Wednesday, August 24, 2016

On Major Revisions

To start, I'm going to talk about a novel I wrote in college. It was experimental and told from multiple first-person POVS, twelve, actually, if I'm remembering correctly.

Yes, I said twelve. What I was aiming for was a story told patchwork, the heart of which remained the same while the rotation of narration deepened the understanding the reader had for the events, the city and the continual refrain that everything and everyone was connected. It was also high fantasy, starred a central POV and the other players were all tangential to this singular focus, adding to the whole.

It was ambitious, slightly insane and completely unsalable. My lit. department professor who was overseeing the project (Independent Study because I'd taken every single other writing course our college offered. All of them.) compared me to Cormac McCarthy in tone. I furrowed my brow in confusion, having never read the man's work (and still haven't) and moved on. This book, and all of it's madness, sat in a drawer resigned to obscurity.

One day I was bored and feeling masochistic, so I pulled this story back out and started to look at it. I could still feel what I'd felt when I started working on it and I still wanted that overarching concept of everything is connected, to move you through the book. So, I put on my writer hat and I rewrote it completely into omniscient third. This entailed some straight up retyping of whole chapters (which helped revise them anyhow), some find/replace on the word "I" and an overhaul of the ending, lengthening of the first act and changes to character's fates.

It was painful, tedious, work. But I could not be more happy that I did it. A more recent novel, (which I talk about more extensively here) has gone through stages. My very first draft, at the tender age of sixteen, was in third person. The revision later was in third and the revision after that was multiple first. Oddly, the format stuck on this project. There's a single "strong" central POV and the others rotate around that one in a set pattern that focuses on deepening your understanding of the events, highlighting the differences between worlds and more importantly, giving a greater focus on the main character.

That was the goal, in any case. I had major revisions on that novel at least three times. I cut entire chapters this last time around (and it's still longer than it was when I started), changed a character's gender (oddly, this was the least difficult change to make) and literally had to print out the entire book, part it out by scenes and rearrange the entire timeline.

These kind of revisions can seem incredibly daunting. I know, I've been there. But the important thing to remember going in to major revisions is:

Have a plan.

This is usually called a "Revision Plan", easy enough to remember. Before I started chopping, changing and so forth and first had to know where the hell I was going. I mean, you don't start driving without knowing where you're going, do you? Well, you might, but not in this instance. Your revision plan is your road map. A guide to show you where to go. I could continue with this, but I think you get the drift. 

How do I know where I'm going? 

This is where CP's, beta readers and your helpful neighborhood Batman...writer friends, come in handy. It can be difficult to judge something you've gotten close to, and I had the good fortune of having let both of the books referenced sit for a few years before I took another look at them. This let me look at them with less bias. More of a reader/editor perspective. I was able to get a better picture of what was wrong because I was no longer so close. 

If you are still close, you're going to need an outside perspective. Take your notes/their notes, compile them and start making a list of the things that will need changed. I usually put my revision plan in my document at the end, and then reference it as I go, but it can be a separate document, a notebook, on a whiteboard over your desk, pinned to the wall--whatever and wherever best suited to you. 

This is not a sprint. 

Revisions aren't even a marathon, they're a decathlon. Revisions require you to utilize all of your skills in order to finish. Pace yourself, have your CP/reader/kidnapped friend read your chapters, scenes, etcetera along the way. It's important to check in, make sure you're still headed in the right direction. Think of your CP as the robotic GPS voice, gently and loudly reminding you to turn left. 

And then, when you forget, giving you an alternate route. 

It's scary sometimes. You might feel like you're in over your head. Like the book is going to consume your soul and sell you off to the elder gods, but that's why writers work best with community. Take a break from the book. Take whatever time you need to get through the process, and that end, celebrate the fact that you have a book that's so much stronger than it was before. 

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