And now, for something completely different.
I am rewriting someone else’s book, so I decided to come here for a moment, and tell you what I’ve learned about how to go about the revision.
I find it really effective.
First, you’ll need 11 colors of sticky notes. YES, ELEVEN. I am doing this particular job with only seven.
Second, you’ll need to print out four copies of the book.
I’m only printing out one, as this is a short book, and I feel I can read my own writing. haha. (we’ll see if I regret that.)
You’re going to take a color of sticky note, and read through it with one focus each time, per color.
First read: mark the things you like. Moments that speak to you. Moments the voice feels strong, the story coherent; whatever your reason, just mark them. If you have moments later on (you will) of feeling discouraged, you can come back and look at these things you’ve marked.
Second read: take another color, and mark the things you do not like. Look for places where the storytelling falls flat, there’s too much explanation, exposition that doesn’t arise out of action, stilted language flow, voice not matching character, character’s voices sounding too alike.
Third read through: Mark big picture issues.
Fourth: mark craft issues
Fifth: mark flow issues
GENRE: Mark everything that doesn’t suit the requirements of your genre. (this does *not necessarily fall into a rewrite, as sometimes we can blend genres or break the rules, but we really have to be aware we’re breaking them, and do it wisely.*)
Conflict & tension: a sense of urgency drives ALL fiction, regardless of genre. Especially these days, we need to write everything as though it is a thriller, and make sure readers want to keep turning the page. Mark places where the air goes out of the scene, or where you make a predictable choice.
In your structure, make sure the story has a thread, a through line that drives the reader through the story.
keep things personal. Exploit your character’s weaknesses and feelings.
Add time pressure, if you can.
Add a sticky note where you feel you can create more urgency.
Clear Conflict/ Dilemma: Describe it in one or two sentences. Write it down on a post-it and mark the book in the color you choose as soon as that conflict appears. If the note doesn’t show up until a quarter of the way through, revise it to be sooner.
the “holy grail” must become increasingly difficult for the characters to attain.
PLOT: take a sticky note and summarize plot twist. mark the places where this occurs.
Character: don’t let one character have the upper hand all the way through. who are the main characters, and what do they want? What is in their way? What are they willing to do to attain what they want?
MOTIVATIONS: mark spots where this shows up, and see how you can make it more clear.
Scene: if you come across a scene that does not add to or move the plot forward, mark it
Dialogue: characters must have different voices, motivations, points of view, reactions,
another read through: Bring your characters to life:
give us first impressions.
add small details (glance at the watch, etc) that capture important details of character in the way they react to things. What they say or don’t say.
more sticky notes: mark sections where you dump a character’s history and CUT THEM ALL. Instead, add a sentence or two, tops, and only if it’s important.
Think about your relationship with your reader as a new relationship – one in which you would not discuss your exes, being a savvy and caring person who wants to keep your new relationship a healthy one. You’d only mention things about your exes *if it somehow applied to your current relationship, or was something your new love needed to know.* don’t jeapordize your relationship with your readers by dumping character details on them!
rather than telling, show who they are in how they interact or react. And taking a reaction as an excuse to dump “this reminded her of the time her father…” blah blah is HORRIBLE – just don’t do it.
make sure the details make your characters relatable. Not every character can be the best, the youngest, the top, the smartest…we hate them already.
Take more post-its and find spots where you can add depth to your character.
more post – its: hunt down stereotypes and get rid of them, revise them, or use them to your advantage.
Something has to affect the characters in order to make them do something. MOVE THAT PLOT.
Another color: normal world. Do you have it? Mark it.
Inciting Incident? Mark it.
Middle: do events deepen the conflict?
Is there a mirror moment/ point of no return/ all or nothing? Mark it
A dark moment when all seems lost? “Pinch point” – mark it. if you don’t have it, mark that TOO.
Do events speed up or delay the moment of conflict?
END: is it in line with the setup in the beginning?
