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KAM
04-25-2006, 08:27 AM
Hi everyone,

Having just finished the first draft of my novel, I'm wondering if anyone has advice on the revision process. I'm just not sure what to do first. Do you normally start on page one and get each sentence perfect before moving on? Or is it better to read through and work on the big stuff (plot, structure, character) first, and worry about the other stuff (grammar, language, style) later?

All opinions/insight welcome - I haven't even started and already I feel lost!

Kim

britlitfantw
04-25-2006, 09:55 AM
First off, unless you are absolutely itching to jump back into it -- who are we to say no to inspiration? -- put your manuscript away for a week, two weeks, a month. As long as it takes to calm yourself and get some distance from the piece so that you can be objective. Don't, however, wait so long that you lose interest. ^_^

No doubt other, more experienced writers than I will be pitching in with advice soon enough. Hang in there, it's not as bad as it seems! Congratulations on finishing your first draft.

Sharon Mock
04-25-2006, 09:56 AM
I start with the big stuff and work my way down, although it's not like I don't end up polishing sentences along the way. The danger with focusing on line-editing first is that you end up unable to see the larger structural issues.

This thread (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=456097) includes a detailed discussion of how I went about working with a very messy first draft. (The link plops you mid-thread, unfortunately--I recommend scrolling to the top and reading the whole thing.) At least one person found it helpful, so I pass it along to you.

Phouka
04-25-2006, 10:20 AM
I'm revisiting a first draft from over a year ago -- and what works for me is to take each scene and actually rewrite it: open a new doc and type it in again, making changes as I do it. I have a hard time editing an existing document, since I sometimes want to change things around dramatically so retyping/rewriting lets me keep the gist of the scene, pick the pieces of description and dialog that work, and change words at will without having to cut and paste. And, I have the original to compare against or reinstate if I mess up the rewrite.

Sometimes when the "second version" is done, I have a very different scene/chapter, but the process iworks for me.

Jamesaritchie
04-25-2006, 11:44 AM
I want all the big stuff, story, characters, plot, etc., done correctly in the first draft. For me, the second draft is about polish, about making the writing as pure and as perfect as I can get it. I start at page one, sentence one, and make sure each sentence stands up. I tighten, look at word choice and syntax, get rid of anything that clunks or clanks. This second pass is also where I make the dialogue work.

But there's no way I could finish a first draft if there were real problems with the story, the characters, or the plot. I can't see the novel being coherent, or ending at thhe proper place, if these problems existed. These items may need tidied a bit, tightened a touch, but, for me, the second draft is about polish.

The older I get, the less sure I am about letting a novel sit for a month before revising, rewriting. I know it's terribly common advice, but I'm not at all sure it really helps enough to matter. I usually do let mine sit now, but in all honesty I see no difference in quality between ones that sit and ones that don't.

And I've just known too many very good writers who don't let their manuscriptos rest, and too many bad ones who do. A day or three of rest, ,yes, but for the writer, not the novel.

Zolah
04-25-2006, 06:07 PM
Hi everyone,

Having just finished the first draft of my novel, I'm wondering if anyone has advice on the revision process. I'm just not sure what to do first. Do you normally start on page one and get each sentence perfect before moving on? Or is it better to read through and work on the big stuff (plot, structure, character) first, and worry about the other stuff (grammar, language, style) later?

All opinions/insight welcome - I haven't even started and already I feel lost!

Kim

My personal philosophy is: just write it, and fix everything in the re-write. That's because I'm an anal fusspot worrier, and if I allow myself any slack on that point, I can and will get stuck three chapters in, endlessly polishing, revising and stressing out about how it all works. I've ruined some very promising ideas by doing that.

