In the last step, about the basic principle for effective revision I use, but now I will spend another four steps outlining 5 tips, with increasing complexity each week, before moving on to the final steps, 13 and 14, highlighting five key steps, in order of increasing complexity.
For a complete guide of all Storybuilder steps, including a list of posts to come, CLICK HERE.
Tip 1: Avoid those little fixes
Some writers prefer many drafts and proceed on good faith that the prose will work themselves out as the layers add up and they get more familiar with the story. This means leaving weak sentences and misfit paragraphs in place, trusting on good faith that they will come together as you churn through draft 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and so on. I will make the assumption that you have been following this workshop and have tried to write your story using the principles outlined during the drafting phase (Step 8).
This means you have worked carefully using your frames and have invested approximately 1-2 hours / 1000 words of draft. This means your overall prose are well-developed, as are your scenes. It means you can delegate your work into two distinct phases: revision, which involves larger changes, and polishing, which deals with all those “little fixes” (I will talk about polishing in Steps 13 and 14).
As I mentioned in last week’s post (Revision 101), the goal of revision is to bring your draft in sync with your story. This means having scope and perspective to make large changes and appreciate them beyond the actual words on the page. Fussing with your prose to perfect them, therefore, will steal the large scope you otherwise need to achieve effective revision.
Tip 2: Use your post-draft outline
In step 11 we invest quite a bit of time in going over our story and writing an outline that divides your manuscript into it’s smallest components. The process of creating this outline and filling it in meant rewriting the former outlines you developed and telling your story in bullet form so you can appreciate angles that the prose otherwise might hide.
Use the post-draft outline sub-frames to direct you. Each of these sub-frames is anchored in a given frame, which will help you appreciate how each sub-frame develops themes relevant to your premise. The sub-frame sheet allows you to write out background information that doesn’t appear in the draft and allows you to look for inner and outer turning points so you can see if your story in this place moves in a way that is compelling to your reader.
Tip 3: Don’t let the draft lie to you
Your draft is what you wrote. Think of it as a discovery. Think of it also as a lot of uncharted territory and false labeling as you attempted to make sense of what you actually encountered.
Your outline was your map from which you planned your trip carefully before starting your draft, but it couldn’t prepare you for every tangle of underbrush, pitfall, and the layout of enemy tents. When you did your drafting, you went out reconnoitering, and wrote out exactly what you saw.
Now you’re back with detailed data and it’s overwhelming. You wrote down everything you encountered, but it was dark, and you didn’t know what you were actually seeing. That underbrush you encountered was actually tripwire, and you’re lucky you get caught in it. And those enemy tents—guess what? They were actually your allies, so the plans for attack you formulated while on your way back would have made the war a lot messier.
Your draft is a best guess, and, if done well—if you write slowly and take the time to truly discover the story—you’ll have all the details right. For the most part.
Your post-draft outline is a chance to go back to the map, consult with intelligence and other reports, and put all the details together so that your detailed account of the terrain is in fact correct.
Then you’ll be ready for attack.
(Aka sending out to a publisher. Yep, it’s a tough market.)
Tip 4: Leave yourself notes and time to think
So your draft lies to you here and there and you have to change your plans. Don’t change them too quickly. Those tents that you are told are allies might be neutral. That matters when you’re planning war.
Similarly, the subplot that makes no sense might work with the fix you come up with as soon as you spot the problem, but there might be a better fix that will come to you as you continue to hop around your sub-frames and consider the various angles. See the whole picture. Don’t just think about the problem in sub-frame 19.2. Think about how that problem pokes its head up in 11.2, 13.4, 16.7, and 23.3, and leave notes in those spots that will be easy for you to get back to using the “find” feature in your word processor. (I like to use text in square brackets between paragraphs, and anchors.)
Mastering revision involves lots of restraint. Like the art of mastering drafting, it, too, requires more thought than writing. While you might spend 1-2 hours / session of revision at the computer, and do this for many months, during this phase your mind will be spinning all throughout the day and these are problems you will no doubt be taking to bed.
Tip 5: Layer in your rewrites
The goal of the revision phase is to get away from linear revision. This means you should not feel like you have to go through your notes from the beginning to end when you address those parts of your manuscript that need a tune-up.
Think of this as a visit to the chiropractor. (This workshop started with a posture analogy, right?) If you’ve made it this far, you’ve done a lot of work, and I bet you have lots of knots in your back.
Now, a chiropractor doesn’t go over your whole back, bottom to top, again and again. She might go over it once to feel where there are the most subluxations. Crack. Crack. Crack. That’s your middle back, by the way. Maybe there were a few in your lower back, and a few in your neck, but every time she gets to your middle back it’s like you’ve turned into a bag of Orville Redenbacher.
That’s where your chiropractor spends most of her time, and similarly you, as writer, need to spend most of your time where it matters, layering in all your rewrites until there are no more things that are out of alignment with your post-draft outline.
Revision is important. It’s the time when your story comes out of the cocoon and spreads brilliant butterfly wings of gold and purple and scarlet. You can always do more of it, but at some point you have to stop. It’s not meant to be endless, which is why it’s important to have a method, even if there is madness in it.
My goal with this workshop is to give you all a resource to help you complete your projects, and so I will spend more time on revision. Next week comes revision 301: 5 more tips that will help you deal with all those popping vertebrae.
Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. He is the author of The Pact and is an editor for Champagne Books.
Find out more about Graeme and his writing by visiting his website, HERE.