Before you start revising
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It’s exciting to finish a story. When we’ve written the last word on the last paragraph, and we know we’re done, there is a certain sense of elation, a giddiness that overcomes most of us. The story is wonderful, and we can’t wait for others to read it. It’s during that time that one is in danger of rushing things, of sending a first draft to a publisher, or worse, of converting it to ebook and self-publishing it the very next day.
No matter how much of a planner you are, there is still a certain amount of revision that absolutely MUST be done before you show the book to anyone, and that goes double for presenting it to a publisher or publishing it yourself. Fortunately, there are a few very straightforward steps to do this efficiently.
There is a lot to cover when one starts talking about revision: since it would have been much too long to put it all in one post, this will be in two parts. Today’s post will be on preparing oneself to revise and edit, and the next post, which will be posted exceptionally on Saturday, will give you the steps to follow when you are ready to begin.
The right mindset
The very first thing to do is get in the right frame of mind to do revision. For this, I suggest waiting at the very least a few weeks, and ideally, a few months before you start editing your book. When they start revising too soon, most people will not see the actual words on the page, but rather, what they intended to mean. It’s very had to change anything when that’s all you see! As time goes by, the story is less fresh in our memory, and we can also gain the emotional distance that is needed to be more critical about our own work. Waiting can be hard, so my advice is, don’t. Ride the wave of elation and excitement that you got from ending your project and use it to start a new project; when you are buried in the world of your new story, revising the last one will come much more easily.
When you do pick up your book to revise it, it’s important to achieve a balance between being overly critical, which might cripple you prevent you from ever finishing your revision because “it’s not perfect yet”, and not enough, which will inevitably lead to not making enough corrections.
Before I give you my step-by-step approach to self-revision, I thought I’d let you know the most common (and fatal) flaws that publishers, editors and reviewers see in novels. You should be intimately aware of these while writing, as well as when revising. They can be classified in three main categories: plot, character and style.
– The story has no hook: this is one of the more common and least forgiving flaws in the plot category. Having no hook at the beginning of your story, or having it too late will ensure that a lot of people will not get past the beginning to get to the rest of the story. Make sure that any prologue you write is short, and that it is absolutely necessary to put it there before the beginning. If possible, always try to start with your hook, or as close to it as possible.
– The rhythm is inefficient, or uneven. You should pick the right pace for your story; if it is action-packed, then the pace should be rapid; if it relies on psychology, and character development, then the pace should be slow enough to allow for sufficient understanding and development of your characters. While it is normal for a story to speed up towards the end, the pace should be relatively even throughout the story, so that it does not have huge chunks of “dead time” between fast-paced action scenes.
– The story is repetitive. Information is repeated, or some scenes are too similar. Some authors feel the need to repeat bits of information because they are important to the story; instead of doing this, information should be given out when the reader will be wondering about it. When you give someone information they did not ask for; they will not retain it. But when you answer a question someone has, chances are they will remember it. What some authors also sometimes do is have some scenes seen through the point of view of different characters. Unless you definitely add some new and important information to the story by repeating the scene through another character’s point of view, don’t do it.
– The story has no climax. This is one of the most damaging mistakes a writer can make. If your story has no climax, or if it’s badly timed, then you’re making sure your reader will never pick up another one of your books. The climax is the most satisfying part of the story, and it is also one of the last thing you leave with your reader when they finish the book; the term climax is synonymous with orgasm because that is what your story builds up to, the big finish. Make sure you don’t mess this up, or you will leave your readers feeling very frustrated.
– The main character is unidentifiable. This is a big one; the reader is automatically looking for a character to relate to, to root for, to guide them through the world of the story. “Ensemble casts” are one thing; but if your story keeps throwing new “main” characters at your reader, they will become confused and frustrated.
– The characters are weak, and/or unrealistic, and/or lack credibility. Your characters must all feel “real”; they must be three-dimensional. They also must have believable and consistent motivation for their actions. If they are exaggerated, or have no real motivation, it’s very hard to get attached to them, and it’s very hard to finish a story, when you can’t get attached to the characters. Why would you care what happens to people you care nothing about?
– The dialogue seems forced, or unrealistic. Does your dialogue really sound like the way people speak?
– The point of view of the story is not clear. This is actually one of the most common mistakes authors make. It’s gotten to a point where, in their submissions guidelines, a lot of publishers warn against head-hopping. You should make sure that you know who is telling your story, even if you are telling it in the third person. Pick one point of view. You can change your point of view, but when you do, you should use a scene break or a different chapter to mark the switch. When you do it back and forth in the same scene, this is what is called head-hopping.
Don’t throw anything away
One last thing before I give you my revision method. When editing, you will find yourself cutting away the fat, or removing parts of your story because they do not serve it well. When you do that, make sure to keep what you discard in a binder or a file on your computer somewhere. Characters that are cut out of a book will find their story eventually. Scenes, bits of dialogue, everything you cut out can eventually be reused, or can be the inspiration to an entirely new story. Besides, the fact that you are putting these away somewhere and not really throwing them away will make you feel better about putting your baby through surgery. If you really regret taking something out, it’s never really gone; you can always put it back. Just knowing this should make it easier to go through revision anxiety, or what I call the “I know it doesn’t do anything for the story but I really like it” syndrome.
That covers what you need to know before you get started. Look for Part 2 this Saturday, which will give you a step-by-step way to go about revision.