Revising, By Maria V. Snyder

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Revising is a very important part of writing. All professional writers revise their stories multiple times. In my opinion, revising is the fun part of writing. To me, the first draft is the hard part. A first draft is like building a house. I'm pouring the foundation, building the walls, and putting on the roof--all hard work. But once it's done, then I can go in and paint the walls, lay carpet and decorate, making it look pretty!

Every author has their own way to revise. No one way is better than the other. The goal is to make the story stronger and the writing better. This is what works for me: I write the first draft without doing any major changes. Since I'm a seat-of-the-pants writer, I discover the story as I go and things change. Instead of going back to the beginning to revise, I'll write notes on the manuscript about what needs to be changed (I print out each chapter after I finish it - I see errors better on paper than on the computer). When I'm done the first draft, I go back to the beginning and read through it, marking what else I see. If I see a spelling error, I'll circle it, if I see a scene I need to cut/change, I'll make a note, if I see a cliche, I'll circle it...etc... Once the manuscript is marked up, then I return to the computer and fix/change the story file from the beginning to the end, which is then the second draft.

I give the second draft to a handful of beta readers and my editor. My beta readers are my agent, a couple of fellow writers, my Chief Evil Minion (who knows more about my books than I do and will catch all the inconsistencies), and my husband. Normally you want to avoid family members as beta readers because they'll love your story no matter what and will think it's the next Pulitzer Prize winner. You're looking for honest feedback to improve your story, not an ego boost. My husband is very honest (sometimes a little too honest!) and he's great at finding typos and holes in the plot. Once I receive comments and feedback from all these people, I return to the manuscript and revise again. The third draft is then sent to my editor who will send it to the copy editor and I'll receive comments from both of them. Addressing those comments ends with a fourth draft. The fifth draft is mostly fixing typos and grammar issues. Then the book is sent to the printer. Yes, even with all those people reading through the manuscript, mistakes still slip through!

So now you're thinking, "I understand that revising is important, Maria, but how do you revise? Good question! First, I suggest you let the story sit and ferment for a bit before doing rewrites. Time and distance helps you to see all the areas that need work. Take a week off or a few weeks and come back to it refreshed. Then you want to put your editor's cap on and look at the story with a more objective eye. I start with a look at the bigger issues before getting down to the nitty gritty of spelling, word choice and grammar.

The big issues to look at for your first round of revisions are the following:
The Beginning
The Characters
The Plot
The Pacing
The Climax
The Beginning is very important to get right. It has to hook your reader into wanting to read more of your book. It makes a promise to them that if they invest their time and money, they'll get a great story in return. It's your first impression. No pressure! ;) I have an article about writing beginnings HERE. For revising your first chapter, you want to ensure you start the story at the point where the main protagonist's (MP) life changes. Not when they wake up and brush their teeth, or a dream (that's confusing), it's the moment when things change. The MP is fired from his/her dream job, or he/she is bitten by a strange bat, or when he/she meets his/her soul mate. Also ask, what type of first impression does your MP make? Try not to overload your first chapter with lots of setting details, weather reports, and the complete history of your MP. Those details can be revealed later in the story - the first chapter is to showcase your MP(s) and set up the story promise. That promise is to the reader and says, read on and I'll show you why Natalie was fired from her dream job, or I'll show you what happened to Nick after he was bitten by that bat, or I'll tell you a truly romantic and heartbreaking love story.

The Characters are the most important part of your story! Yes, they are. Think about all your favorite books? Think about Harry Potter and Sherlock and Dracula and Ishmael. Once you introduce your characters to your readers, you then need to show who they are and what they're made of. They can't be perfect and they need to fail at times. And they need to grow and change during the course of the story. It's called a character arc and it's important. They can change to be better people or worse, depending on your story. One of the things you need to know about your MP(s) is what does he/she want more than anything else? For example, in my book POISON STUDY, Yelena wants to be free and everything she does in the story is focused on achieving that goal. An excellent how-to book for writing/revising characters is GMC: Goals, Motivations, and Conflict by Debra Dixon. Also make sure your characters are active participants and not just reacting to what's going on. It's okay if they're thrown or overwhelmed once in a while or rely on another for help, but they need to be making the plans and executing the plans, they should be finding the clues and figuring out the mystery. They should also be consistent throughout the story. If they are afraid of spiders in chapter one, they should still be afraid of them in chapter twenty-one, unless they've overcome their fear. There has to be a good reason they overcame this fear. For example, they battled a giant spider and won and now the little ones are cute and not scary at all. There's always a reason when the character changes and those reasons will be from dealing with the obstacles that get in the way of the MP(s) goals.

The Plot grows from the goals of the MP(s). In POISON STUDY, Yelena wants to be free. In order to reach her goal, she has to overcome a number of obstacles that get in her way. Those series of obstacles is the plot! The obstacles can be self-doubt, another character, the weather, etc... For revising, you need to make sure the obstacles match the goal - if they're too outrageous then the readers won't believe the plot, or if they're too easy, then your readers will be bored. Also be careful of holes in your plot. If your MP has to drive through New York City at 5 p.m. and they don't get stuck in traffic, anyone who has been to the city or lives there will laugh. Or if you have the homicide detective only working from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. your savvy readers will know that doesn't happen. You need to look for things like that throughout your story. My original ending to POISON STUDY had Yelena fighting Valek and winning so she could stay in Ixia. My husband said this, "She's injured and exhausted and then you have her fight the best swordsman and master assassin in the book and win... Really? I don't buy it." He had a good point (and here's another reason why having another person read your story is a good idea!).

The Pacing of a story is harder to define as each genre has it's own internal rhythm. If you're writing a thriller, then the pace is super fast, while a romance might be slower (unless it's a romantic suspense). Knowing your genre is important for pace and you should be reading a ton of books in the genre you're writing. That will give you an instinctive sense of how fast/slow events should occur. If you're still not sure if your pacing is appropriate, find a published novel that is similar to yours and chart out the fast and slow times throughout the story. It will probably look like a rollercoaster and, again, the genre will dictate just how scary that rollercoaster is!

The Climax is the big finale and you need to get this right. Your MP(s) need to be present at the climax and they need to be the ones who are active and involved in the resolution and not sitting on the sidelines. In other words, you can't have aliens or police officers or the FBI swoop in at the climax and save the day - that's cheating! My climaxes usually span two chapters and there's a point during that final "battle" that it appears as if all is lost, that the MP(s) are not going to win, however...they do. For revising, ensure you don't rush the climax. There are so many books out there that rush the ending and sometimes it's so ridiculous and impossible to believe that I won't read more of that author's work. The last chapter is the denouement or the marryin' and the buryin' ;) This is where you tie up the last loose ends and show a bit of what happened after the climax. It's important that your reader finishes the book with a sense of satisfaction of a story well told, because if they're happy, then they'll buy your next book.

Many of my MFA students find this book: Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King, an excellent resource for revising. For the nitty gritty type of edits that you'll also want to do, go to my article on Classic Writing Mistakes HERE.

Good luck with your revisions!
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