Revision: Trickling in the Last Bits
Yesterday, I sent off my revisions of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide to my editor. You may now join me in doing the dance of joy.
I’m happy with the revision. My editor made wonderful suggestions anywhere he thought I should make a change, and it was so great to get the feeling that we’re on the same track with what we want for this book.
That’s not what this post is about. While I was working through the revision, I was thinking about how tricky, but fun, this later stage of writing a book can be. (Oddly enough, as I get ready to write a first draft of my new novel!). On the one hand, it’s tough, almost frightening to look at making even more changes to a book on which you’ve worked so hard to get so far. On the flip side, it is an amazing thing to see how much difference a few words here, and a few more there, can make to tightening a story into something full and polished.
For this revision, I was working with the editor’s suggestions. When I revise fiction, I have feedback from my critique group and those “final” ideas I’ve come up with myself. There’s a character who needs one more layer. Or a plot thread needs to be brought closer to the top of the story. I’m not using this one setting well enough. When I’m at this point, I ask myself (and hopefully answer!) three questions:
- How much?
The What?is what do I need to add? For some reason, at this point, really near being “done,” it’s almost always adding. Mabye I’m good at cutting, or maybe I’m too good, but it’s usually something more I need to put on the page, not less. Do I need to show a certain personality trait more frequently, or more intensely? Should I connect a subplot to the main plot in another place or two? Is it time to reveal just a little more background info I thought I didn’t need?
Where? is, probably obviously, where in the book do I make this change? Again, I seem to have a usual pattern–I rarely get away with changing things in only one place. Usually, I read through the book (Yes, I will read through the WHOLE book to follow a specific plot thread or the development of one character), and find two or three places to drop a little something in, or highlight something a little more strongly.
How much? is the biggie for me. Or, I should say, the not-biggie. When I was editing, I was almost afraid to ask a client to add something to the book. When I talked about the need to give a better sense of what a house looked like, or asked the writer to show a character getting more angry, I always found myself holding up my index finger and thumb together—that universal symbol for just this much. If I didn’t emphasize how few words I thought the paragraph or scene needed, I’d see the author’s eyes light up, and when I saw the project again, there’d often be whole new blocks of text–stretches of sentences and paragraphs with added material.
It’s natural. We don’t always trust ourselves or the power that is contained in a few words, in a single word. Even knowing all this, I faced this last revision with some nervousness. There were a couple of bigger ideas that I needed to highlight more in the book, and I’d left them for last, while I got the smaller, easier changes out of the way. I had, in the back of my mind, the idea that there was a lot of new writing for me to do.
Wrong. A lot of new writing would have been wrong. I added a sentence here, a phrase there, and–honestly–a single word over there. That was it. Just enough to tie things together and make the necessary connections for the reader (and for me!)
As I said, I’m just setting out to write the first draft of my historical YA novel. I’m miles away from this kind of revision on that book. Right now, I’m trying to cope with the idea of all the thousands of actions and events and thoughts I’ll be putting on the page.
I know, though, that at some point, I’ll come back to this close-to-done stage. And, once again, I’ll need to trickle the last changes in lightly, and trust that each, small word will do its job.