Showing posts with label revising books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label revising books. Show all posts

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Revision, Part 1: An Early Fiction Checklist

My backpack-on-wheels travels everywhere with me. In it I schlep my old, heavy laptop, my iPad, if I stack them right quite a few books and my Kindle, at least one three-ring binder and my trusty pencil bag, which includes a highlighter, pencils, erasers and a pencil sharpener; different color pens, a mini-stapler, small post-its for note-taking, a flash drive, and paper clips. I'm ready to work, either electronically or on paper, at the drop of a #2 pencil.

Writing on the Run
Deep in the throes of revision while having to go on a recent short trip, I had to face that writing time would be hit or miss; normally squeezed in whenever there's a free moment. To really dig in, though, I wanted to take more than could possibly fit in my catch-all bag: a dictionary, my thesaurus, reference books, as-of-yet unread writing books, etc., etc. Knowing this was impossible, I took a break to think about what I could realistically get accomplished on the trip, sat back and read an article, "4 Tips for Writing Scenes," by Ingrid Sundberg, http://ingridsnotes.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/4-tips-for-writing-great-scenes/.

Sundberg's article changed everything. Maybe I couldn't have all my tools, but I was at a place in my story where a preliminary check would be helpful. After a cursory look at my WIP with Sundberg's advice in mind, I made a startling discovery. The drama and emotion I thought I'd poured into my draft--heart, gut, and soul--didn't have the impact I'd envisioned. An editor might even call my scenes downright flimsy! I chose three areas that Sundberg suggested need to be present in each scene and decided not to wait until the end of the entire draft to consider them, but to review them early in the draft and see what would happen.

Three Scene Booster Musts
I backtracked to Chapter One and evaluated each scene according to Three Scene Boosters suggested in Sundberg's post. In each scene, I isolated these three areas:
  • Significant Emotional Change: Does your character go through some sort of emotional change?
After a thorough scrubbing this is what my I came up with: In Chapter 1, my character is sleepy and bored after starting out in the wee hours of the morning on a long ride home from a camping trip. Her grandfather's VW Bug starts to pick up speed. She stiffens as his car careens down a narrow mountain road, faster and faster. She is thrown side to side clinging to her stuffed animal, her only comfort.  Her short life flashes before her, like the car's headlights that are sweeping ever faster past a thick forest of trees. These minutes--seconds--could be her last.
Revised emotional change: I needed to show a starker contrast between my character's boredom and fear.
  • Dramatic Action: What action does your character take to get out of the bind she finds herself in?
Her grandfather shouts, "Hold on!" She grabs the door handle. He taps the brake but the wind whistles even louder past her ear. She shouts, "Quick, do something!" He pulls up on the emergency brake--the skinny little lever next to her seat--and the little VW Bug shudders and shakes. Her palms are slippery but she hangs on, with only her stuffed animal for comfort.
Revised dramatic action: As the car picks up speed, I needed to show how frightened she is more clearly, which was to show how helpless she feels. 
  • Scene Summary: What is the main action in the scene? At the end of the scene go back and look at your character's main action(s).
Stuck in the car; realizing it's out of control flying down a narrow mountain road. All she can do is hang on to the door handle, her palms slick, her arms hurting from holding on so tight.
  • What is your character's main emotion(s)? Fearing for her life.
Though likely not my last run-through, these early scene boosters have strengthened my scenes by looking for my character's emotional change, how dramatic her action(s) is, and giving her the maximum emotional punch. This technique has helped make my scenes more exciting and dramatic. The bonus? This effort should save time later during the final editing stage. That will be when most of the polishing is complete and each run-through is to make sure all the other essential story elements are in place.

Just think, if another short trip comes along I won't have to take so many writing tools in my backpack. All I'll need is a pencil, eraser, colored pen, post-its, and extra paper. Oh, and a book to read in my spare time!

See if this plan works for you: In coming months more revision highlights will be explored to help narrow down important areas in your manuscript, one at a time.


 
Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, recently completed Joyce Sweeney's online fiction course. She has published over 40 articles for children and adults, six short stories for children, and is currently developing several works for children. Follow Linda on Facebook.




Monday, February 3, 2014

Trust your Readers--Part 3

Over-explanation is at the heart of non-subtle writing.  It takes many forms, such as showing and THEN telling (see part 1) and beating your readers over the head with big themes (part 2).

Another issue is leading your readers step by step through obvious realizations or mundane actions, as if they can't imagine these for themselves.  Life is full of boring tasks.  Don't make your readers suffer though them.  Read on for examples. 

Problem #3:  Spelling E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G Out

She pulled on her socks, one by one, tugging them over her heels.  Then she slid her right foot into her right shoe, took the laces in both hands, went right over left, made two loops, and pulled them tight.  She moved on to the next shoe. 

This shows all right, but it's boring, and doesn't advance the plot. 

If your character is so deep in depression that putting on her shoes is a major victory, go ahead and show it.  If she's headed out to face a firing squad and is trying to delay, the scene could work.  Otherwise, give your reader credit for knowing how to put shoes on. 

Another example:

He turned right on State Street, then left on Haley, continuing on for nearly a mile.  At the stoplight at the intersection of Haley and Grimes, he turned left again.  Finally he reached the post office.

Unless you pepper this with atmospheric descriptions (He passed the abandoned Woolworths where John Haley had fought his last battle against corporate America) or add some sort of drama, consider going straight to the post office scene   As Elmore Leonard says, " Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip."  Of course, if your character's specific route makes him miss the scene of the accident where he might have been able to save his wife, keep some of it in, but try to add interest and/or foreshadowing.

He hesitated for a moment at the stop sign.  First street or Haley?  If he took Haley, he might catch a glimpse of the new blond waitress at the diner.  What could it hurt?  His wife would never know. 

One more example:

Susie added two plus two on her paper.  Four!

Only if she gets five or twenty-two or the last number in the nuclear detonation sequence do you really need to include the answer.  

This pace-killing tendency of repetition and careful explanation may come from the high school thesis-body-conclusion rule:  "tell readers what you're going to say, say it, then tell them what you said." This works for a five paragraph essay, but it doesn't work for fiction.

Solution to Spelling E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G Out

Practice looking for this pattern in other people's work.  You'll find it.  As with any writing rule, nothing is ever wrong in all situations, and sometimes step by step descriptions and explanations work well.  Analyze the books you like, trying to pinpoint when it works and when it could be trimmed.  Soon it will become easier to see and evaluate in your own work.

Then, get ruthless.  Cut out excess explanation.  And trust your readers to fill in the blanks.


For more:



Melinda Brasher is the author of Far-Knowing, a YA fantasy novel, and Leaving Home, a collection of short stories, travel essays, and flash fiction.  Her short fiction appears in THEMA Literary Journal, Enchanted Conversation, Ellipsis Literature and Art, and others. Visit her blog for all the latest:  whttp://www.melindabrasher.com

Friday, January 3, 2014

Trust your Readers--Part 2

Subtlety is important in good writing, and requires you to trust your readers to catch on to things.  In the first part of this series, we saw examples of problem #1:  showing and then telling.  Now we'll look at a bigger-picture problem.

Problem #2:  Beating Your Reader Over the Head with Big Themes

When you write, you need to make sure your readers understand—and remember—major elements in your story:  plot points, secondary characters, your hero's strengths and weaknesses, motivations, and what's at stake.  You will probably also be weaving in overall themes, questions, or messages.   

As with anything important, the temptation is to overemphasize these elements.  The result?  Beating your readers over the head. 

One common area this occurs is with character traits.  If, for example, you character is afraid of getting emotionally involved with other people, establish it well when you first reveal it, preferably through showing instead of telling, then give your readers credit for remembering.  Reinforce it with your character's actions now and then, as natural to the plot, but if you keep hammering it in, especially in narration, your reader will get annoyed.

Overall themes and messages can drown in repetition too.  If your character is a sickly, selfish, unhappy thing, and through the course of the book she starts helping and thus caring about other people, and slowly becomes healthier and happier, your reader will understand the connection.  You can reinforce it through specific things she does for others, and how she feels afterwards, but refrain from statements like "the selfish, unhappy, sickly woman had discovered that helping other people made her happy.  Her health had returned and her life had meaning."  Not only does this bang a frying pan on your reader's head; it ventures into the realm of preachiness.

If your aim is to influence readers, preaching is one of the least effective way to do so.  Nobody likes a lecture, but people do like good stories where characters make positive changes in their lives or suffer through mistakes that the readers might do well to avoid.  When readers sympathize with characters different from themselves, or learn about situations they knew nothing about, perspectives can change.  All this will only have a real effect, however, if the reader is left alone to make the connections.

There's often a fine line between overexplanation and underexplanation.  In trying to be subtle and cut out repetition, you can stray into underexplanation, something just as deadly.  You, as the writer, might not be the best judge of how much reminding is enough, since you know your ideas and characters so well.  This is where beta readers and critiquers come in so handy.

Solution to Beating your Reader Over the Head

Find several people who can read your entire manuscript carefully and give constructive feedback.  This may be a local critique group, fellow writers or avid readers you met online, or friends and family who will be honest yet kind and whose critiques won't ruin your relationship.  Ask them specifically to look for areas of repetition, and make careful note of them.

Add to their lists any other story elements you believe you may have hit home too hard.  Then sit down and read the whole book, cover to cover, within a few days.   Mark the page numbers where you touch on these ideas.  Then go back and trim, trim, trim.  

After you're all done, find a few people who have never read you book.  If it still makes sense to them, and communicates what you want it to, you've done your job well.    

Subtlety takes work, but it's vital for good writing.  As the famous saying goes, "If I'd had more time, I would have written a shorter letter."  Take the time to write that shorter, tighter, more subtle story, and you'll be rewarded. 

Next time: 

Last time: 




Melinda Brasher writes in many genres.  This month's issue of Spark Anthology (Volume IV) will include one of her science fiction short stories, about an ill-fated colonization project.  To get a 35% discount, use the code BRASHER-FRIENDS.  Offer expires January 31.  She is also the author of Far-Knowing, a YA fantasy novel, and Leaving Home, a collection of short stories, travel essays, and flash fiction.  Visit her blog for all the latest:  http://www.melindabrasher.com

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Manuscript Revisions

Manuscript Revisions
by Elysabeth Eldering

How does one go about revising a first draft that is several years old, has been sitting on the back burner for a while?

When working your manuscript to a final draft or completed manuscript, one must revise, revise, revise and then revise some more. Since this author is currently revising her YA paranormal mystery, Finally Home,she thought this article was necessary. (By the time this post is up, Finally Home should be in the final stages of being published.)

Steps for revision:
1. Reread your manuscript before starting any editing or revising.
2. Utilize a critique group or a critique partner - someone you trust that is giving you sage advice. Remember that not all the comments given will be used nor will they be your way of doing things but if the comments are consistent throughout the story and they do help make the story stronger or better, then, by all means, you should use them. If you feel the comments don't have value as that may not be the way you write (your voice) or it will change the meaning of the story, then you are not obligated to use the comments. Just be consistent when reading through the comments and make sure to use the ones you don't feel strongly against.
3. Edit your story - go through looking for missing words, typos or misspelled words, checking grammar along the way (paragraphs are all in place, punctuation is correct, et cetera).
4. Jump in after receiving your edits/critiques/comments from your editor or person with whom you have established a rapport and trust to give you the sage advice needed to polish the manuscript.
5. After finalizing those comments, go back and reread the story to make sure you have a story that flows and makes sense (you want to make sure you didn't delete something or change something in the middle of the story that would affect something later or earlier in the story).
6. Send your manuscript back to friend for copyediting - checking all your words, punctuation, and flow of story.
7. Re-edit/polish.

You can repeat steps 4 through 7 as many times as you feel is necessary to make your story the best piece you can publish, but be careful. If you do those steps too many times, you will lose the content of the story and it will no longer be "your story." Revisions are a necessity when it comes to writing; everyone, fiction and nonfiction writers alike, has to revise their manuscript. Don't skip this very important step.

-----------------
Ms. Eldering is the award winning author of the Junior Geography Detective Squad (JGDS), 50-state, mystery, trivia series. Her stories "Train of Clues" (soon to be re-released), "The Proposal" (soon to be released as an ebook), "Tulip Kiss" (soon to be released as an ebook), and "Butterfly Halves" (soon to be released as an ebook) all placed first, second, or runner up in various contests to include two for Armchair Interviews and two for Echelon Press (Fast and .... themed type contests). Her story "Bride-and-Seek" (soon to be released as an ebook) was selected for the South Carolina Writers' Workshop (SCWW) anthology, the Petigru Review.

Ms. Eldering makes her home in upper state South Carolina and loves to travel, write, cross stitch and crochet. When she's not busy with teenaged children still at home, she can be found at various homeschool or book events promoting her state series (JGDS series) and soon to be released YA paranormal mystery, Finally Home.