So I push myself right on to the end, not stopping, not daring to breathe. When I've managed to get it finished, I put it away for as long as I can stand (somewhere between a week and a couple of months, but that last is wishful thinking - I can never last that long) and then print it all out, shove it in a folder, and basically handcuff myself to that folder. It goes with me everywhere. On the bus, to work, out to coffee, in the bath. I try to read through the hardcopy as quickly as possible, like a disinterested reader would, and I keep a nice fat red pen handy, marking up everything that catches my eye, like 'This leads nowhere now - remove' or 'Rubbish! Do better' or 'THIS paragraph HERE and THIS one HERE' or 'This whole idea doesn't work - remove all references'. I mark everything I see, from spelling mistakes and typos to major problems with characters or scenes. If a single page escapes some kind of marking, I'll know I didn't try hard enough. Usually the blank back of each page will be covered in scribbled notes.

Then I take my scrawled over ms and sit back down at my computer and start to make all the changes on screen. Sometimes as I do this I realise that the change I suggested on my hardcopy doesn't work, or that something I decided not to bother with should actually be saved. I'm still on the look-out or spelling mistakes and typos. This stage usually takes me a couple of weeks. When I've finished, I run the spell-check over the whole thing (taking its advice with a pinch of salt) and then I send it to my agent before I can chicken out, because I know I've done the best I can, and anything else which needs doing will only be caught by a fresh pair of eyes.

The only thing I normally have to do any big work on after this stage is plotting. Plotting is my weak flank. I'm incapable of seeing the weaknesses in my plots myself (unless I put the ms away for two years or more). This is where my editor (with a patient and long-suffering sigh) will point out to me that my structure is lop-sided, or the second half is too scene heavy or that the second third of the book doesn't work because it's too predictable or something. Once it's actually been shown to me, I realise what has gone wrong, and dutifully fix it (usually over a weekend). Then we're in business.

This method is fairly quick and easy, so if you replace 'agent' and 'editor' with 'trusted beta reader who will tell me the truth' it should probably work for anyone.

AdamH
04-25-2006, 07:51 PM
Do you normally start on page one and get each sentence perfect before moving on? Or is it better to read through and work on the big stuff (plot, structure, character) first, and worry about the other stuff (grammar, language, style) later?


Hi Kim!

I revise everying from beginning to end. I don't jump around unless it's entirely necessary (i.e. realizing that I wrote that the character had green eyes in some parts while having blue eyes in others).

I try to write the first draft in such a way that I get the story down with the focus on "the big stuff" (plot, character, structure). They are the skeleton to my story. Without it being sound, everything else will fall apart.

In revision, that's where I work on clarity, grammar, POV issues, verbage, and anything else that may need tweaking. I usually do this at least twice in case I missed something. I usually end up missing something on the first run through.

To comment quick on waiting to revise after the first draft, I do wait a few days up to a week but it's more for me. After so much time living with the characters, I'd like some time to myself before I jump back into it.

Anyway, I hope that helped! :)

cuteshoes
04-25-2006, 08:10 PM
I waited 5-years to revise my manuscript.

awaitingthemuse
04-25-2006, 11:21 PM
I am at the same stage as you. I have found this website useful. It will take me more that one cycle to get mine to where I want it to be. I found this useful to give me a structure to follow when revising

http://www.hollylisle.com/fm/Workshops/one-pass-revision.html

Tracy
04-25-2006, 11:45 PM
Hi Kam, I too offer my congratulations on finishing your first draft. There are many writers who don't get that far, so give yourself a big clap on the back for that one.

In common with the others who have posted, I too use the first draft to get the structure in place. I also post lots of notes to myself [rephrase] if it's clunky in style but I know I don't like the writing; [flag this] if I'm introducing something which I should have mentioned before and so on.

So the first rewrite is to find all those square brackets and follow the instructions. I'll take the opportunity to rejig the scenes if I need to, to make sure that the story flows well.

From then I apply a process of ever finer filters. I check for flow and consistency. I will read over a section to make sure the plot or character arc flows well, the thought processes leading smoothly from one position to the next - I'll even put one character's dialogue in a different colour to make it stand out.

Then I do a search for adverbs, I literally do a search for 'ly', and try to take out as many of those as I can.

then I do a search on my overused words/phrases. I'm a demon for using 'in fact' and 'actually' in my dialogue! In the first draft I don't worry about it, but I do sort it out afterwards.

