Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Shape and Sharpen Your Fiction: Effective Revision

I used Grammarly, the online proofreader, to proofread this post, because it shortens the time you need to spend revising your prose.

While we’re on the topic of revision, I’d like to share with you this article I wrote for NovelAdvice in 1997. Hope it’s helpful!
* * *
There's nothing quite like the pride and feeling of accomplishment you get when you type the words, "The End" on the last page of your manuscript. But once the euphoria passes, it's time to buckle down and turn that wonderful, creative project into something salable.
When you're writing a first draft, you're using your "left brain" to draw on all your creative powers. Once your story is completed, let it sit for a while before you look at it again. This will give you the necessary distance from the material and allow you time to switch hats from 'creator' to 'editor.'
Return to your material with a fresh perspective, and go over it with a critical eye. Reading it aloud may help; you may also wish to solicit comments and suggestions from one or two trusted friends. Remember, though, that the ultimate responsibility for the manuscript is yours--don't take any suggestions unless you're sure they are sound.
The first thing to consider is your opening. This may be the most important part of your story; often, the first few paragraphs are all you have to "hook" the reader. Your opening must draw the reader's attention by introducing the main character and the main conflict. The reader should identify with the main character, and want to know more about the conflict and how it will be resolved.  Rework your opening as many times as necessary to get it just right.
Think about your overall story. There must be movement, progression; the main character should change for the better or learn an important lesson by the end. Check your character descriptions and interactions to make sure it's clear what the reader is to think of each character, what the characters want, and what they care about. Be honest with yourself--do you, as a reader, care about the outcome of the story?
Be sure the climax you hint at in your opening actually comes about by the end of the story. Don't write a story with a big buildup that leads to a minor, disappointing climax. Tie up all your loose ends--don't drop unexplained hints or leave dangling story lines.
Include everything in the story that your reader needs to know. Remember, the reader doesn't have access to your in-depth knowledge of the characters and story--he only knows what you tell him. Don't leave too much to the reader's imagination.
Check your tone. Is it consistent throughout the story? If you start with a comic tone, then switch to tragic, it will seem as if two different people are doing the writing. If you begin in present tense, don't switch to past in mid-stream. Use active rather than passive verbs. Consistency is also important in point of view. Don't switch from first to third person, or from third person limited to third person omniscient.
Make sure your most important scenes are fully fleshed out. They should usually be written in an action mode, concentrating on dialogue and activity, with very little description or exposition.
Look at your pacing. Does the story move too slowly, or too quickly? When you re-read it, do you find yourself skipping over sections? If you find a section that doesn't contribute to the whole, cut it out ruthlessly, no matter how beautifully written it is. Have you included too much information, or too little? Does the story end in the right place? The reader should be satisfied with the ending--it should be logical, tie up all the loose ends, and flow directly from the story events.
Is your story organized properly? One way to check this is to write a list of the major events in your story on index cards, with one event per card. Place them on the table or floor in the order in which they occur in your story. Then try rearranging them. Is there another sequence that makes more sense?
Check your transitions. For instance, if you have a flashback scene, is it clear to the reader that you are moving back in time? Transitions must be smooth, yet also unmistakable.
When you're finished checking the creative aspects, check the technical ones as well. Use the dictionary, if necessary, to make sure your words are spelled properly. Don't rely on your computer's "spell check" feature--it can't tell the difference between "heel" and "heal," but it will make a big difference in your story! Make sure you've used complete sentences and that your punctuation is correct. Look for repeated words--if you find you've used the word "finicky" twice in one paragraph, get out your thesaurus and find a replacement for one of them. Check your dialogue tags--make sure they're clear and unobtrusive.
After you've checked everything, let the story sit again for a few days, then go through the entire process once more. When you're satisfied with the story as it stands, congratulate yourself for a job well done--and then send it out!
c. 1997 Elizabeth Delisi

No comments: