Last week, I gave a detailed account of the first half of my revisions process – the fun and creative but sometimes arduous task of making sure the actual story is just right. Plot and character development must be nailed down before I waste time on anything else. After all, it’s in that phase where I make the most profound changes and there’s no use spending a lot of time on perfecting the words of a sentence or a whole paragraph that might not be there later.
We left off with my WIP in the hands of my first round of critique partners, who are reading my story for plot and character arcs. Hopefully, their feedback is easy to address. Unfortunately, it not always is. Sometimes I need to put more work into the story’s structure, which I do in the next round of revisions (we’re on the third round now). While I’m doing this, I’m also making sure that I’m satisfied with where chapters end, re-analyzing the need for each scene and even paragraph. By the time I’m done with this round, every paragraph, scene and chapter must serve at least one purpose, but the more, the better.
Now I get into revising the actual writing, including a round of working solely on dialogue and another solely on descriptions. I know the theme of the story by now and revise words and tone to serve and support that theme the best way I can. Some descriptions need to be changed to “showing” rather than “telling.” Some need to be enhanced, while others need to be down-played – sometimes what a character is wearing or what a room looks like is important, but sometimes not and saying so only disrupts the scene and distracts the reader.
Dialogue needs its own round. In that first draft, I wrote what the characters needed to say to each other, sometimes in their “voices” but sometimes in my own. In this revisions round, I make the words belong to the characters, rather than me, adding in body language and working on tags, as well. I also analyze whether the characters actually need to say the words or if there’s another, better way for them to communicate their message.
After this fourth round, I send the manuscript off to the first set of beta readers, because by now I need to know that readers enjoy the story. When their feedback comes to me, I usually have a particular scene or two that needs work, or a character that needs more development. I clear up anything betas found confusing or where they didn’t experience the emotional effect I’d hoped for. Also, I’m constantly working on the writing now. Every time I go through the WIP, I find ways to improve the writing. Then it goes off to the second round of critters.
I choose these critters because they know how to turn a “good” sentence into a beautiful one. They point out awkward phrasing, show me how a few word changes can make a description pop, and frequently tell me, “you can do better.” They notice when a paragraph is too stilted or too long-winded, and if it’s the proper rhythm for the mood I’m trying to set in that particular passage. They also give feedback on everything else, as well, but the writing is their main focus.
With their notes, I go through the manuscript once again (see how you can become so disgusted with and also too close to your own work?), polishing, polishing, polishing. Every paragraph, sentence and word is considered, and if necessary, rewritten. This is when I try to make the writing shine. Then my second round of betas get to read it, hopefully in its almost-final phase.
By the time betas return their comments, I’m at the point where I’m beginning to hate the book. I see that it still needs work, and I know there are way too many “that’s,” “was’s,” “it’s,” “just’s,” and the dreaded saw, heard, felt, realized, decided, etc., even when I’ve been careful to eliminate every one I’d come across in previous rounds. I want to throw the whole computer out the window and run far, far away. I’d rather yank every nose hair from both nostrils than go through the stupid, mother-@#$@##@ing, piece of $#%) story again.
But I do it.
And when I’m done? I love the story. I love the characters. I want to hold them and hug them and pet their hair. I know I’ve written the absolute best book I possibly could at this particular point in my career. So off it goes to the line editor, who may pick apart a few things, but I’m okay with those because I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Once I’m done with those fixes, I’ll give it another read-through just to make sure there’s nothing else I want to change (well, there’s always something, I still want to fix things in every book I’ve published, but at some point we have to call it “done”).
Then the proofreader gets it, returns it, I make the fixes, and YES!!!! I’m done. I’m ready to hit the Publish button. Well, not really – there’s still the whole formatting process, but the book is written, I’m proud of my new baby, and I can’t wait to share it with the world.
Until it’s actually in the world, anyway. Then the nerves set in, and I start second-guessing every decision I made during the revision process. Will they like that new character? Should I have kept that one scene in? Was that dialogue line as funny as I thought it was or could a newborn have said it better?
What? You didn’t know that being a writer requires a certain level of neurosis? Well, if you don’t have it, you’re not made for this life. *wink*
Next time, I’ll try to share some tips and tricks for how to make all this work, especially in a tight timeframe. I also plan to list some of my favorite books either next time or the one after that – books all writers should read and study and will help you through the planning, drafting and revising processes.
Questions? Please ask!