Thursday, June 11, 2015

Revision Round Table 1: Patricia Rice, Rosemary Edghill

So you've finished your novel -- but have you? That first draft needs work, but where to begin? In this round table series, I asked professional authors how the approach revision -- not polishing, but truly re-visioning a story.

Rosemary Edghill: "How do you approach revising a book? What makes revision different from polishing or rewriting, or is there a difference? Do you work things out in your head, work only from the manuscript (and if so, on the computer or a printed hard copy), some combination of both? Do you write out takes, read sections aloud? What advice, if any, would you give a beginning writer? What's been the most useful thing another writer has taught you?"

I consider revision to be a collaboration between the writer and the editor, as distinct from polishing and rewriting.  When you're polishing, you're making the best book you can make with only yourself to please.  Revision involves shaping your book to someone else's vision.  The trick is to do it without breaking it.

I work entirely on computer, which has advantages and disadvantages.  There are a number of formatting tricks you can use (in Word 2003, which is what I work in) to make the book fresh to your eyes, including formatting it as if it is already a page of printed book text.  While you're writing the book, you focus on story: for the revision, you're keeping your eye on transparency, reader accessibility, and narrative flow.  Setting a manuscript up in book form gives you a much clearer idea of (frex) how far apart two pieces of information (that you expect the reader to retain and combine) are placed.

Another Word 2003 advantage (probably available in other programs, but Word is what I know) is the "Track Changes" function, where you can see the revision on the page with the new text inserted and the old text X'd out.  I use that a lot when I'm trying to track down doubled or repeated paragraphs (an artifact of being able to cut and paste) or to see how a global replace is going to affect things.

Which comes back to why I'm doing all this in the first place: my editor has asked me to.  Your editor may love your book and your series, but she loves it in a different way than you do: from the outside.  She hasn't been living in your head with you and your characters for all the weeks and months (and years, if you're writing a series) that you have.  And even so, she's still had a more intimate experience with your book than many of your readers will.  The entire point of your collaboration with your editor is to produce a work that is full of suspense instead of confusion, and excitement rather than ...more confusion.

Your editor (and your revision guidelines) wear a second hat, of course: to fit the book you've written into the niche your publisher has marked out for your title.  With that in mind, the majority of revisions I have been asked to make have been for length: three books ago, I was asked to cut 1000 pages from a 1600 page manuscript (SPOILER: I did it, and when you read the book, you'll never notice those cuts.  Promise).

So what do I do?  First I make the easy fixes (typos, inconsistencies, shortening my run-on sentences, removing semicolons, ellipses, and parentheses with savage brutality), and then I go on to the things that are going to affect structure (removing three subplots is going to put a great big honking hole in your story, you know).  At that point, the book is in about the same state a half-flipped house is: it's been gutted (in a good way), and all the structural defects have been removed (like that fireplace in the kitchen, and the bathtub in the middle of the living room), and it's time to make it all pretty.

At that point I do a top-down read through, doing my best to see the book from outside.  Sometimes a revision seems hard but turns out to be easy (like excising a scene which doesn't really affect anything) and sometimes it looks easy but turns out to be hard (fixing the weather in one scene once required rewriting the entire chapter).  Sometimes new bridging material has to be written to make the cuts flow together.  Sometimes all you have to do to make it work is to do even more cutting.

I don't remember who gave me the best piece of revising (and writing) advice I've ever gotten, but here it is:

"The first draft's for you.  The last draft's for everybody else."

Rosemary Edghill describes herself as the keeper of the Eddystone Light, corny as Kansas in August, normal as blueberry pie, and only a paper moon. She says she was found floating down the Amazon in a hatbox, and, because criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot, she became a creature of the night (black, terrible). She began her professional career working as a time-traveling vampire killer and has never looked back. She's also a New York Times Bestselling Writer and hangs out on Facebook a lot.


Patricia Rice: Since I edit and revise the whole time I draft, I need serious distance after I'm done. I prefer having trusted critique partners read over the material and tell me places they think I ran astray. By the time they're done, the book fog has lifted and I have new direction.

I think of "editing" as a process of correcting errors--some maybe large. "Revising" is a more global level of "this character isn't developed" or "this plot ain't workin'."  Revising almost always has to be done on a computer because the revision works its way through the whole draft. Revising may be realizing I pulled back on the conflict and require that entire scenes be thrown out, replaced, or reworked. I usually end up with four or five drafts before I can do the real editing. Some of the revision process is the middle-of-the-night brainstorm. Much of it is is asking myself questions or following the guidance of my critiquers in hunting down problems.

If I'm at editing stage, then reading aloud or printing the pages will help me "see" details that I can't see when I'm in the midst of the revision thicket.

I'm willing to procrastinate at any level!

With several million books in print and New York Times and USA Today’s bestseller lists under her belt, former CPA Patricia Rice writes romance, mystery, and urban fantasy. Her books have won numerous awards, including the RT Book Reviews Reviewers Choice and Career Achievement Awards. She has also been honored as a Romance Writers of America RITA® finalist in the historical, regency and contemporary categories.

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