Saturday, January 31, 2009

Middle Drafts: Revision Process part 3

At this point in the process, I feel pretty good about my novel. The main plot is cemented. Beta readers are getting excited, and all the gaping holes are fixed.  As the creator, I feel like I’m finally getting to the meat of the story, and I expect it will be easier now. It expect it all to mesh.

Yet, this is when the real work seems to begin.

I chalk this up to a new level of accountability. When looking at the big picture, as in previous drafts, we often suspect small issues but shrug them off anyway. News flash: shrugging it off is not an option anymore. You have to actively seek out and solve all the issues you can find, no matter how much it smarts.

For example. There’s always the scene you love, that goes against all conventional wisdom. A dramatic moment, turned “just a dream”. The info-dump scene. The cheesy flashback that was so much fun to write, but yeah, it’s cheesy. The prologue your novel could do without.

They all have to go. A good rule of thumb is, if it doesn’t support the main story goal, and you can’t change it to fit those goals, it doesn’t make the cut. 

During rewrites, you do a lot of identifying: main themes, plots, characters, goals, etc. Then you spent a lot of time focusing and improving toward these goals. It was about fleshing out, rearranging, discovering.

But in the middle drafts you are doing the exact opposite – finding the things that do not support your story, then either tailoring them until they fit, merging it with something stronger, or cutting altogether.

See what I mean? Revision means operating on a whole new level.

The third facet of middle drafts is that you have to pay close attention to things that were never a problem before – pacing, flow, continuity. Research! Timelines need hammering out. Backstories need clarification. Fact-checkers should check all your facts. 

Also, this is when you want to really consider your audience. There are going to be parts of the novel that just “click” with a core group of people. This is resonance. You want to have such person-to-person connections, but at the same time, you want to appeal to a wider audience. Another way to say it is, without shutting anyone out, you want to enhance the things some people will strongly relate to.

Let me use Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why as an example. His premise was original and intriguing. The themes of suicide, loss, and grief are things that appeal to a large audience. But his clipped prose is what stands out to a lot of people. Some dislike it; a few love it. (Hint: me.) For someone who enjoys sparse, gritty writing, this appeal is obvious and immediate. But at the same time, it wasn’t a slap in the face to those who didn’t like herky-jerky writing.


The middle drafts really are a complex part of the revision process. We all develop our own methods for different stages, but I thought I would share a few things that have saved me more than once.


Storyboarding. Even if you’ve never done it before, and you’ve promised never to try it, I’m begging you, give it a single chance. It’s incredibly simple:

1 -Buy some large stick-it notes in different colors.

2 - Go through your novel and scribble down the highlights of each chapter – or scene – onto a note.

3 -Stick them on a wall or board in chronological order. If you have multiple point of view characters, you can use a different color for each character.

And there you go. Insta-timeline.

This is the most influential tool of writing and rewriting I have ever found. It helps me organize my thoughts, no matter what part of the process I’m in, and it even allows me to follow subplot “threads” throughout the story (by using different color notes for each subplot.)


Betas. I know, duh. If you’re serious about publication, this one is assumed. But how many betas do you have? Three? Four? Have you limited them to other writers, or even other writers in your genre? This is a mistake. You want all kinds of betas.

Let me say that again: all kinds. You want to critics. You want the proud family members. You want people who write in your genre, and you want those who write out. If you’re writing a murder mystery, get a private detective to read it. Same goes for any special topic of interest in your novel. Think “accountability.”


Preparing your submissions packet. Have you ever tried explaining your novel to a friend, and found yourself skipping parts? We automatically gloss over things we know are weak. The same thing happens when preparing your query, synopsis, or even your pitch. It forces you to look at your novel in specific terms, through the eyes of others, with the mindset of an objective reader.

It’s a huge insight you won’t find anywhere else. Try it.

Here’s a link about query and synopsis formatting.

Here’s an example synopsis.

Here’s an example query.



- Creative A



Annie King said...

Thanks for another great article, and the useful links. So far, I've resisted the post the many colored notes storyboard on the wall routine, but I often wonder if it would be helpful to me, so I'm glad to know it works for you.

Where do you find your readers? I have three writer friends I can sometimes ask to read for me and they do give meaningful feedback, but I feel like I'm imposing, and I don't think they'd have time for a full length novel. Are there any online writer's groups you've found to be particularly helpful?

Creative A said...

Thanks Annie, glad to hear it! Normally I shy away from things that sound like outlining, because frankly, they kill my buzz. What I like about storyboarding is that it doesn't do that.

It helps me visualize something I'm toying with, to see if it actually works in my novel, and it helps when I start shuffling chapters around.

As for readers...I have some friends and family, but mostly I use the AbsoluteWrite forums to find readers. They have a whole chunk of forums dedicated to sharing your work and getting feedback, and a whole thread where people offer to beta read stories. You should check it out, see if it works for you. I'm sorry that I don't know any writer's groups to recommend.


Annie King said...

Thanks for the info, and also for clarifying the distinction between an outline and a storyboard. I never thought of it that way. I'm one of the writers who writes to find out what will happen next, so I never outline, but the storyboard checks what you've already done to see if it works, with the aim of revision. Revision is something I do incessantly.

Creative A said...

Exactly. You can outline with the storyboard, but you don't have to. It's very versatile. I personally need to know about two or three chapters in advance, so I plan them out ahead and stick them on my storyboard to see if they work. But sometimes I just put up the chapters as I write them.

I'm obsessive about revision, as well. I often come up with great premises but don't know how to execute them; thus, oodles of revision. Of course the storyboard is immensely helpful here, as well.


Rafael said...

Thanks for the info.I am reaching the end of my second draft. JOY! Soon I will leave my beloved at the tender mercy of the Betas!

The horror!


Creative A said...

Lol! Good for you. Don't worry...the betas, they come in peace.


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