Last week I talked about a few of the more global approaches that I take while revising a manuscript in progress; this week I’ll try and finish up with the following:
- how I use checklists
- my favorite workbooks
- dedicated passes
As I move into the middle to later stages of revision, I like to use checklists to remind me to pay attention to my own personal quirks – the tics I’ve developed as a writer that weaken my writing. Because my first drafts are so organic, I tend to be lazy at times – I’m paying more attention to getting stuff down on paper than I am on the smaller issues. So this mid-revision process is truly important.
Here’s a personal checklist that I developed a long time ago:
- Find all the "ly" words (i.e., adverbs) by using the Word "find" feature and eliminating most - if not all.
- Search for "it is/was" and "there is/was". It's almost always stronger to use different phrasing. (Or, by example... “Phrases are almost always stronger when they don’t begin with ‘it's’.”)
- Search for places where my character "felt," "saw," "looked," etc. When I'm really inside my character, those soft verbs aren't necessary. Much better to show the event or action without the distancing verbs.
- Search for sentence "flow." In particular, I look sentence by sentence for stronger first and last words. First and last are the most important words in the sentence.
- Search for passive voice and other indicators of "telling" (like, helping verbs, "to be" verbs).
- 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 unintentional repetition of certain words and phrases.
|my own workbook in the company of the "greats"|
I have several workbooks that are particular favorites, and at some stage of revision I’ll work through some or all of the exercises within:
- DonaldMaass, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook
- DarcyPattison, Novel Metamorphosis
- MarthaAlderson, The Plot Whisperer Workbook
- CherylKlein, Second Sight
As you can see, I’ve made up my own workbook that includes my checklists and some others I’ve collected at conferences and workshops. In that workbook is a list of the things I look for in my dedicated passes.
At some point near the end of the revision process, I’ll do a dedicated pass for things like:
- smooth and interesting transitions between chapters
- magnification of character traits
- items of metaphoric significance or resonant setting details or thematic elements that can be amplified
These dedicated passes allow me to focus on just one thing at a time. Sometimes, in a more complicated story, I may have to do a dedicated pass for small items like eye or hair color, or prop details.
What this all means is that I often do 15 or 20 or more revisions for each work. Sometimes things change radically from revision to revision; sometimes I'm changing just one thing, albeit important (to me, at least.) The later revisions usually take only a short amount of time - maybe only a day each. But this process works for me.
Next week I’ll be participating in a blog hop – but the following week I’ll talk about the most important aspect of revision: inspiration.