Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Revision Process’

Conquering the sucky first draft

In Revising, Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Processes on March 27, 2016 at 11:00 am

I love writing, and I love having written.

But when it comes to revising my writing, I kind of, sort of don’t have as much fun with the whole being a writer thing.

Revision takes work, discipline and hours of time—for me, more hours than the first draft when you get to sit and spill. You get to think, I’m a writer. I’m writing. But when you’re revising, it’s not as fun to run to your manuscript and think, I’m looking at you, you big unwieldy thing.

The first go around with the very rough, very messy draft, however, can be interesting. Sometimes.

It’s when I get to wonder what it was I actually created at the meta-level. I remember the overall story, but sometimes the details slip my mind. I turn into a reader albeit with my figurative big red pen (since I edit my first draft on the computer to save time on a ton of cutting and pasting and adding and rearranging).

As I read, I sometimes think, oh, I wrote that? And then the whole cumbersome process of looking at my manuscript seems kind of fun, because I like surprises. I like seeing I’ve accomplished something. And I like making my writing better.

Revision takes work and multiple drafts to get to clean, tight copy.

To revise, a writer can look at the overall writing elements individually, such as voice, dialog, setting, character and plot. Then, there’s the level of transition and flow, so that scenes are complete without holes, followed by grammar, sentence structure and missed periods, misplaced and misused words and misspellings Spell check didn’t catch.

Here are some questions to ask during the revision process:

Is the point of view consistent? Or, if there are several point of views, do the characters get their own space? (Changing point of view in the same paragraph is jarring for the reader.)

Is the voice the same for the main character, or does it show change, such as insecure to confident or angry to acceptance? How are words used to show voice?

Is there an inciting incident that sets the story in motion?

Are there holes in the plot? Are there dropped elements? Is there too much space or time spent on the beginning, middle or end? Does the middle sag? Does the end disappoint? And do the plot strings tie together by the end?

Do the characters have physical features, introduced the first time they appear in the story?

Does the dialog move the plot?

I find that by the time I’m sick of my 12th or 15th draft, my novel’s ready to go. I’ve read it so many times I’m not editing anymore but changing unnecessarily. That’s when it’s time to say, it’s my best.

It’s time for a new project and to market the current one.

Basically, it’s time to move on.


The Revision Commitment, Take 2

In 52: A Writer's Life, Editing, Revising, Shelley Widhalm on March 10, 2013 at 11:00 am

Revising a novel is like making a long-term commitment to someone you kind of love but maybe find a bit tiring.

In other words, revision is an obligation that, unless you’re a one-draft wonder, is part of the process of writing.

I am in midst of that obligation editing my nearly 90,000-word novel that was, at one time, 92,000-plus words. I didn’t just cut 2,000 words but cut much more, including partial scenes, repetitions and unnecessary descriptions. I also added words by fixing missing logistics of where or when, holes in the plot and character development, and word-heavy dialogues that didn’t make it clear who was speaking.

At 11:59 p.m. Sunday, I made the last red mark in my second revision of “The Fire Painter,” which is about a 30-something artist who loses everything in an apartment fire and searches to replace her lost things.

I like to think of myself as a quick editor, mainly because I want to get in and out and go on to more writing. It’s called diving in, using any and every free moment to heal my pain (pain is editing, healing is finishing editing).

My first revision, which I started Jan. 23 and took two weeks, was a read-through on the computer to fix any areas where the scenes seemed choppy or something didn’t make sense.

The second revision took three weeks and involved a printout and my red pen. In this revision:

• I deleted scenes that partially repeated other scenes.
• I removed facts or information I mentioned earlier in the draft.
• I checked for inconsistencies, such as switching eye or hair color, which I did do without the convenience of new contacts or hair dye.
• I reread the thoughts of two of my characters who tend toward self-pity to avoid making them too whiney.
• I made sure I referred to important objects in the story in a consistent basis, such as the doggie piggybank, instead of dog bank.
• I tightened the language by removing adjectives, details that didn’t push the story and any over-done descriptions.
• With my descriptions, I listened to how the language sounds, as well as to how each sentence builds on the previous sentence.
• I changed areas of dialogue that didn’t sound like how real people talk.
• I filled in words I accidentally left out and fixed any grammar errors I identified, plus added a few missing periods.
• I realized I named two minor characters Linda, so I left the more minor of the two nameless.

I also plan to remove my tics, which I will do with my “search and find” function. I noticed that I love the words “OK,” “nods” and “shrugs.” Picture me nodding and shrugging and saying, “OK, whatever.”

As for other revisions, I know there will be more but as to how many, that depends on how long it will take me to say this is the best I can make my work. And then I’ll be looking for a literary agent. Wish me luck and bon voyage as I travel yet again through my story.

Revision Part II

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on January 20, 2013 at 11:00 am

The novel is written and, if you’re like me, you want to set it aside with the belief it’s ready to go.

But, for most writers, revising is a crucial part of the writing process.

My writer friends advised me to set aside my novel for a month or even three months to give distance and a keener eye.

I’ve done that and now it’s time for the fun stuff.

Revising or editing a manuscript, whether it’s a novel, short story or collection of writing, is not a one-time thing and requires several drafts toward the final draft. Each time you revise, you get closer to the story’s core and essential components.

It’s best to start with the overall structure before getting down to the sentence level.

To do this, there are many approaches to take, so many that you could spend months just reworking your drafts. I think it’s best to pick and choose what works best for you.

I compiled a list of revision and self-editing tips for looking both at the big picture of the manuscript, as well as the small picture, or the details.

For the big picture revision:

• Revise the manuscript for overall structure.
• Ask if the opening scene grabs the reader.
• Cut any unnecessary scenes and strengthen weak ones. Look for scenes where there is not much action or characters do a lot of talking without conflict. Look for too many similar scenes in a row. Make sure each scene has a clear objective for the character and that there is conflict, or opposition, to the objective.
• Check that the setting is not just an external location but is integral to the story.
• Do an edit for language and imagery, as well as for tone, mood, cadence and voice.
• Make sure all the plot threads come together. Does the story have a beginning, middle and end? Are conflict and tension sustained throughout the telling? Does the story build with tension at the end of each chapter? Is each scene personal for the main character?
• Make sure the characters are realistic with good and bad features and that they are distinguishable from one another. Are they fully fleshed out with personalities, backgrounds and unique physical characteristics? Does the reader care about these characters?
• Ask if the dialogue is realistic and if the characters speak in ways that are distinguishable from one another.
• Make sure there is subtext, something happening beneath the surface of the text. The subtext could come from a character’s hidden agenda, the setting as foreshadowing or an image carried throughout the story.

To get down to the details in your editing:

• Omit needless words to get to the essential core.
• Identify areas where transitions are needed.
• Look for misspellings, lapses in grammar and usage, consistency in verb tense and anything that is missing. Also look for sentences that don’t make sense.
• Whenever possible, use the active voice and avoid the passive voice, such as “there was …”
• Replace adjectives and adverbs with nouns and verbs.
• Vary your sentence structure.
• Avoid repetition of words, facts and details.
• Do a fact check on weather, season, month, chronology of events and setting.
• Identify passages that are telling, instead of showing, and decide if they should show, instead of tell.

Revision Part I, or Editing Entertainment

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on January 13, 2013 at 11:00 am

I find writing preferable to editing, but editing is part of the process of writing.

For one month, I set aside the rough draft of my novel, not daring to look at it, but I certainly have thought about it.

This week, I will begin my first of a half-dozen or more edits or revisions.

I’ve read plenty of articles about editing, such as doing a read-through for structure; identifying areas that need more detail or to be cut; and fact checking to make sure character identities and descriptions of setting are consistent and accurate for the story world.

This is all good advice that I’m going to try to heed, at least this time.

For my previous works, I read my novel start to finish several times, editing and re-editing, taking a half-year to finally say, “I’m done.”

But I don’t think I was, because my editing was a matter of reading and tightening up what I read. I read the entire manuscript through, looking for inconsistencies, any boring parts and the parts I skimmed because I was in a hurry and wanted to finish the scene. I read for grammatical errors. And I read for overall plot to make sure things made sense.

I found it painful to cut, even though I dumped most of my cuts of more than a couple of sentences into a cut file.

This time when I edit, I’m going to take a more planned, methodical approach. I’m going to:

• Revise the whole manuscript first, starting with the overall structure.
• Look for any elements that I didn’t carry through, such as a dropped idea, a scene that ended too soon or a character that disappears without explanation.
• Do a quick read to cut anything that isn’t engaging or necessary to the story, noting anywhere I start to skim.
• Make sure the pacing is compelling and right for the telling of the story.
• Do a character identity check by reading all the passages that mention the main and primary secondary characters. I’ll look for consistency, accuracy and any repetitions in their identities, backgrounds and behaviors.
• Do a revision for character, plot, setting and dialogue. I’ll remove any unnecessary backstory and make sure character histories are not provided too early in the story.
• Edit at the detail level for grammatical errors, awkward usages and repetitions.