For more information about the JGDS series, please visit the JGDS blog or the JGDS website. For more information about Elysabeth's other writings, please visit her general writing and family blog or her website.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Revisions for Out of Print Books

I have the pleasure of featuring author and writing instructor Kelly McClymer today, and her topic is tweaking books for digital publishing. This is something many of us authors are thinking of doing and should do.

Revisions for Out of Print Books
By Kelly McClymer

I've been a writing instructor for over a decade now. One quote I offer students early on is "Writing is revising." This is an oft-repeated quote and I cannot find an original attribution for it. Nevertheless, I offer it because I believe it.

However, it used to be that there was an end to that revision. It was called publication. Sure, some famous authors like Stephen King could go back and release an uncut version of The Stand, after he had amassed a lot of clout. But the typical authors received their box of printed books with awe and joy for two reasons: cradling the finished book; and knowing they could not "fix just one more sentence."

E-publishing changed all that, as I discovered when I began to re-release my out-of-print historical romance series in e-book form. The books had to be scanned, edited, proofed, and formatted. And, oh, by the way, while I was fixing the scan errors, why didn't I just tweak a word or two here that sounded off to me. And hadn't a reviewer complained about this scene? Didn't I think she was right? Long story short: I've been working on these five backlist books for a year. Only two are out, although three more are shortly to follow and all five will be available by the end of May.

What took me so long? In short: Book Two of the five in the series. Readers and reviewers had pointed out that my hero was, well, wimpy.

I begged to differ, but when I read the book, I saw their point. As this was back when published meant "done." I had just suffered a bad case of "wish I had."

I happily tweaked the books that didn't need too much tweaking. The stories I loved, Miranda and her duke in The Fairy Tale Bride; Hero and Arthur in The Unintended Bride; Romeo and Juliet (yes, really) in The Infamous Bride; and especially my favorite, Helena and Rand in The Next-Best Bride. But when it came to Valentine and Emily, I did not know how to approach Valentine.

Then my daughter got engaged and I started a 50 day promotion to help pay for wedding costs. It became important not to have The Fairy Tale Bride up there all alone, looking forlorn. So I finally tackled Valentine and his wimpiness.

To be clear, he isn't wimpy. He's perfectly happy to put his life on the line for his Lady Emily. He just knows he can't provide a luxurious life for her, and that's a problem because he's seen what living hand-to-mouth has done to his mother.

How to show that, though, when I had an opening like this:

*********
Emily woke as the carriage slowed. "Must we stop?"

Valentine shook away the doubts that had assailed him in the gloom of their long night's run for the border. "The horses cannot go on much farther unless they are fed and watered‚ and I cannot let you starve."

She pressed her lips together a moment, then flashed him a brave smile. "I wish it were done."

"It will be soon enough." He kept his voice firm as he asked, for the hundredth time, "Are you certain of this, Emily? I am willing to wait until your father sees reason."

*******

Don't you just want to shake that wimpy ditherer? Right. Not a good way to start. However, it is also not a great idea to shovel a bunch of back story into the midst of an elopement. Explanation slows the story. The end.

What to do? I dithered for a year (yes, this is probably why I didn't notice that it was unwise to open with a hero in mid-dither). At last, I had an epiphany: change the point of view from Valentine to Emily. After all, she knows what he is worried about, and it is part of why she loves him -- he puts her welfare above his own. Gratifying, except when it keeps a couple apart, right?

So I made a relatively simple change in the opening (and in many other spots in the book, to be fair), and suddenly the hero's spine that I always saw became clearer on the page.

Can you see it better, through Emily's perspective?

******

He sat forward and looked into her eyes, as if he would look through to her very soul. "Are you certain you can bear the gossip you will suffer when society hears of our elopement?"

Silly man. How could he not see the truth in her eyes. She touched his cheek. "It will be for the briefest of times, as you well know. And once we have settled and begun our family, we shall become yesterday's news and quite too boring to gossip about."

*******

If it still seems unclear to readers, though, I can always go back and revise. After all, "writing is revising." Right? Oh dear.

Kelly McClymer is hoping that fate is sending her a message by allowing her to release her out-of-print Once Upon a Wedding series in e-book form just in time to earn a little money to pay for her daughter's wedding. Read all 50 reasons she owes her daughter a nice wedding on her website in the "Confessions of a Turtle Mom" series. Not to mention, if her daughter hadn't gotten engaged, Kelly might still be revising "just one more thing."

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children's author and children’s ghostwriter as well as the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move. You can find out more about writing for children and her services at: Karen Cioffi Writing for Children.

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