Sunday, February 1, 2015

February 2015 - The How-to of Revising

#2 Revision is a Process

This is Part 2 of a 12-part series on Revision is a Process @ 2015 All Rights Reserved
Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.
  - Maya Angelou

Last month, you learned about the need to switch from creative to editor mode
and about setting your work aside to break the vicious cycle of frustration with creativity versus logic (editing).

This month we'll look at the tactic of going through a manuscript for one specific item, maybe two (if they are closely related) and noting the problem, but not fixing it. Why not fix-as-you-go?  Because there may be some other spot in the manuscript that will be affected and you won't realize that until you find that other spot (or spots).

It also goes without saying that multitasking doesn't work when revising because you get distracted by other elements, like grammar and punctuation, and forget what you were supposed to be looking for. Enough said. Onward.

When ready to do the first edit, a good way to break the enjoyment cycle (that is, being creative) is by printing a hard copy of the entire manuscript. That's right, you don't work on the computer for this step because you want to read the work like a reader, not the creative author. You want to look at each word and hear how it sounds, how the narrating voice on the page sounds, how the characters' voices sound. You want a symphony, not off-key kazoos.

Here's a tip: Since you'll read the text, single space it. That will help discourage writing on the page. Using a mono-faced font like Courier New in 12 points will cut down on eye fatigue and actually help you see every letter that constitutes a word. One caution: only print on one side of the page. (See ** below.)

It's also a good idea to punch holes in the hard copy and put the work in a three-ring binder. Placing a colored sheet of paper between each chapter aids in quickly finding chapter beginnings and endings. You could also use the sticky style of file index tabs and number the chapters, or use address labels folded in half over the long edge of the colored paper to form a "tab" that you can number.

When you find a problem on a manuscript page
, immediately number it. Next, make a note. This note can be:

1) ** written on the backside of the left-hand page (since it is blank).

2) use a 3x5" index card or a 2x4" piece of paper, or even a sticky note. Using such small notes means you won't be tempted to write volumes, or rewrite something.

In all cases, number the note to match the number on the page you're working on.

Here's another tip: if you use index cards or slips of paper, punch a hole in the upper left corner and insert the note onto one of the binder rings for that page.

As to numbering the notes, you can start with 1 and go to 1,000+ or you can begin at 1 again when you change chapters, but be sure to indicate the chapter, like CH1-1.

Yes, you can write notes in the margins of the manuscript, but that will eat up the margin space when there are multiple notes. What's better is bracketing the sentence or paragraph (or highlighting it) and assigning a number to it and making your note. However, some items you can put a "code" in the margin to designate:

       LS = long sentence

      AWK = awkward

      RUE = Resist the Urge to Explain (that is, there's too much explanation or description that slows the pace)

      HT = heads talking in a vacuum (meaning beats and stage business are needed for the dialogue)

Although you should be using proofreader's marks, sometimes you'll use your own code. In that case, make a master list of your personal codes so you'll remember what they mean when you edit your next project.

What else will you need for this first read-through? A colored pen (like red or purple or green) so notations vividly stand out against the text. You may want highlighters, again ones that vividly stand out on the text.

Now, take that hard copy in its binder along with your note taking material, pens, highlighters, etc. and go somewhere that you don't associate with creating or writing a story. Why? Because doing so reinforces your desire to read objectively, not create or get lost in the story again. For example, my office is upstairs. When it's time to do edits, I take my hard copy downstairs to my dining room. I know writers who go to their local library for an afternoon and others that go to a local bookstore that has comfy chairs and tables, even refreshments.

So, exactly what are you looking for when you go through this first read? Look for:

a) How the words, narrative, and characters sound. Is the work interesting to read or are there tongue twisting phrases, repetition of vowel and consonant sounds? (Note: the creative self loves rhymes and repetitions, some may work, most don't.)

b) How it sounds also has to do with pace, tension, urgency, suspense— the things that keep a reader turning pages to find out what happens next. It's paying attention and picking up on boring spots (places you, or a reader, will skip over to get "to the good stuff"). These are often huge blocks of text on one page or which carry over to other pages. It's recognizing the drone of information dumps, explanation, and descriptions that slow the read.

c) It's about recognizing when you stop and go back to reread something that you've uncovered an awkward or confusing aspect that will need clarification, or deletion.

d) And, lastly, is there too much going on too fast that is confusing? This often happens in high action and fight scenes.

If you're making yourself a Master Revision Check List, it might look like this:


     [ ]  Voice (narration and characters)
     [ ]  Pace, tension, urgency (page turning, not boring stuff)
     [ ]  Awkwardness (having to re-read a sentence or paragraph)

As you make this first pass through the work,
keep telling yourself to make notes. Once you've read the story completely through, do not fix anything. Go to the next step, the chapter by chapter look at the plot itself and the time line. Remember, you want to find the problems with the big ticket items before you handle the nitty-gritty little things that can turn readers off.

By the way, as you went about making notes for things to fix, your creative self will be alerted that those areas need adjustments. When you go to actually make the fixes, your creative self should have words and solutions ready. That beats making something up on the fly that later proves unusable and which causes many more revisions and skews other aspects of the story.

*** This blog is updated the 1st of each month and the next topic is CHAPTER BY CHAPTER REVELATIONS

*** Questions and comments are welcomed and are always answered.

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*** IN 2016, these posts will be put into one file for downloading. To be notified when this is available, Connect With Catherine

*** "Terrific Titles—an all inclusive guide to creating story titles" and other Writers Cheat Sheets are available HERE.

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Janet Wells said...

Thanks, Catherine. Your ideas were succinct and helpful -- especially noting rather than correcting on the first edit and finding a different place to do the work.

Catherine said...


Sheridan Jeane said...

You provided some excellent information. Thanks! I've bookmarked this page so I can refer to it later.

Catherine said...

Thanks for bookmarking the page!