatively easy for some sections, where sentence and paragraph edits work OK in isolation. But every so often I'll reach a section which needs more drastic rework.

The editing is still localised, but is more than just one or two paragraphs. Here, I'll create some space above and below the offending section, a bit like hauling a broken piece of machinery out onto a workbench. If it needs a serious rewrite, I change the old text to another colour so I know what to delete later on, and start drafting a replacement version alongside it.

When I'm happy with the editing, I go back through the whole chapter to see how well this new piece integrates with the whole. It's amazing how often I find I've echoed a phrase or idea from somewhere else, and I need to decide how to eliminate the duplication. Sometimes it's better off in its new home, sometimes not *face palm*. Or I might have introduced a continuity error in the process of rearranging something *head desk*.

With all that out of the way, I lift back up to the bigger elements. You may ask why I do this last, which may well involve messing up all the careful editing I've done up to now.

Well, I like to think with a clean manuscript. Getting rid of the smaller stuff "clears the decks" for me. I'm also worried that if I move things around I'll lose track of some of the essential line edits I was going to do.

But the biggest reason is that I need time to let some thoughts "perk", and to reacquaint myself intimately with the details of a chapter that I might not have worked on in months. I find this to be essential to get myself out of "revision" mode and back into proper "writing" mode, which is how I prefer to view these large-scale changes.


  1. Yes, I get what you mean *head desk + face palm*. When I edit, I usually read the inline comments, see which one I agree with and rewrite that section - I find rewriting a lot easier than editing. :p Good luck with it!

  2. I do rather the same thing with fixing the small stuff and working on the bigger stuff last. It needs thought and when it can effect the overall story it really needs time for the subconscious to chew on it for a while before I'm ready to dive in.

    And yeah, those echo moments during editing. Gah! I hate when I do that! Facepalm indeed.

  3. LOL Steph and Jean! I'm glad I'm not alone in those "DOH!" moments.

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  6. Hey there Botanist. Just got back on the blog after vacationing myself. So glad you posted this on revisions. Usually when I get a critique back I freak out and question my very fiber as a writer. It's nice to read the everyone else is revising also. :)

  7. Yeah, that's an occupational hazard with getting critiques Laila. How to deal with feedback is a skill unto itself which every writer has to grapple with.


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