An Intro to The Art of Revision
I got asked recently on twitter for advice on how to begin revisions on the first draft of a novel. The topic is a bit much to address in chunks of 140 characters, here's a blog post on it.
First off, I do have to give a disclaimer and say that I can only talk about MY process, which won’t apply to, or work for, everyone. Honestly, I’m still figuring it out myself. So if you read this and think, “Hm, that doesn’t sound like something I’d like to do at all,” that’s perfectly fine. But I do hope it helps, even a little!
Admission number 1: My first drafts are awful, awful things. They can’t even really be called first drafts. They have big gaping gaps in them where I’ve skipped over scenes I didn’t want to write, or didn’t know how to write (i.e. Character needs to run away from home? Why? Big fight with parents? Older sister in trouble? Both? No idea right now, so I’m just gonna skip the impetus scene and jump right into her hitch-hiking). They have characters whose personalities suddenly do a 180 as I figure out that my bad-boy rockstar is more of a sensitive, emo-poet. Hints as to possible plot threads (there IS a monster under her bed!) exist but then lead to nowhere as I decide said plot thread is going to get cut (no monsters in this book after all).
The rather pathetic thing about all this is that I DO outline. I DO brainstorm. I come up with whole character backstories and world-building documents...but have come to terms with the fact that nothing is set until I actually try it out in-story, on the page.
And even not then.
This, I think, is one of the most important parts of revising a first draft. You have to see it as malleable. A first draft is cloth. Revision is what makes it into a dress or a blouse or a nice trench coat.
During a first draft, you figure out What Is My Story About. Also importantly, you figure out What Is My Story NOT About. During my first revision, I go back through my first draft and figure out what stays, and what goes, and what order the things that stay are going to happen in.
This sort of questioning trickles down to the chapter-level. What needs to be in this chapter? What is essential? Which characters needed to be introduced now, and which could wait? Which conflicts needed to be hinted at now? Which settings needed to be explored?
If it’s not essential, it gets cut. (by “cut,” I don’t mean wiped off the face of the earth. I usually save each draft as a new file, so anything I cut in draft 2 still exists in my draft 1 file. You never know when it might be useful again). Basically, your first step is going back to this mass of words you have and figure out the bones of your story. Make sure everything adheres to these bones. Make sure everything is needed.
That's the bare bones of revision. Next post, I'll go more into the details :)
How do you approach revisions?