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The Big Bad Guide to Novel Revision

slitheringink:

So you’ve completed your first draft, thrown yourself a big party with all of your friends, got black-out drunk and now that you’ve woken up half-naked and covered in whipped cream, you’re wondering what you’re supposed to do next. Well, since you now officially call yourself a writer, you’re already in for the long haul. So, wake up sunshine, it’s time to revise that first draft!

Revision Passes

Your first draft is going to be a monster.

image

(Granted this has edits, but you get the idea.)

It’s going to have a lot of things that need to be changed and cut out entirely. It’s going to have way too many words, sometimes 30-50k more than you’re ever going to need. In order to whip it into shape, you’re going to have to relentlessly hack it up with an axe and then put the pieces back together into a nice, tight story. So how do you manage that?

It’s always best to tackle revision in sections. There are several things that you need to do when revising a novel and it’s easier to handle them when you do what I call a revision pass. In each pass you’re looking for specific things, and I suggest you do three major passes with your draft, one for story, one for characters, and one for grammar. Be sure to do grammar last, as it’s the largest edit and depends on everything else.

Story

On this pass you’ll be looking for inconsistencies and glaring errors in your narrative.

  • Continuity – Sometimes when we’re writing a draft, we’re too busy spewing ideas onto the page that we forget some basic consistencies of our plot. If your protagonist has been driving a motorcycle in one scene and a page later is now suddenly in a car, that’s not going to make much sense to the reader. I notice in my own writing I’ll sometimes be so invested in a scene that I’ll forget a minor detail, like a character’s eye color, and swap it from green to blue within the span of a few pages. Don’t let these mistakes make it into a final draft as they tend to make your writing look sloppy.

  • World Building – While you should have figured out everything about your world and how it works before you constructed your draft, sometimes errors involving plausibility still slip in or sometimes you neglected to think of a ramification. World building is is the ultimate game of “what if?” for you as an author and you do need to keep asking yourself that question as you craft your narrative. If you introduce a cool thing and then you don’t explain how that cool thing can not only exist within the context of your world, but what effect it has, then your reader is probably going to become confused or fail to suspend their disbelief. Either way, this is going to cause them to lose interest in your narrative. For a solid example of world building that wasn’t entirely thought out, we can take a look at the recent film Elysium. It had the interesting concept of the super rich leaving Earth and living on a space station with all of the advanced medical technology, but it failed to fully explain how that actually occurred. I wrote a previous article about it that explains the issues in depth.

  • Information Dumps This happens in a lot of novels, even published ones, and it’s tiresome to read. Authors tend to do this when trying to explain their story’s world, some complex element of the plot, or a character’s backstory to the reader. The thing is, we don’t need all of this information thrown at us at once, if at all. Only give the reader what they need to know in the immediate moment. Sprinkle the information over a wide range of scenes, give it to the reader in dialogue, show us through actions. If you need to do a backstory, be creative about it. I’ve always been a fan of how J.K. Rowling handled backstory with the pensieve scenes where Harry would dive into people’s memories. If you have an element like magic, or some supernatural power like mind-reading, then feel free to use that to your advantage. The thing to keep in mind with delivering backstory is if you do it in a flashback scene, then the forward momentum of your narrative is going to come to a grinding halt. If you want to keep your plot moving instead of doing a flashback, then try delivering the information in a conversation between characters.

  • Being Too Vague or Too Obvious – Go over your plot points, your conflicts and make sure that they would make sense to not only you, but to a random person. In real life, the things that people do don’t always make sense or have an acceptable reason. In fiction, they need to. Make sure you have given enough necessary information for your reader to understand what’s going on, and why, without being totally obvious. As a reader, I hate when I can see how the plot will progress from a mile away. This happens a lot of the time because writers tend to utilize overused tropes, like the Chosen One, in their stories. Don’t get me wrong, I love tropes, but even I get tired of seeing the same concepts used constantly. Don’t be afraid to do something different. Surprise your reader. Personally, I’m fond of taking tired concepts and putting a new spin on them. It’s not about what ideas you use, it’s how you use them that’s important.