I also find that in my first draft description loses out to plot, character and structure, so I drop in my descriptions on a subsequent re-write. I find that that brings the novel to life in an amazing way - I love that bit!

Now that I know that each sentence says WHAT I want it to say, WHERE I want it to say it, I go over each one and rewrite for style, to make it the most elegant it can possibly be.

Depending on the word count, I'll often do a word count per paragraph, and try to reduce it by 10%. This makes for much tighter writing. I won't insist on these cuts, but it makes each word earn its place in that paragraph, so if it remains after that, it's definitely needed there.

Then I check for typos and grammatical mistakes.

I do all of this on the screen, and then I print it out and read it through - and it's amazing what leaps out at you from the printed page, so I make those changes too.

It sounds like a lot of work, but it isn't as hard (I find) as the first draft, because you're working on SOMETHING rather than working on NOTHING! And I find it fun, it's lovely to see the mss getting tighter and more streamlined and more elegant.

And fun is why we do this, right??

Hope this helps! Good luck with it.

All best, Tracy

Cat Scratch
04-26-2006, 12:54 AM
I think it's different for each individual. Though I do agree that setting it aside for at least a month is necessary to get some distance.

What I typically do is read it again from start to finish, making notes in the margin if necessary. This way I get a general sense of pacing, etc. I can tell if there are any large structure problems that need to be addressed, or other bigger things like character inconsistencies, or two-dimensional characters, or motivational questions, etc. If there are large things like that, they need to be addressed first. No point rewriting sentences if they're only going to be cut.

Then step back again, leave it alone, and read it a third time to see if the large changes have worked. If so, then attack it line-by-line.

Jamesaritchie
04-26-2006, 01:56 AM
I think it's different for each individual. Though I do agree that setting it aside for at least a month is necessary to get some distance.

.

Maybe, but I'm not sure why distance is supposed to help? I think the "set it aside for a month" is a fairly recent development in the field of writing. God knows most of the classic writers never practiced it, and darned few of the older crop of current writers I really enjoy reading practice it, Stephen King aside.

Shadow_Ferret
04-26-2006, 02:15 AM
I'm zeroing in on the end of the first draft of my WIP (in fact, I have just two scenes left to write -- why am I posting here?) and I have no intention to take any time off from it. I'm planning on diving right back in and starting from the beginning and fleshing things out, cleaning up continuity issues, and polishing things.


I don't understand the distancing part. I'm exciting about this story NOW. I want to finish this story NOW. My big fear is if I wait a month I'll get used to waiting and I'll put it off and put it off and it'll never get finished.

Best to strike while the iron is hot!

Linda Adams
04-26-2006, 03:04 AM
I'm zeroing in on the end of the first draft of my WIP (in fact, I have just two scenes left to write -- why am I posting here?) and I have no intention to take any time off from it. I'm planning on diving right back in and starting from the beginning and fleshing things out, cleaning up continuity issues, and polishing things.


I don't understand the distancing part. I'm exciting about this story NOW. I want to finish this story NOW. My big fear is if I wait a month I'll get used to waiting and I'll put it off and put it off and it'll never get finished.

Best to strike while the iron is hot!

Because the story will look very different a month from now. If you start revising tomorrow, you might breeze through a big problem without every seeing it because your mind mentally connects the dots without realizing that they aren't there. A month would give you time to see it differently, and suddenly, you'd see all the dots were missing.

Jamesaritchie
04-26-2006, 03:18 AM
Because the story will look very different a month from now. If you start revising tomorrow, you might breeze through a big problem without every seeing it because your mind mentally connects the dots without realizing that they aren't there. A month would give you time to see it differently, and suddenly, you'd see all the dots were missing.



I can only say it doesn't look any different to me. Maybe it's the way I write, the way I tell a story, I don't know. But that month of waiting does seem to help in any way. I've tried it both ways, and the second drafts seems just as easy the day after I finsih as it does a month later.

