Making revisions is quite different from editing, although some people don’t see it that way. Editing is a process that begins when I send the final draft to my editor, usually a year or two out from when the story first lands on paper.
For me, revisions begin with the second draft and sometimes involve radical changes to the storyline or character arcs. I may take a manuscript through many drafts before finally getting the story right.
The process of revision starts when I write the final lines, finishing the first draft. I’m smarter now than I used to be, so I let that mess sit for a few weeks.
Then I go back and begin reading what I have written. As I read, I make corrections to typos and garbled sentences that I come across, although I miss as many as I catch.
I also notice plot holes, and this is where the second draft becomes work. This is where I might discover I have written myself into a far-fetched corner and my original solution was less than graceful.
Or I may find there is no tension, and the story is nothing but a series of character sketches.
Fortunately, much of what I have written can be recycled into a different project, should the need arise.
NEVER DELETE months of work. Don’t trash what could be the seeds of another novel. Save it in an outtakes file and use it later. I give the subfile a name like HA_outtakes_20Dec2022. That file name tells me the cut chapters were last changed on December 20, 2022.
The old manuscript, version 1, will also be in that file in its original entirety.
Then, I give the second draft a new file name: Heavens_Altar_version_2, which becomes the version I work on out of the main file folder.
Why not just delete it? When I get to the second draft stage, I have accomplished many important things with the 3 months of work I might cut from that novel.
- The world is solidly built.
- The characters are firmly in my head, so their interactions will make sense in the new context.
- Some sections I cut can be recycled into the new version, just in a different place.
Sometimes when I’m involved in creating characters, I overlook the misfortunes and struggles that create opportunities for growth. A good storyteller places obstacles on the path, events that must force a transformation upon the protagonists and their companions.
Catastrophes, even small ones on the most personal of levels, are the fertile ground from which adventure springs. When making revisions, we must ensure these growth opportunities are clearly defined, logical, and in the right place.
Events from which there is no turning back are the impetus of change, and that change is what the book is about.
Midpoint in the story’s arc is often a place where a choice is made from which there is no turning back. From that point, the narrative rises to the third plot point, an event that is either an actual death or a symbolic death. If either of these events is a non-starter, I have to either improve them or find better catastrophes.
This major event is critical because it forces the protagonist to be greater than they believed they could be. Conversely, it can break them down into their component parts.
Either way, the characters will be profoundly changed from who they thought they were on page one, becoming who they are when the final sentence is written. The character arc is formed by their experiences.
How do I find those catalysts for change? Sometimes I need an external eye to point out where I have gone wrong, and I seek ideas from my writing group.
However, most of my writing disasters are preceded by one or more points of no return. Identifying and rectifying those moments takes time. It’s why I take so long to write a book.
When I finally see what must be changed, it may take several days to visualize how to resolve it. But that time spent mind-wandering on paper is not wasted. I will have a better plot arc for my characters and still arrive at the ending I want.
I believe in the joy of writing and the elation of creating something powerful. Sometimes we lose our fire for a story because another story has captured our imagination. If that happens, set the first one aside and write the story you are passionate about.
We who are indies have the freedom to write what we want, when we want. The only deadlines we have to meet are the ones we set for ourselves.
True inspiration is not an everlasting firehose of ideas. Sometimes there are dry spells. If you take another look at the work you have cut and saved in an outtakes file, you might see it with fresh eyes. You might see the seeds of a different story, and the fire for writing will be reignited.
I may take my first draft through many versions before I have the story written the way I want it. The end result should be worth it—I hope.