  • Description – Description can affect the pacing of your story. How fast or how slow a scene is depends on several things. One of which is where you choose to put your description. A large chunk of description in the middle of a scene will slow it down. Interrupting an action scene with descriptions of a character’s thoughts or surroundings will have the same effect. If you want to maintain a quick pace within a scene, maybe a fight scene, focus on the action and add in little bits of description as the characters move through wherever they’re fighting. Is the scene in a warehouse? Maybe have your character slam into a forklift or some crates? Is it in a restaurant? Maybe have him drop kick his opponent from a table, disturbing the place settings? Even in fast paced scenes you need some description in order for the reader to orient themselves within the narrative. It’s important that they know where the scene is taking place. As for slow scenes, using specific descriptions can set the tone and build tension. Taking a moment to describe how dark and desolate the old mansion is, noting the musty odor, eerie creaks and the resonating whistle of passing wind can be the difference between setting up an effective scene and having one that falls flat.

  • Scene Chopping – Sometimes a scene isn’t needed. Sometimes it doesn’t add anything to the story and meanders. If you have a scene that doesn’t advance the plot, character development or world building, then it should be removed. If there’s some detail in that scene you still want to incorporate into your story, then find another way to do it.

  • Show Don’t Tell – Anyone who has ever taken a writing class has had this concept drilled into their heads. It’s the most important part of writing effective stories and probably one of the most difficult. If your character likes to drive fast cars, don’t tell the reader that, show the character driving a fast car at some point in the story. If your character sucks at lying, have him try to lie to another character and then get called out for it. If your antagonist is willing to do whatever it takes to win, show him killing someone at a crucial moment. It takes more space to show something, rather than to just tell it so know that’s it’s okay to tell sometimes. I think it’s acceptable to tell the reader about what they would be able to blatantly notice with their senses if they were actually thrown into a scene. You can tell them sounds, smells, things they might see but don’t blatantly tell them things that they should be meant to infer from action. When it comes to dialogue, it’s sometimes okay to tell when you’re trying to get a specific tone across, especially when introducing a character for the first time. If he speaks in a calm, measured tone all of the time, tell me. If he speaks with an accent, let me know. Readers won’t mind those little details.

Characters

On this pass you get to pick apart your characters.

  • Over or Under Developed – Sometimes, even if you’ve figured out all of your character’s strengths and flaws, new ones will surface over the course of the story. Sometimes, your side characters may outshine your main characters, or sometimes your main characters may not be strong enough. You need to find these scenes and fix them. If a side character is more interesting than your main character, if her struggle is more compelling, then maybe she should have her own story. In that same vein if your main character is too bland, if she has too many flaws or too many strengths, then your reader may have a hard time believing she’s a real person. The same is true if she’s also too well-suited to deal with the conflict or if she has a solution for every problem. Let your characters struggle. Give them situations that are difficult to overcome. Let them think. Your readers will appreciate that.

  • Believable Actions and Reactions What your characters do should make sense within the context of both the narrative and their characterization. If they’ve been a kind, loving person for most of your story and suddenly they end up killing someone, then that needs to make sense. Perhaps they did it in self-defense? Or to rescue someone? Were they tricked into it? Are their emotions appropriate? If they’re not, then why? Always think of the why.

  • Too Much Sitting Around – I ran into this problem drafting once, noticing that when I wanted to exposit it would be in a scene where my characters were sitting around and talking. I ended up changing all of these scenes to ones where the characters did something. It doesn’t have to be something major, they could be walking around a museum, rummaging through the fridge, moving about various rooms inspecting objects; just have them doing something that’s appropriate. You can reveal bits about their character in these kinds of scenes. If your character has OCD, you can have them go around a room and clean or rearrange objects to their liking while having a conversation. Feel free to interrupt the conversation with observations your character makes if it fits. If you want to see how utterly boring it is to have characters sit around and talk or walk around and talk, watch the first three Star Wars movies. There are tons of examples in those. In my experience, the only scenes where sitting around and talking are appropriate are interrogation room scenes, and even those can be done creatively.

  • Act Your Age Don’t you just love child characters who act like adults in stories? No? I didn’t think so. It’s important that your character, whatever their age, is believable as being that age. A child simply isn’t going to have as much knowledge as an adult. They also probably won’t care to much about adult issues. Kids have kid problems. They don’t worry about if they’ll have enough money for rent next month, they worry about getting too many green Skittles in their bag because they like the purple Skittles instead. They tend to look at the world from a more innocent point of view, seeing the magic and wonder of new things because they haven’t been jaded by the harsh realities of life. They also seem to believe the unbelievable without trouble. Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is written from the point of view of a child and when I’m reading it, I never feel like I’m seeing that world through the eyes of an adult.

