Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Revision Cave

Bwahahaaha! Yep, that's me, spelunking through the cave, laptop strapped to my back as I dodge the stalactites and stalagmites of my first draft. It's dark in here, but I do see light at the end of the tunnel.

I think everyone approaches revision of a first draft in a different way. I know there are books on how to do it, and online workshops abound, plus plenty of articles on websites and in writers magazines. I've never taken a class, but I do own a book on revision that I haven't read yet, and I've revised off a few revision letters received from agents and editors on past projects. I'm currently in the middle of the "the first read through" phase and it's an eye-opening, but also exciting, experience.

I enjoy making revisions because it's like putting those finishing touches on a painting, adding that extra detail and dimension that will bring it to life. Or defining the features of a sculpture or carving or ceramic. It's that phase of a creative project that brings you closer to your work and makes you become one with it. It's the point when the book feels real.

As I'm writing a book, I don't blast through it in the white heat of creative frenzy. I'm a methodical pantser with a fairly good idea about my beginning, middle and end when I start. But as I write, there are some spots I know I'll have to fix later, and I make a mental note or a place holder of some kind that will tip me off when I reach that spot during revisions. Good grief, but I had a lot of those in this book. And some of them were kind of hidden. Note to self: In future books, remember to use different colored type in placeholders.

Though I revise as I go, I've been writing long enough to know that when I reach the end, it's not really the end for me. More work needs to be done. One of my favorite types of placeholders is narrative summary, which I use for two reasons: 1. To get me from point A to point B quickly so that I don't lose my creative rhythm, and I know I can expand on it later; 2. If the book ends up really long (rare for me), I can leave it as is with just minor tweaking.

Something else that happens as I write, since I have very little planned out beforehand, is that I experiment with new characters and plot points knowing I may or may not keep them. So when I go back through to revise, the character introduced in chapter eight started out duplicitous but ended up being a saint. Or in chapter five I revealed a secret that I decided to reveal in chapter thirteen instead. What I wanted a character to know in chapter two I'd forgotten about by chapter ten and have to fix. This kind of stuff is everywhere! But it's great fun because as I read through and flesh out and tweak and expand, my story is becoming a cohesive treasure for me. I can only hope the agents I query share the same view. 8^)

I've heard many of you lament over the revision process, and some of you dive into it with the same relish I do. If you don't share my enthusiasm for this phase of writing a novel, why not? And if you do, please share your reasons and offer tips if you have some. Hey, I'm in the middle of my revisions. Tips are most appreciated.


Elisabeth Naughton said...

Freaky picture, Karen. That hand (claw?) in the foreground is a bit foreboding.

I'm a revise-as-I-go writer. I can't pump out a first draft knowing there are glaring errors in past pages. It's just the way I work. I can't reveal a secret in chapter 5 and then re-reveal it in chapter 13 knowing it would be better there without going back and fixing chapter five. Sort of a two-steps-forward, one-step-back mentality, but it works for me. My first drafts tend to take longer to write, but when they're done, I don't generally have major editing and several revisions to do at the end.

My agent finished reading the book I finished this past fall, and though I didn't get a revision "letter" we did discuss things that needed to be edited. Mainly though, the revisions are character nuances, etc. not major plot points. I need to get busy working on those.

Good luck in the revision cave!

Karen Duvall said...

Thanks, Eli, for your input. 8^)

I love that claw! It's so perfect for this manuscript I'm revising. Hmmm... Might make a pretty good book cover. Except that there are no caves in the story.

Alice Sharpe said...

I love that picture, too.

I'm sort of Eli, I go forward and back, fixing as I go. I also write a few pages, say five, and then go back the next day and tweak and the five becomes seven or eight and so on and so on. But like Eli, I seldom have major revisions at the end, just loose ends I didn't realize were there. For instance, in this book, I had the hero ask the heroine what she heard the thugs say and she told him something slightly different than what she'd heard a few chapters ago, so I went back and made the two match. The thought of having to find all that when I'm done, esp. with tight deadlines looming, makes me shiver.

There was one recent book that I knew had big loose ends and gapping holes I would have to face at the end and it sucked. If that's what people who relentlessly write forward face at the end of every book, no wonder they dread rewrites.

I just heard from my editor who said she loved the book I sent eight days ago! I can't believe she read it already! Isn't that great! But even greater is the fact she liked it. I had been anticipating many revisions and so it's with a sigh of relief that I can let it go and lose myself in the current book.

But like you, Karen, I think of revisions as a time to enrich and deepen. For me, it's always a time to work on the interaction and growing love and sexuality between my characters as during the writing process I am so focused on the plot and unfolding mystery. It's a time to stress action, to tighten dialogue, to check out the character's growth, to make sure backstories actually make sense and that I don't go from three days to five days back to three days between events. It's a time to choose the right words to enhance narrative and setting and make sure the tension is good and the pov doesn't wiggle around and on and on and on.

Great blog, glad you can see the light!

Alice Sharpe said...

I forgot to hit the little button for notification of remarks so I can read what everyone else says. I'm curious how Genene does things, and Paty, too, and how they feel about rewrites.

Let's face it, I'm curious about everyone. Like Lori who wrote like a demon last year and is now rewriting. How is that going? And Danita, you spend a lot of times in rewrites, too, don't you? I remember reading Wavy's tales of horror and I wish I knew if Jen's recent sale was a as is or rewrite issue, etc...

