My silly edit of Tom Burke as Athos on the BBC’s The Musketeers.
So, a couple weeks ago J mentioned that I might pop in here and say something about revision. Of course, at the moment I’m drafting, not revising, so it’s not where my head is at all. Still, I’ve been practicing changing gears, and this will just be another chance to work on that skill. (Aside: My current writing schedule is an attempt to juggle my Oleg Omdahl novel I started during November NaNoWriMo and my fanfic. The worst part of putting down a project is always the time wasted to get back in the flow when you take it up again, so I’m trying to keep both my novel and my fanfic fresh in my head. To that end, I write two chapters of Oleg one week, then a fanfic story the next week, then back to Oleg the following week, then fanfic, etc. So far so good.)
But you signed on for a revision talk today, so let’s do that.
Revision is the part of my writing process that probably has the least, well, process. I outline my novels to within an inch of their lives (and I’ve even started doing a little more planning on my fanfic, too). And then I have my actual drafting habits—follow the outline, get out of the house when I get stuck, make a couple inspiring playlists, maybe make a folder of apt pictures, etc. But then it comes time to revise and I…? What exactly am I supposed to do with this thing?
My biggest solo revision project has been my first two Oleg novels, so I suppose I can talk about them a bit. There are several important steps I’ve done revising these novels, and I think it’s worked well enough that I will likely to continue to use it and refine it, at least until J sells me on another method.
Print it out
Anyone who can revise on a computer, more power to them. But if I like to handwrite my novels, I absolutely insist on revising with a hard copy. I need my lines and arrows and asterisks pointing to another page. All done in red pencil, preferably.
What did I forget to include the first time? What did I add half way through that needs set up at the beginning? Especially when you’re writing a crime novel with a mystery, there are bound to be structural issues on revision, and it’s best to tackle them as soon as possible, because you could spend a whole lot of time fixing problems that will become irrelevant when you’ve whipped the plot into shape and drop a certain chapter to replace it with another thing and added characters, etc.
What are the fundamental problems that need fixed? With the first Oleg novel, I really focused on Oleg’s voice on the first revision. The novel still needs more work, but it took writing the second book and planning the third for me to really hear Oleg, so that’s where most of my revision efforts went. When revising The Queen’s Tower (which still hasn’t been completely revised. Sigh), I needed to focus on the title character’s slow decent into madness, something that’s much easier to see on revision than first draft. If there’s Something Big that needs fixed, I find it’s best to focus on it, and save the other problems for a future pass through the manuscript.
Read it out loud
No revision is complete until you’ve literally heard it. It’s not only great for finding sentence level problems (if you can’t say it elegantly, it’s not an elegantly written sentence, so go fix it), but you pick up writing ticks you don’t notice sitting quietly in your recliner. And I don’t mean that pejoratively. Yes, some of the ticks I pick up when reading aloud are my overuse of words and phrases, but also ticks I’ve given my characters that I didn’t notice before, and now that I do see that a certain character says things in a specific and interesting way, I can exploit it to make the character more distinctive.
Once more from the top
Repeat above steps as necessary.
And that’s my not terribly refined revision process.