February 28, 2011

Revision, II

I'm continuing the write-ups from the Writer's Conference  I attended in San Diego at the end of January.  These notes are from Q. Lindsey Barrett, author, on revising the draft of a novel.

Structured Revision, by Q. Lindsey Barrett

Write hot, passionately, quickly, push limits in first draft-you can always dial back if you need to use a rolling outline no matter than three chapters ahead, then. . . Revise cool. Take only the previous day's work to revise, then at 20,000 words, step back to make sure you're on the right step.

Think about writing in terms of clothing.
Ready to wear—mass produced 20 stacks at a time, fabric can slip
Designer clothing, cut in stacks of 4-5, so it's more true to size
Couture, custom fit—one garment at time.

She interrogates each detail until it fits into the novel.  She does a novel a decade.  She has a strategy she uses to get through it.

Prolific horror writer Elizabeth Engstrom knows her ending before the first draft.  She writes toward the end--writes to discover.  In all good stories, the ending is echoed in the beginning.  There are other writers who revise as they go, but Ms. Barrett's advise to us is don't revise each scene endlessly—you'll get sick of it because you revise and revise and revise.  Sometimes writers don't get past the first chapter.  Remember--you have thirty seconds to capture someone's attention. Write that full first draft! 

No matter if you're a white-hot writer or a cool writer, the revision process is the same.
Start with a two week resting period.  A week is an absolute minimum.
She likes a long resting period (The Writing Habit by David Huddle—a  book she recommends).

Shift to a different writing project in the interim.  You want to come back to it as if you are a reader, not a writer.  You have to print it out.  Read it like a book.  Read it straight through (may take a couple of days).  You are reading for story—don't get out that pen!  Don't look for typos, grammatical errors.  If there's a problem, she puts a tick mark in the margin.  If there's a whole section that needs to be reworked, a vertical line in the margin. 

Pass One. When you are ready to start the first draft, some start over.  She means they start writing from scratch—the entire book—all over!
Five Scene Scaffold—most emotionally resonant scenes.
Write those first—your pen's on fire and you're interested.  Inciting incident, then climax.  Just write those five scenes that are most important, then fill in.

Pass Two. 
Story again.  No typos, no grammar.  This time you can make marks, but no correcting.  Each scene has a set-up, a resolution—read for story in the scenes.  Each scene should have a little hook.  Then write a transition—something that makes them wonder happens next.  Analyze what you've just rewritten by identifying the acts.

Pass Three.
Identify the Acts: Each scene builds up the larger complication—decide where the  ms (manuscript) forms the three acts of structure.
I--Set the character on their journey
II--Beset with conflict, just before the end is the darkest moment. Where they need to gather their resources and rise to the challenge.
III—Protagonist has an epiphany.  At end of act III make sure external conflicts and internal conflicts tied up, resolved.

Think of these as units—I needs more of a set-up, III might need more of a resolution.

Give your readers information that allows them to conclude/figure out the qualities of their characters—action, dialogue.  Tension, tension, tension, tension, and some humor which can help ease the tension.  If your characters cry, your reader doesn't have to.  We will feel the characters' sadness if you write it from the actions.

Pass Four.
Story equals conflict.  Do not allow your characters to say yes to each other.  Put them in opposition—the conflict doesn't have to be overt—it can be covert. 
Every once in a while you'll need a "breather scene"—but be specific as possible—no generalities.

Pass Five.
Interrogate your story—did you employ the five senses?  In our world, we are separated from them—we use sight all the time.  Readers CRAVE sensory details to help readers understand our scene.

Assign five highlighters for each sense—highlight the five senses.  Your ms should be a rainbow (no need to have each sense on each page, but there should be a good distribution.)

Pass Six.
Did you find yourself flipping through pages?  Action verbs are critical.
Now is the time to correct the typos and grammar.

Things That Irritate a Reader, Things to Make Sure You Have
1.     Take out Side Trips—that don't further the plot
2.     Flesh out where you've been Telling, Not Showing.  Passive voice is a clue—take passages of telling and turn them into dialogue to get the characters talking—Sometimes she'll put another person in the room and make the characters talk—even if it feels artificial.
3.     Take out the words: Very, Causing, Just,  or any other words you use incessantly. (Use the Replace tool on your word processing program—don't do anything, just use the Replace to see how many uses of the offending word you have, then go through them one by one.)
4.     Watch out for present tense: Here This Now Today (these words are flags)
5.     Investigate every use of the word "it," "there is," "there are."  Weak writing.
6.     Adverbs—investigate—try to convert your adverbs to strong verbs and strong nouns.
7.     Relate every conversation to every pronoun (correct pronoun usage)
8.     Take out qualifiers: sort of, nearly, almost.
9.     Eliminate things that distract the reader, pulls them out of the story. [You don't want to pull your readers out of the fictive dream by making them pay attention to oddities.]
10.  Inaccuracies—or things locals would know—fix them.
11.  Speeches that go beyond a paragraph.  No internal thoughts that go beyond a paragraph.
12.  Make sure the reader is always grounded in space, time and POV.  [Scenes change when POV, time or locale changes.]  Make Characters distinctive.
13.  Investigate forms of the verb "to be," substitute an active verb.  Passive voice. "The book was picked up by Alex."  Passive voice.  AVOID.
14.  Tension needs to be on every page.
15.  Each scene has to have internal conflict.  We don't care about plot—we care about how hero is feeling about it.
16.  Make sure the opening engages the reader.  Try using action—doing something.  Not sitting, not thinking, alone in a room, driving to work, waking up.
17.  Check your chapter endings to make they are deliberately weighted to make the reader want to know what's going to happen next.  We want the reader to go to work bleary-eyed because they stayed up all night reading.
18.  Make your ending echo the beginning.
19.  The change in your protagonist is the character arc.  Make sure it is the external story events that change the protagonist.  Internal changes have to stem directly from external changes.
20.  Secondary characters need to be fully formed, but if you're bored with the main character, work on them.
21.  Be interesting in every sentence.  If writing were easy, everyone would be a writer.
22.  Vary your sentence length, structure.
23.  Characters should not be in the business of drawing conclusions, nor should the author.  The reader is the only one who can draw conclusions.
24.  Put sensory images in every paragraph.  Have something the reader can touch, taste, smell, see, etc.
25.  Make sure the complication, or the obstacles, are the only thing slowing the plot, not the writing.  (Ordinary People, by Judith Guest, scene of Conrad noticing the details which describes C's ascent to the doctor's office—gives us a sense of him, of the doctor's office, of the doctor).
26.  Tighten and heighten.  Compress time to put on more pressure, draw out the tension.  Something has to happen before something else.
27.  Make sure the names evoke the character.  Scarlett O'Hara was Pansy just until the book went to press.
28.  Omit all unnecessary words.  Does the sentence work without it?
29.  Ask yourself: Are all the story questions answered?  Story Question  is what is the premise.  Are these answered?

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