It's probbaly been two or three months since I read the first few chapters of the novel, anyway, so in that sense it's already been sitting for longer than needed.

gabbleandhiss
04-26-2006, 04:08 AM
Measure twice, cut once.

I'm a big note-taker. Spend more time planning the damn story than I do writing it. And I handwrite everything, so I edit when I type.

T-bone
04-26-2006, 05:00 AM
The finest method I've come across for that last bit of polish is TextAloud. I use it to read my ms. back to me (copy and paste maybe a page at a time), sans the human propensity to correct text as we read. Even after employing many of the techniques suggested, and after the most careful scrutiny, it's amazing what boneheaded errors appear. Decent vs. descent, lose vs. loose, the the, you get the idea. Even though the voices are not completely natural, they're pretty good. Issues of punctuation, cadence, word choice and the like jump out at me when I hear them rather than read them.

KAM
04-26-2006, 10:27 AM
Thanks for all your comments. This forum is an amazing resource - you are all so helpful. http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/smilies/smile.gif

This thread (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=456097) includes a detailed discussion of how I went about working with a very messy first draft. (The link plops you mid-thread, unfortunately--I recommend scrolling to the top and reading the whole thing.) At least one person found it helpful, so I pass it along to you.

Sharon, I like the index card system you describe in this link. I think I will try it. I feel good about my overall structure/plot, but my first draft is definitely on the messy side and I know there are gaps in my subplots that I need to fill in. Index cards seems like a good way to tackle that problem.

I am at the same stage as you. I have found this website useful. It will take me more that one cycle to get mine to where I want it to be. I found this useful to give me a structure to follow when revising

http://www.hollylisle.com/fm/Worksh...s-revision.html (http://www.hollylisle.com/fm/Workshops/one-pass-revision.html)

Thanks for this link - it looks like a handy reference. I've got it bookmarked to read over later.

I also find that in my first draft description loses out to plot, character and structure, so I drop in my descriptions on a subsequent re-write. I find that that brings the novel to life in an amazing way - I love that bit!

Tracy, I have the same tendency to focus on plot over description. I know I'll be spending a lot of time weaving in all the detail - good to know I'm not the only one!

As for waiting or not waiting to revise, I'm torn. My gut tells me to take a short break, maybe a couple of weeks. Then again, my gut is so very often wrong. http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/smilies/biggrin.gif It seems to be different for everyone. I guess I just have to figure out what works best for me.

Thanks again! Kim

Jamesaritchie
04-26-2006, 06:16 PM
Measure twice, cut once.

I'm a big note-taker. Spend more time planning the damn story than I do writing it. And I handwrite everything, so I edit when I type.



I use a variation of this rule when writing first drafts: "Think twice, write once."

I don't write notes, but I do keep notes in my head, and I also write first drafts in longhand. I don't write the first sentence that comes to mind. I do my best to keep what I write down a long way behind what I'm thinking.

For me, the biggest fault of a word processor is the commonly heard "It lets my writing keep up with my thoughts." This is the last thing I want to happen. I want my writing a hundred yards or so behind my thoughts. By the time my writing goes down on paper, my thoughts have changed, been rewritten, edited, and the words will, I hope, go down on paper in a form that doesn't need a heck of a lot of work later on.

Shadow_Ferret
04-26-2006, 07:25 PM
In a similar vein, I think where word processing has changed my writing the most is in the revision stage. When I used the old manual typewriter, I'd make changes on the hardcopy in pencil, then I'd be forced by the nature of the beast to RETYPE the whole manuscript. This retyping process often led to further revisions, in the process of retyping I'd often do reWRITES that didn't occur to me when I was doing pencil edits.

The problem I've run into with word processing is I don't have to RETYPE anything and it's almost given the words a "set in stone" significance that was never there before.

When I first started using word processing I had a difficult time editing my stuff because of this "set in stone" phenomenon, but after nearly two decades of working on the computer, I've adjusted and realize nothing is permanent, everything can be deleted and that cut and paste is my friend.

