Revision is the process where writers prepare the manuscript for their readers. It’s where I make sure each piece of the puzzle is present and fits, and the gears of the entire story fit with precision and work smoothly.
I am working on my fifth novel. I know my main characters, themes, and a loose outline. My writing has direction. Excitement builds as it takes form. After thirteen chapters, I stop. Two things have happened. The first is I’ve recreated a scene from my first novel using a different issue. Second, I realize my first chapter is more talk than action. Both problems require immediate attention.
This imperative is a lesson I learned from the eleven revisions of my first book. I had to make sure I wove each new detail in the story with foreshadowing, mirroring, and/or referencing throughout my seventy-thousand-word document. Easier to do for less pages.
First, I reviewed my chapters. The beginning is scary and sets off a result akin to a slow-release medicine capsule. Not enough punch. Reordering the chapters around helped. I may have to do it several times to get the impact I’m looking for depending on what I write. I mention this as part of my process to assure new writers not to be too hard on themselves when something is not working. It’s better to find out before rather than after you’ve published. Beginnings are one of the writer’s toughest challenges. It often isn’t solidified until after the last chapter is finished.
Second Problem – a repeated scene from an earlier book. When I saw it, I thought I had run out of ideas. No, ideas weren’t the problem. I had forgotten to give two main characters a “job” to do. I didn’t want to exclude them from this journey or relegate them to the role of “listener or reactor.” They had too much chemistry.
Back to the drawing board. This took time. I did not want to turn this novel into an apocalyptic future earth. I want to keep it about “real” people facing a crisis, each contributing to solutions in their unique way. I scoured headlines, anecdotal stories, odd news articles, political issues, and any printed insanity that catches my eye. It took a while to synthesize it into an addressable problem that complimented the book’s theme. In fact, the idea made me chuckle – it was absurd enough to cause tension — ideal in a political thriller.
How writers resolve these issues is as varied as there are writers. In my case, I have to give myself time to think on it. Mull possibilities over in my head. For every issue I see or hear on the news, I ask myself “what if?” Sometimes I scare myself because the answer is not too far from what I expect will actually happen. I walk away and keep thinking, my brain on the prowl for data like a shark searching for food.
At some point, I stop searching. Take all the informational bits and bytes and let them marinate in my brain and leaf through them much like index cards – some people do sticky notes on a whiteboard. I muse on possibilities, much like solving a crime. Then I put it all away, walk the dogs, garden, watch TV, wash dishes, and do any other activity that clears my thinking until the answer comes. I’m often skeptical so I test it and see how it fits in various scenarios. If it works, I use it. If not, another idea will emerge. They always do.
Now the rest of my writing may commence, with its side distractions of research, time frames, pacing, and revelation. I may well run into new issues. I’m unafraid. I invented my book’s world and I’ll figure out how to resolve each new challenge.
New writers often forget that writing the first draft is all about ideas, trying various approaches, and finding the document’s voice. Some writers don’t even bother addressing problems at the outset, leaving a blank space or highlighted text to be dealt with later. Once they have the first draft in hand, revision begins. They then go back and work through the missing pieces, change chapter order, add and delete stuff, and wind up with their second draft. I have experienced both ways.
The second draft is a little more polished and it’s the one I send to my content editor. She reads it, gives me the story’s highs and lows, keep-ers and toss-ers, and real versus unbelievable. From this review, I shape the beta readers’ version to get feedback on engagement. At this point, I fix the content and grammar issues and send it out for a final edit
I love writing’s intense immersive experience and using my characters to voice various perspectives on real-life problems as I create, for my readers, a rollercoaster journey of the unexpected kind. Sharing each adventure is the ultimate reward.