Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Ten-Point Revision Strategy - In Action

A little update post today.

As some of you may know, I came up with the Ten-Point Revision Strategy to help me complete the current revision of my novel, so what I'd like to do today is give you an idea of how well this strategy is working for me.

A touch of backstory. Before this revision started my novel, a medical thriller, was about 117,000 words. Not overbearing, but a little long for the genre. My agent, who's quite enthusiastic about the book, suggested I get it down to about 90-100,000 words. Now, think about that for a moment. I already told the story I wanted to tell, and it took me 117,000 words. How am I now supposed to keep that story intact and reduce it by roughly 20%. Daunting, to say the least.

Stephen King has shared a formula he learned from one of his mentors. Second draft = first draft - 10%. I like that formula, as it shows the type of editing we all need to do to tighten our stories. But I needed 20%, not 10. Ouch. To top it off, I tend to be an adder when I revise, not just a subtractor. I find scenes that I think need more embellishment, more sensory information, or movement, so I expand them, fill them out. So it isn't always a simple cutting action for me.

But still, one in every five words needed to go.

Hence, the Ten-Point Revision Strategy.

So far, I've been very happy with how the strategy has performed, guiding me along the path. Each point has worked as intended to help me focus on the core of the story, and the core of the writing; to trim, tighten and enhance.

I can't tell you how much I like point # 5 - End Each Chapter Earlier. Time and time again, I've used this, cutting out the last sentence, paragraph or even several paragraphs from each chapter, and always I've found it added to the drama. Clearly, I tended to overwrite the ends of my chapters, trying too hard to find a pat ending or a final summary. Not anymore. Cut em out. They're a vestigial organ and need to be removed. I can't encourage you enough to try adding this simple step to your own revision process.

I also tend to over-explain as I write. Since there is a lot of science in my novel, I found I spent quite a bit of time filling in research or simply explaining science to make my concept believable. Using rule #1 - Resist the Urge to Explain, I've cut this quite a bit. The science works best when I simply show it in action, having the characters talking about it as it's going along. Do you really need to know that in 1989 Dr. Demoisue ran into a horrible problem attempting to do something far simpler than what my hero is doing? Maybe. If I can bring it in in such a way that it enhances the drama. If it's just one big info dump, it's got to go. This applies equally to non-thrillers, particularly when introducing or working with character. Resist the Urge to Explain. Let the characters breathe on their own and reveal their past through their current actions and behaviors. Little details can be added, succinctly, then move on. Allow the character to reveal themselves, not the author.

Throughout this entire revision, I've been very conscious of movement, per point #8, and I'll never underestimate how much movement can help the flow of a story, particularly when the action is on pause.

And finally, I've been very happy with point #3 - Know Each Character's Motivation. Keeping this point in mind, I've been able to cut out several small scenes where it was apparent that the scene served the author (me) not necessarily the character. Nothing really happened, the characters didn't reveal anything new, or reveal new motivation or growth. The scenes were placeholders, separating other scenes, and nothing more. Now, they're gone.

Currently, I'm about 1/3 through the revision and I'm down to about 109,000 words. So I'm making progress. My original timeline was to finish by June 30. I may be a little bit off that goal, but the book is ending up tighter than I ever imagined.

In future posts, I'm going to start a block on character arcs and plotting, but for now, back to revising.

P.S. I'd like to thank Writer-in-Progress for her wonderful kind comments and very informative blog. The depth of writing resources available on the web today never fails to astound me.