Karen Duvall said...

Alice, the going back and re-reading/revising is great for keeping in tune with the story, isn't it? I couldn't move forward without continuous backstrokes as well. But in the end, like you, I find stuff I missed, and I see it as an opportunity!

I've already managed to polish a few plot points that were fine before, but now they shine! It's how I strengthen the story. The light is definitely getting brighter every day. 8^)

Alice Sharpe said...

Karen, I love the way you love this story and this book. I have a feeling this is going to be the one that sparkles for you!

Karen Duvall said...

Alice, I'm incredibly excited about this book. It's the book I wanted to read but couldn't find anything like it in the urban fantasy genre. It's quite different, which may possibly work against me, but I hope not. So far I'm getting great response from the excerpts I've posted on my blog. You can find them at under Chalice Excerpts. There are only 2 up so far, but I'm posting a short teaser every Tuesday, and that's when I find the most hits on my blog. I'm hoping to create a buzz. Should be interesting to see what happens with that.

Thanks for your encouragement! 8^)

Danita Cahill said...

Again, Karen, congrats on getting through that first draft. Major accomplishment.

I whine and complain about revisions because I am so slow at them. I take comfort in knowing other writers, famous writers like Sue Grafton are also slow. Grafton calls herself "ploddingly slow" and says it takes her a year to write one of her alphabet mysteries. Can you imagine writing the same series for 26 years in a row?

And congrats, Eli on the agent reading your book and commenting. That's great.

Lori Barber said...

Karen, great blog. I too follow the path of revise-as-I-go. The thought of zipping back and forth through a finished ms. makes my eye cross and my head hurt.

My NaNoWriMO was an exception. I didn't have time to do much dashing back and forth through the chapters. I forced myself to just keep moving forward and jotted down a note now and then as a future reminder to check this or that out.

To answer Alice's question, I'm finishing up a home project I'd hoped to complete over the holidays, so I haven't begun this challenge yet. When I do I'm going back to Cumbler. I want the book I wrote in November to rest a bit before I jump back into it and begin rewrites. I'm hoping to join the challenge next week.


Paty Jager said...

Okay, third times a charm!

Congrats on finishing the first draft, Karen!

As for revisions- I try to ignore them! LOL

I usually read the day's before work editing and reworking as I go. Adding more description, finding the right words and checking dialog. If I think of something to add I add it at the time, even if it means going back.

The other night my black moment was vivid so I wrote it down. But I put it in another document because I don't like having anything out of place on my working document. It bugs me.

When the first draft is done, I go through my CP's comments. I sift through and digest what they say incorporating suggestions.

Then I do a last run through of edits for punctuation and the like.

And that's revisions to me.

Congrats, Alice on your editor loving your book!

Good luck with the revisions, Eli.

Paty Jager said...

Yeah! It worked this time!!

Karen Duvall said...

Danita, I can't imagine writing 26 books in the same series. And I recall reading an interview with her in RT where she said she wished she'd never had the alphabet idea. She's burning out on her series.

Slow is okay if you don't have a deadline. I used to think I was slow, too, until I challenged myself to write a set number of words a day and I never felt rushed at all. It was fun!

Karen Duvall said...

Thanks, Lori. 8^) Nano must have been quite an experience. I did Sven's 70 Days of Sweat, which wasn't quite so daunting, and I made my goal early.

I think challenges are great for lighting a fire under your butt. It's amazing what you discover about yourself as a writer in the process.

Karen Duvall said...

Thanks, Paty. 8^)

The other night my black moment was vivid so I wrote it down. But I put it in another document because I don't like having anything out of place on my working document. It bugs me.

I agree. I can't write out of order, or I should say I won't let myself write out of order, for this very reason. Yet there are plenty of successful authors who do this all the time. Melissa Marr, for one. And Robin Owens. It would seem so disjointed to me. Shrug. To each her own I guess. 8^)

Genene said...

Hey, Karen! Sorry for the late comment. The past week flew by -- as usual. And you're a designer. You can keep the claw and drop it into another background that fits your book. :)

Alice is right -- your enthusiasm for your WIP shines in how you talk about it. That's awesome!

How do I revise? Over and over! LOL! I also write ploddingly slow, although I think it's called procrastination. I used to go back and tinker with every little thing, then still have lots of revisions at the end.

With the last manuscript, I started out tinkering then felt deadline panic. So I pushed through it, leaving notes and holes to fill in later. Then I went through it again and again and again -- at least six or eight times, focusing on one main plot point or relationship at a time, tightening those and smoothing transitions. That's also when I look at the broad theme of the book, which the Once Upon a Romance method really helped with. Then I can see why something isn't working or why I've been avoiding dealing with parts of the manuscript.

I also cover the wall in my office with easel-sized charts and sticky notes again when I start revisions. Like the Once Upon a Romance method, it helps me make sure things flow smoothly and I haven't forgotten that baby out in the rain!

It will be interesting to see how revisions unfold later this year when I go back to a manuscript that's about three-quarters done. I am intentionally not working on it until I finish edits to the two manuscripts that are slated for release. Then I'll dig into the unfinished one and plot the stories connected with that one so I hopefully won't paint myself into a corner I can't get out of!

By the way, Eli, glad your agent finished your book. And, Alice, of course your editor loved your latest book -- she's a smart woman!