  • Passive Characters – It’s okay to have side characters who don’t have a major role in your plot. It’s bad when you have a major character, especially your protagonist, written as a passive character. A passive character is one who doesn’t try to move the plot forward on her own. She allows the plot to dictate her actions, not her actions to dictate the plot. She is reactive. She may not have very strong goals or motivations. If you write a passive protagonist, your reader is going to get bored. Make sure she has a point. Give her goals. Give her wants. Give her needs. You want your reader to care about her struggle, to connect with her, so don’t write her as a passive character. Passive doesn’t mean that you can’t have a shy or introverted protagonist. Introverts have goals too!

  • Point of ViewCheck for consistency in point of view. This applies to first person and third person, especially if you’re using multiple characters. You want to make sure that each character has a different voice. You don’t want your readers to get confused as to who is telling the story. When using multiple points of view, you want to make sure that every one of them is necessary. If a character doesn’t add some new insight, doesn’t show the reader a new aspect of the tale, then their point of view should probably be cut out.

Grammar

This pass is to weed out all of the mechanical errors. Structure, word usage and style have all been lumped into this pass.

  • Sentence StructureYou want to look through scenes and take note of what kinds of sentences you used. Short, brisk sentences can be used to speed up pacing, while longer, more complex sentences tend to slow it down. Varying the structure of sentences in your writing often makes it more interesting for your readers.

  • Repetition – We’ve all done it. There are some words or phrases that we default to when describing certain things and sometimes we use them more than we should. That awesome, unique description you came up with becomes less amazing when you use it every few pages. I noticed this a lot when I read Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. She always used the phrase “his mouth pressed into a hard line”. It was pretty good the first few times but man, after reading it so much I started to get annoyed by it. Your readers will notice when you repeat words and phrases a lot. And they will not like it.

  • Dialogue Tags People are going to argue up and down about dialogue tags and if they’re necessary, so I’m going to chime in on it here. I think that in most cases, the dialogue can and should speak for itself. Let the reader infer how a phrase is being said based on the situation and the physical responses of the character. However, in normal speech there is something called inflection. Inflection is a change in someone’s voice when speaking to convey a certain emotion. Inflection also exists in writing, but sometimes it’s hard to convey from dialogue alone. Sometimes you need a tag to let the reader know how it’s being said. As such, using tags other than ‘said’ should be done only when necessary. Dialogue tags are also important to let the reader know who’s speaking. Should they be used after every piece of dialogue? No. But you should use them the first time when you’re switching to a new speaker and occasionally after that so you don’t confuse your reader. I hate when I’m reading a book and the author has used a lot of naked pieces of dialogue. I tend to lose track of who’s speaking. You never want your reader to have to hunt to find what characters said what in a conversation.

  • Passive vs. Active Voice When you write fiction, you want to do it in an active voice. This is completely different than passive and active characters. Active voice is when the subject of the sentence performs the action. For example: The boy ate the fish. Passive voice is when the subject receives the action. For example: The fish was eaten by the boy. The best way to determine the difference between a sentence written in passive or active voice is to look for the “by” phrase. More examples.

  • The Right Words You can often trim your sentences, and shave tens of thousands of words off your manuscript by modifying the words you use. Sometimes a single word can do the same job that a few can. For instance “taking note of” can be shortened to “noting.” In the same vein, you don’t want to use words that are overcomplicated or have archaic meanings. The thesaurus is good when you’re stuck on a word, but don’t pick something that the average person isn’t going to recognize. Using big words does not make you sound smart, it makes you sound arrogant and illuminates the flaws in your own vocabulary. However, if you’re writing a character who has a high level of intelligence or is very formal, than they may use those kinds of words in their active vocabulary. Also, be sure to check the usage of commonly confused words like affect and effect.

  • Simple Mechanics – This covers just about everything else: punctuation, spelling, capitalization, etc. Just because other authors have gotten away with breaking certain rules of grammar, doesn’t mean you can. If you intend to submit your work to an agent or publisher, you shouldn’t even think about it. Buy a copy of The Elements of Style by Strunk &White, crack open that Chicago Manual of Style (a lot of publishers use this) and buckle down. You have a lot of work to do.

Feedback

You need this. No matter what you’re doing in writing, you need this like you need to breathe. Getting another opinion, or five, on your work is the most important part of the revision process. You can find beta readers or hire a developmental editor. Whatever method you choose, you can never skip this part of the revision process. Feedback from people who know what they’re doing will open your eyes when it comes to your story.

In my case, I ended up changing my protagonist, some character names and points of view for scenes as well as addressing a metric fuck-ton of other issues I never noticed. When you’re so focused on writing a story, when you know everything that’s already happened and what’s going to happen, it’s sometimes hard to realize that you’ve made a mistake. I wrote a few articles about giving and receiving feedback before:

Revision Methods

So there are two main ways to handle revision.

