Revision Blues

Revision Blues

You’ve written the perfect novel. It is a combination of E. Hemmingway,
S. King and B. Potter. You have dreams of six-figure advances and the New York Times Top Ten. Congratulations! I hope you make it. Maybe you will, but don’t send that love child off to the publishers yet. It’s time to really start writing, or rewriting.

It’s called revision, or editing, and it sucks big time. Every writer approaches it differently but no one enjoys the laborious process of poring over your novel (Or short story) line-by-line, page-by- page, character-by-character. It’s more fun to write. That’s why we write, isn’t it?

I just received a rejection for one of my novels, Blood Lust, but it was a good rejection letter. They loved the story but pointed out a flow problem in chapter six,
informing me politely that if I wished to correct the problem and resubmit they
would be pleased. (Would I?) Was I angry? I had revised and edited the story several times before submitting. How could they believe there were errors?

There were. I had made the ultimate error in writing. I had read and edited my beloved child with my heart and not my eyes. Editors are heartless, ruthless, vile creatures lurking in musty basements, surviving on errors and spitting out facsimiles of your original novel. (They’re not really but that’s how it seems. They are an integral part of the team.)

There are several steps to editing. Here’s how I do it. (Now)

  1. Set your novel aside for a while, as long as possible. Then read it again. Does it still strike horror in your heart or make your heart dance with joy? Good.
  2. Concentrate on the Story Line, the tale you wish to tell, the conflict between
    characters. Is it compelling? Is it believable? (Even fantasy must be believable.)
  3. Next, work on the Pace of the story. Is it a page turner or does it plod along like the last nag I bet on at the racetrack? The best story will not survive a poor telling (Or showing – remember, show don’t tell).
  4. Are your Characters interesting or cardboard cutouts? Would we recognize him or her on the street from your description? Would we have tea with her or a beer with him? One good character isn’t a story unless the conflict is there. Each character should stand out, even the potential corpses (I write lots of horror).
  5. What about Voice with a capital V? Does the Voice add drama or tension to the story or does it sound like you’re whispering secrets to the wind? Voice needs to match the story with a dash of You, the writer thrown in for flavor.
  6. Dialogue. There, I said it,” he said. Dialogue should describe place or characters, move the plot (Storyline) or foreshadow. Don’t use it as a convenient info dump. If it doesn’t do one of the aforementioned, drop it. It’s just filler.
  7. Grammar. (No, not Grandma) Need I say more? The best story will not survive poor grammar. Spell-check only goes so far (Believe me, I know). Look for word usage. Is there a better word than the one you used? Do you repeat words too often? Make certain each word conveys what you mean, succinctly and precisely. Look for punctuation errors or bad habits. Did you use too many commas, exclamation points, colons, semicolons or dashes? These little (Little?) things detract from the flow, confuse the reader and irritate editors.  I read very fast. I have to remember to read slowly, saying each word to myself or aloud or I tend to miss common errors – a for an, or an for and, he for her, etc.

 Remember. Good stories do sell but great stories sell better. Editors might want your novel but see you, the writer, as a hopeless cause, not worth the time. Make
the editor’s job a little easier and he or she will appreciate it and perhaps read
just a little farther into your novel. Maybe even to ‘The End’.

3 Responses to “Revision Blues”

  1. Timely advice considering that I’ve just let my recent WIP set for a bit and am set to begin final read through tomorrow.

  2. Okay, I’m an editor and a writer and while I may be ruthless I am not vile. 😉 I couldn’t disagree more with your second paragraph, Jim! I love poring over my ms line by line—that series of edits after the first draft is where you really get to layer in the craft and develop the special beauty of your novel. My guess is if you hate it so much it is coming through to your readers. Better hire an independent editor who takes joy in the process!

  3. Jim,
    as an old author who’s been writing for over 39 years (and started publishing in the dinosaur days) I’ve seen a lot of rewriting and editing in all my 14 novels and 7 short stories going back 27 years. The early days of snail mail, hard copies and no computers or e-mails and attachments were horrendous. The revisions were tedious back and forth by snail mail. In my early days I fought them tooth and nail. Over the years, though, I’ve realized that a good editor sees things we writers don’t. Now days I listen to an editor – unless my inner voice screams at me not to – and then I listen to my own voice. Compromise. Anyway…it’s all a part of being a writer. Right now I’m in the process of rereleasing 10 of my old novels and the revising is hard but exciting. All my old books out again and in e-books for the first time! All my hard work rewarded. A good book never dies! Hang in there, Jim. Author Kathryn Meyer Griffith

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