Is it in line with the character’s motivation?
If it is a happy ending, did you have a moment in the middle where all seemed lost?
If it is a tragic ending, did you have a moment in the middle where all seemed settled and won?
Main plot ought to be able to be summarized in cause and effect.
Fiction is not haphazard as life is.
so. Steps 1-4
5) tighten manuscript : 80,000 words – 100,000. for YA, 60,000.
if manuscript is 20k off, trim it.
Take out post-its and find things to cut. Are you getting to the point as efficiently as possible?
-Make us wait for revealing character’s background/ story until it is relevant.
– Until it is relevant, show it slightly in behavior.
CUT: transitions/ detailed background information:
*no history lessons, and no science lessons!
Do your worldbuilding within scenes. With action.
Don’t introduce or lead into every scene. Begin and end in the middle, it creates momentum.
Skip descriptions of the mundane.
Make sure every scene contributes to overall plot & conflict.
AVOID purely transitional dialogue to put information forward.
Hunt down non-dialogues and mark them to be cut.
Tension is vital. Characters can argue, tease, flirt, etc… just don’t let them stand around explaining things to each other.
MARK ALL ADVERBS AND PASSIVE VOICE.
Whose story is it?
How might the reader relate to the character? Intimately, or from the outside?
First person: World through the character’s eyes.
Third: we see the world over the character’s shoulder
Omniscient: as a reader, we don’t identify, but remain at a distance.
There are shades of these, but I don’t feel like writing about them, as this is already too long! ( Do you see why I rarely edit my blog? xD)
Don’t break POV. Don’t show things the character couldn’t possibly know, if you are in first person. Mark all places this kind of thing happens.
Don’t confuse 3rd person and omniscient: don’t “head jump” from character to character. If you are in omniscient, you CAN’T share the characters’ thoughts.
Mark slip-ups with yet more sticky notes! These slip-ups hide, so go carefully here.
7) VOICE & STYLE
the narrator is NOT the same as you.
It’s a voice, a stance you take to tell the story.
Writing style must serve the story. Mark any place where the language is more YOU than the narrator.
Use sticky notes to mark where you can improve your imagery. If we are reminded we’re reading a story, we put the book down.
Step 8: Storytelling
You’ve all heard it. “Show, don’t tell.” Observe, rather than comment. Give detail, rather than summarize. BUT if the “showing” is slowing down the pace, tell some things. Tell the things that can be throwaways.
Telling is on-the-nose explanation; showing gives the world in details that allows us to experience it.
Try to involve all our senses in narration. Watch & inhabit the world around the character. Using “dead time” (like at bus stops or something) to do this is a good trick.
Use stickies to mark places where you can add more detail.
Use stickies to mark places where the pacing seems to get bogged down, and needs to speed along.
Steps 9- 10: Structure
9: Read the work out loud to find missing and misspelled words. You’ll notice your “favorite words” that you use too often.
Mark sentences that are just too complicated.
You’ll learn where your language makes music, with variations in sentence and word length, and where it doesn’t.
Check for : characters missing/ descriptions off
Timeline off or not tight enough
Give sense of urgency, again, it needs to sing on every page.
First page needs to foreshadow the last: work on the first page LAST.
step 10: THE BEGINNING
The first page and a half are one unit
The first 30 pages: one unit
First page has to have a “hook”
First 30 have to get the story going and reel us in.
If 30 pages do nothing but explain the premise, REVISE.
The beginning has to firmly ground the character and reader in a time and place, establish and transport us into the world immediately. In the beginning, certain promises are made. Promises of : voice/ genre/ character/ possible goal/quest. We have to be really mindful about breaking these promises, or we risk reader betrayal. It can be done, but it’s a deliberate choice to make.
Urgency drives fiction
Sticky notes are your colorful road map.
Start revision with big picture things, then work your way into the small ones.
Repeat the process until you 1) can’t improve it any more or 2) can’t behave like a human anymore.