  1. On the computer
  2. On paper and then transferring it to the computer

I generally draft on the computer and revise on paper. I like to revise on paper because I can draw all over my work. I can underline things, cross things out, draw arrows going every which way and write notes in the margins. There are some programs that let you do this, but I prefer the organic pen to paper feel when I’m giving my draft the axe.

If you want some programs for writing, formatting and editing:

If you guys have any more programs you’d like to add to the list, let me know.

-Morgan

dr-archeville:

hufflepuffsquee:

dangerous-ladies:

escortcube:

You will address me as Captain or Ma’am by Ryoko-demon

It is so exceptionally hard to pull off that cartoony look, but this chick like… knocked it out of the park. Perfection.

OH MY GOD THIS COSPLAYER 

Untouchable by Ryoko-demon

Just follow your heart by Ryoko-demon

Crazy winter by Ryoko-demon

Where are You, Pikachu? by Ryoko-demon

My ferngully by Ryoko-demon

seriously JUST BROWSE HER GALLERY

Hollywood: “But we can’t make the costumes look like they do in the comic books or cartoons!  It’s too unrealistic!”

Me: “Lies!”

Hollywood: “It won’t look right!”

Me: “LIES!”

Hollywood: “Fans demand realism!”

Me: "YOU SIT ON A THRONE OF LIIIEEESSS!!!!!"

tags:
#music

i. american authors - best day of my life ii. the kooks - she moves in her own way iii. ben howard - keep your head up iv. coeur de pirate - pour un infidèle v. of monsters and men - mountain sound vi. ingrid michaelson - girls chase boys vii. brodka - varsovie viii. u2 - beautiful day ix. darren criss & charlene kaye - dress and tie x. belle & sebastian - write about love xi. vampire weekend - oxford comma xii. arctic monkeys - baby i’m yours xiii. the beatles - eight days a week  xiv. julie fowlis - touch the sky xv. kermit - rainbow connection

listen

(Source: benscharles)

tags:
#about me

huntersandangels:

I use sarcasm because flat out telling you you’re a fucking moron is considered inappropriate and is frowned upon. And I was raised better than that.

tags:
#music

songsofwolves:

places that don’t exist : {“tell me, o muse, of those who travelled far and wide” } 

LISTEN  ] | [ DL in 8tracks info ]

1. harry’s game - david arkenstone | 2. caravanserai - loreena mckennitt | 3. confluence - john williams  | 4. house of the undying - ramin djawadi | 5. over the misty mountains cold - karliene | 6. the dragon’s breath - david arkenstone  | 7. tiangong - steven price | 8. finale - john williams | 9. undyling love - two steps from hell | 10. the emigration tunes - loreena mckennitt | 11. the islander (instrumental)nightwish | 12. song of exile - karliene | 13. the end - stephen warbeck | 14. in search of the grail - trevor jones | 15. starfall - two steps from hell

Made a friend at the petstore (he ran up to me)

We high-fived ‘cause we’re total buds now

Then his friend (on the left) joined the party

The guy in the back though was judging us so hard

areyoutryingtodeduceme:

Punk!Black Widow to go with Punk!Winter Soldier.
It’s been years since I’ve studied Latin so I probably butchered it, but you can’t see the full phrases anyway, but her back is supposed to say “Trust No One” and “Believe Nothing” while the Russian shoooouuuld say “remember”.

Have I ever told you guys about the time I caught my pet rabbit? Well, my friend (lizavery) and I were at the park one day and we saw these two rabbits just sitting together in a little wooded area - one was obviously wild (mottled brown for camouflage) while the other was obviously not wild (black and white). So we set out to catch the black and white one. The wild one shot away quick as…well, a rabbit. The black and white one didn’t try to run very far. We soon had him surrounded under a bush, which I then crawled under to bring him out. We brought him back to my house, got him housed temporarily in an old dog kennel, and made some flyers to set around the neighborhood. After about a week, and a few no-luck calls, we decided to keep him. This past weekend was his 6 year anniversary with us (and he is still going strong)! Happy 6 years, Bunny FooFoo!

" When someone is crying, of course, the noble thing to do is to comfort them. But if someone is trying to hide their tears, it may also be noble to pretend you do not notice them. "
Lemony Snicket (via paintdeath)
tags:
#fox

h4ilstorm:

Fox (posing like a model) (by Old-Man-George)