Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Revising the Novel - Performance Update

I may not have been quite as sequestered as the monk in this photo, but it's been pretty darn close, hiding myself away, working feverishly to finish the revision of Deadly Vision. And, after about 6 months of mostly concentrated work, I'm thrilled to say, that I've finished! Yea! Much applause and fanfare (and hopefully some much needed sleep!)

Sunday, I went through the last chapters, made the final cuts and got the novel down to about 100,000 words, which was my goal. Without a doubt, this is the cleanest, tightest, most aggressive version of the novel ever.

Keeping the Ten-Point Revision Strategy on my desk the whole time, I found the points useful in constantly reminding me of what I needed to do. One thing that I realized is that during all of my previous revisions, I didn't really revise the book. instead, I would really just read the book. Sure, I'd make a few changes here or there to wording, expand a small scene to add more detail, fix a grammatical error, but that's about it. It's so easy to get into the pattern of reading our writing, not really revising our writing.

To that end, the Ten-Point Revision Strategy was really helpful.


1) With each chapter, I asked myself consciously, what are the character's motivations here. What does each character (not just my main hero) really want to happen? This brought up lots of previously unseen opportunities for conflict.

2) Does this scene move the story forward. Wow! That one was really powerful for me. I can't tell you how many times I read a scene that I really liked, but on close scrutiny, realized it wasn't necessary to move the story forward. Here's the latest example.

In one scene, my hero needs to use the internet to contact someone. He can't connect from the place he's hiding for fear of it being traced back to his location, so he has to go to the public library to use their computer. In that scene, I loved writing about the elderly librarian who ran the library since our hero was a school boy. I loved the descriptions of the library itself, really imparting the small town feel I was reaching for. I loved the tension, our hero felt by connecting from such a public place.

There was only one problem. None of it was necessary.

The Librarian never appears again. I'd already described the small town. Our hero has been nervous and in fear of being caught for the last several pages. In the end, the whole point of the scene was to mention that he connected with his lab partner to set up an important trial, then steps to the payphone and calls the police officer that's been chasing him. That's it. I wrote 3 or 4 pages to describe what I just wrote to you in one sentence.

So I cut it. All of it. Kill your babies, they say. Librarian, gone. Library in small town, mentioned in passing. The scene now starts with my hero stepping out of the library where he'd just connected with his lab partner and walking into the phone booth. I still have all the tension of him getting caught while he's standing there, fully exposed, making the phone call. I mention in brief back story, that he'd just connected with the lab. Now, I'm moving directly on to the conversation with the cop. Saved 4 pages. probably 700 words.

3) I really loved the "end each chapter earlier," point. I really recommend you try this one. Something so simple, often times had a really powerful effect of increasing tension and drama. Sometimes I just eliminated the last sentence of the chapter, sometimes the entire last paragraph. Either way, what I found was all those cut little pat endings I'd written, the final chapter summary or forced dramatic ending, were usually hampering the drama. By cutting them, and ending the chapter with an earlier sentence, I often felt there was actually more tension. More of a cliffhanger.

4) I paid lots of attention to word choice, avoiding overused words, and overall tightening my word selection. I eliminated writing "he paused," instead, creating the pause. And adverbs became an endangered species in my book. Or as Metallica once said, "Kill em all!"

5) Tightening dialog also worked well. In truth, we tend to never speak more than 3 sentences during a conversation before the other person interrupts us with a comment. Yet, when we write, we have no problem with one character going on for whole paragraphs. I've even seen some characters in books going on for a whole page, or more!!

This doesn't happen in real life, and shouldn't happen in your novel. Keep the dialog tight, brisk. It flows faster, the book flows faster and the dialog feels more natural, less forced.

So now, I just need to let my two writing groups catch up with me, give them a chance to destroy . . er, I mean critique my work, then one more final read through and it's back to my agent.

Just so you know, Warner Books and Bantam had both expressed an interest and both requested this revision, so hopefully we'll hear soon. Either way, I'll keep y'all posted of the developments as we move through this publishing experience together.

As always, you comments are most appreciated. They've kept me motivated to keep this blog going when I felt like stopping.

In the future, we're going to finish up outlining, move to query letters, novel summaries, plotting and other points. Let me know what you'd like read about.


Angel said...

Excellent that you already have interest in Deadly Vision.Fingers crossed.

Hmmm-I'm up to chapter 4 of re-write and am ADDING words rather than cutting down. Need to double my word count so it may take some time!

I've just printed off the 10 point Revision Strategy and will keep it on the desk for as long as it takes.

warm wishes

Désirée said...

Impressive! That's the spirit. I think you realy got something here. Keep up the good work.

Bill Frankl said...

I think you have a sensational blog. Quite informative.I posted some comments about your 10 rules on revisions and your writers' group.Good luck. I hope you have the time to visit my blog at booksbyfrankl.com.