Jenan Mac
04-27-2006, 02:12 AM
[QUOTE=Jamesaritchie]
But there's no way I could finish a first draft if there were real problems with the story, the characters, or the plot. I can't see the novel being coherent, or ending at thhe proper place, if these problems existed. These items may need tidied a bit, tightened a touch, but, for me, the second draft is about polish.


I agree totally with this, James. But I also write from an outline (okay, a not-really-written in stone outline, but a good general one), which may make a difference for some people.
I started my actual revisions by reading out loud, line by line, the whole novel. If a sentence is awkward-sounding, that's the best way to find out, IME. I've ended up doing this about eight times, so far, throughout the process, and I'm finally at a point where I'm pretty happy with the voice.

Liam Jackson
04-27-2006, 02:22 AM
I'm another devotee of the index cards. I have a cork board on the wall above my desk. A card for each chapter with brief notes (written in bold text with a red Sharpie) regarding a char's first appearence, events that could turn into a side plot arch, and a single statement that captures the general events of that chapter.

The visual aid gives me a quick-reference without leaving the page I'm currently working on. I'm pretty sure this system wont work for a lot of folks, but it's kept me on the straight and narrow more than once.

I update the cards every other day. Takes about 5 mins.

Jamesaritchie
04-27-2006, 02:28 AM
In a similar vein, I think where word processing has changed my writing the most is in the revision stage. When I used the old manual typewriter, I'd make changes on the hardcopy in pencil, then I'd be forced by the nature of the beast to RETYPE the whole manuscript. This retyping process often led to further revisions, in the process of retyping I'd often do reWRITES that didn't occur to me when I was doing pencil edits.

The problem I've run into with word processing is I don't have to RETYPE anything and it's almost given the words a "set in stone" significance that was never there before.

When I first started using word processing I had a difficult time editing my stuff because of this "set in stone" phenomenon, but after nearly two decades of working on the computer, I've adjusted and realize nothing is permanent, everything can be deleted and that cut and paste is my friend.



This is largely why I prefer longhand for the first draft, and why I still love manual typewriters. All that typing in does given added opportunity to rewrite and edit.

There are other reasons why I greatly prefer longhand, but the extra rewriting and editing is certainly one big reason.

The slownes of writing is another. Maybe my mind is stuck in first gear, but if I write too fast, quality goes down. Way down. And with dialogue? Forget it.

Glenda
04-27-2006, 02:40 AM
I am at the same stage as you. I have found this website useful. It will take me more that one cycle to get mine to where I want it to be. I found this useful to give me a structure to follow when revising

http://www.hollylisle.com/fm/Workshops/one-pass-revision.html

Thank You for sharing this information. I intend to try this method.

Cat Scratch
04-27-2006, 06:06 AM
Maybe, but I'm not sure why distance is supposed to help? I think the "set it aside for a month" is a fairly recent development in the field of writing. God knows most of the classic writers never practiced it, and darned few of the older crop of current writers I really enjoy reading practice it, Stephen King aside.

What Linda said, to answer your question. As to what you said earlier about how "if there were big problems, I wouldn't have gotten through my first draft." Of course they don't seem like problems at the time--which is why it's important, again for a bit of distance. Things like a main character coming across as unlikeable. This happened to me; I was trying to make her strong and independant, but when I re-read it a lot of things came over as harsh. If I hadn't taken time off from it, it probably would have felt fine, in the context of what I was trying to do. When I looked at it later with fresh eyes I saw it more as a reader would see it.

I also find that my enthusiasm for a project doesn't diminish after just a month. If I pick it up again and go "Meh." then it probably wasn't a very good idea to begin with. If I pick it up and I'm excited all over again to improve it and polish, then I'm off and running again.

paulinebjones
04-27-2006, 10:00 PM
...is an excellent resource. I pull it out each time I finish a book. At the end of each chapter is a check list of things to look for and examples from published books.