Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Craft Issue: Revision Checklists

I know I promised a "Reading Like a Writer Series"... and it is coming! But I'm in the midst of the first major revision of Forgiven, and it's due on my editor's desk yesterday. Well, Friday, but the pressure's on. And RLAW takes some deep analysis.

Because I'm thinking revision, I thought I might share with you a few thoughts about how I work through a manuscript the second, third, fourth, umpteenth time.

In addition to smoothing all those plot inconsistencies, adding twists and turns, and working on character-deepening, and there are a few things I "checklist" as I revise. Here they are:

  • Find all the "ly" words (i.e., adverbs) by using the Word search feature and eliminating most.
  • Search for "it is/was" and "there is/was". It's almost always stronger to use different phrasing. (Or...Phrases are almost always stronger without "it's".)
  • Search for places where my character "felt," "saw," "looked," etc. When I'm really inside my character, those phrases aren't necessary.
  • Search for sentence "flow." In particular, I look sentence by sentence for stronger first and last words.
  • Search for passive voice and other indicators of "telling."
  • Try to make sure there's tension on every page. 
  • Remove dialogue tags wherever possible. Even "said" can get in the way when only two people are talking.
  • Make sure gesture substitutes for internal thoughts wherever possible.
  • Look for those things that popped up in my subconscious and may be amplified - recurring metaphors or images.
  • Watch for repetition.

I try to do a dedicated pass for each of these items. These are really the last bits - if the story needs to be stronger in general I try to use some of the exercises that Donald Maass uses in his Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook.

Now - back to work...and I promise, back soon with RLAW!


Caroline Starr Rose said...

Hi Janet,
I won FAITHFUL at the 2k11 blog a couple of months ago and just wanted to pass on what a delight it was. I am a huge Wallace Stegner fan, and believe his writing stands alone in capturing the American west. As I read your book, I thought of his work again and again. You have created a vivd picture of Yellowstone.

I am curious what your take on your mother character is. Did she commit suicide? Were the bloody wrists meant to show the "accident" wasn't a true accident? Was this character originally written this way?

I had no idea you also wrote GETTING ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT! I used your book to help my students get organized for the 2008-2009 school year. I know several families set up after-school schedules based on your chart. I used your long-term assignment guidelines to help my older kids prepare for the social studies fair.

I look forward to reading more of your work,

Janet Fox said...

Wow, Caroline, you've really made my day! That you know and enjoy both my books is a thrill. I love that you and your students were able to use my guidelines - that's awesome!! And Wallace Stegner - what a lovely comparison. Thank you!

I think Maggie's mother died by accident, although she was clearly troubled. In my imagining she was on her way to leaving her husband and returning to Nat. She'd gone through a severe depression and had finally resolved that the way out was to start a life true to herself by going back west. But she was caught in the high tide accidentally, just at the edge of renewal.

To me that's even more tragic than suicide. And yes, Anna was always written this way. Maybe someday I should tell her story...

Natalie Decker said...

Hello Janet,
I came across a blog that mentioned Faithful 2 days ago, I bought it yesterday and finished it this morning. What a great book! I loved it!
Since moving to Idaho and being so close to Yellowstone, I try to go there as much as I can. No one quite understands my obsession with the place and it's history but your book totally captures that.
I felt like you wrote a story about everything I really and truly love. Geology (I am an Earth Science teacher), romance and yes, Yellowstone!
It is a wonderful thing to be sweapt away in a great book!
Thank you so much!

Janet Fox said...

Hi Natalie - Good grief, you guys sure know how to bring tears to my eyes! Thank you! I adore Yellowstone, too, which is why I had to set the story there. And geology, as well - fantastic!

We were there again last weekend - I had a chance to sign in the General Store, and that was a thrill.

I'm so happy you loved Faithful and thank you for your sweet note!