Revision (part three of three)

For the last couple of months, I’ve been posting about revision. You can find part one here, and part two here, moving from the macro to the micro.

So at this point, the biggest parts of the story should be in line. The plot, motivations, worldbuilding—it should all be in shape. You should know your characters pretty well, and the things they do should make sense. The structure of the story should be pretty sound, without too much action grouped together, or too many talky scenes grouped together…any of that. The story should move at a good pace that fits with the kind of story you’re telling.

But what else?

3. On to the micro.

This might seem like the tedious part, but it’s what’s going to separate the good and the great. Don’t stop just because the big stuff is in order. Dig in deeper and make that story shine. If you want to bring this back to our house analogy, imagine putting in the furniture, hanging the curtains, and picking the countertops.

a) Sentence structure.

If you notice that your sentences are all structured the same, it’s probably time to introduce some variety. Because reading the same type of sentence over and over gets boring. The reader starts to hear it in monotone. There’s no voice. It’s easy to skim.

So go ahead: make it interesting,

b) Word choice

If you’re writing a historical set in the 1500s, the characters probably won’t say “whatevs” and call one another “bro.” (And if they do, why? Make it believable.) Make sure the words your characters use are appropriate for the time period, the world, and their backgrounds.

Also, keep in mind that the words your characters use can do cool things like reflect mood, secret hopes, and whether they think the glass is half full or empty.

c) Cut the fluff.

You know those lines you thought would be important but ended up…not? But you still like them so you kept them? Yeah. Cut them. Sorry. This is another round of “if it doesn’t add to the story, chop it.”

So sometimes we’ll write things with a character picking up a glass in the middle of a conversation, just to give them some sort of action. But beware—sometimes those little throwaway lines can be more distracting than anything. When you’ve given yourself some space from the story, come back and chop out anything that makes you do a double take, or wonder if it’s going to be important.

If you have a block of description, figure out how to incorporate it into your characters action. Make it real. Make it tactile.

Also, cut out repeated information. Trust your reader to remember it. Unless you have a really good reason for keeping it in. There are always exceptions, of course. But a lot of times, writers will add the same information several times because they’re reminding themselves. All that is useful in first drafts, but not in the final.

d) Be consistent.

Watch out for places where your character is wearing a green dress at the start of the scene, and a blue dress by the end—without changing her clothes. Common places to look for continuity errors are distances, times, clothes, dates, character/place descriptions, and other smaller things. These can be hard to notice when you’re so close to a manuscript, so give yourself some time away. Eventually those things will pop out.

Also, try to be consistent in your words, too. Of course, spell your characters’ names the same way every time. If you call Sarah Sara a few times, the reader might wonder if they’re two different people. And, one that got me recently—I meant to capitalize House every time, but at some point thought I’d decided otherwise. As a result, I had a weird mix of both in my manuscript and had to make a lot of changes in copyedits to fix it!

So watch out for spellings, capitalizations, punctuation—other things like that. Your publisher will probably have a house style and the copyeditor will look for those things, too, but it’s a whole lot easier if you’re consistent about something. (It also makes you look more professional/careful.)

Well, I could keep going, but again this is getting pretty long. And I think I’ve covered most of what I meant to. Of course, general disclaimers apply. What works for me might not work for you, etc.

So was this helpful? Anything to add? Anything you’d like to take issue with?

2 Responses to Revision (part three of three)

  1. Marc Vun Kannon Apr 6 2015 at 11:19 am #

    This is a timely post. I recently managed through the grace of the gods to compose a viable query synopsis (in part employing Susan Dennard’s very popular post on writing 1-page synopses), which revealed some parts of the story that I knew of but realized I had to make more clear than they were. I haven’t read the story in a while, either, so I’m approaching it with fresh eyes, some idea of the story logic in mind, and some practice (thanks to my fanfiction writing) at the narrative and context elements, so I’m doing a bit of revision now.
    An aspect of revision you haven’t mentioned is adding text, rather than cutting fluff. I tend to write from the inside out, focusing on the story logic and the Character actions that expose it, thus developing the plot. For me revision is often a process of looking at my text for the parts I haven’t said and should have, the parts of the story that are connected in my head but aren’t as clear in the text as they should be, or simply clever lines that would be fluff except that they also expose some aspect of the plot.
    This can be very difficult, since I’m looking for absences to fill, rather than extras to cut off. My usual technique for this is to reread the story, letting my subconscious throw out lines as I read to fill in the story as I go, a process of continuous reverse-editing, so to speak, looking for the parts that ought to be there. My characters are often making little observations about what’s happening, so I have plenty of material to work in, at times.

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