craft of writing books

How do I revise thee? Let me count the ways...

Welcome back! Happy New Year!

It’s revision time here. Or do I mean editing?

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No. Revision. That’s the process where we step back and look at the whole forest of plot points and characters and what scenes go where, while editing is the paragraphs, sentences, words.

I’ve been using information from three bloggers— Jami Gold, Janice Hardy, and KM Wieland— to sort through my weaknesses of:

  • getting a consistent goal on the page,

  • getting motivation on the page, and

  • getting the stakes on the page.

You noticed the commonalities among those three points? Getting it on the page! That’s pretty important for the reading of the story. If the goals, motivations, or stakes for the protagonist and the antagonist are not evident, or at least alluded to, there’s no tension in the story and if there’s no tension, why would anyone at all be interested in reading to the end of the story?

Creating A Worksheet

I’ve created worksheets. Several.

From Jami Gold’s blogs on Broken Story and on Missing Motivations or Stakes, the worksheets are simple word docs. I type her questions then answer it from the information I have written in my story.

It does sound like homework but it’s much more fun because it’s about a story that I am still thoroughly enthralled with and I’m trying to get it all out of my head and onto the page so readers will find it just as thrilling.

As I answer the questions, if I find I have not put this information, somehow, into the story, I either go right there to write it in OR, if it’s complicated, I’ll highlight that answer so I can go back later and find it after I’m done answering all her questions.

It’s not easy work. Broken Story alone has nine steps. I was able to complete Steps 1- 4 in one day on Dec 28, 2018!

Yes, I dated each step as that gives me a sense of accomplishment.

applying the Steps

What are the steps for Broken Story from Jami Gold’s blog? Here is how I handled her first three steps.

  • Step 1 - Identify what I’m trying to say in the story.

    Here I wrote down my theme. Since my theme focuses on coping with various levels of violence, I broke it down into the different levels and different types that happen in the story. The spectrum of violence encompasses: physical, emotional, economic, institutional, societal, and familial. I also looked at the opposite of violence and listed specifically what the antidote to violence is. What does love and courage look like in my story.

  • Step 2 - Identify what pieces of the story fit with this and what pieces don’t. Do the plot developments, character insights, story elements tie into the theme identified in Step 1. Do my subplots reflect the theme of dealing with violence through courage and love? Do any aspects of my story undermine the theme and focus of my story?

  • Step 3 - Are there enough scenes that fit the theme or are there enough bits and pieces of the theme that all I need to do is tweak or shift the scene a bit so that it’ll refocus on the big picture again.

I have found this process helpful for layering my story and making sure I have on the page, what I have envisioned in my imagination.

How do you handle revisions?

The Forest, Not the Trees

On draft six of my story, I’m still stymied. I had been cutting excess words and adverbs, sorting dialogue tags, strengthening verbs, in other words, polishing rather than editing or revising.

After my query failed with my writing group (who very kindly asked what are the stakes, what’s the goal), I realized I need to refocus and broaden my attention. I’d lost sight of my story goal by enjoying each individual scene.

This week, handwriting in my story notebook, is my preferred way of sorting myself out as I search out blogs on creating goals and raising stakes.

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Jami Gold, at Writers Helping Writers, has a good article—What Does it Mean to Raise the Stakes?—and Kristen Lamb does also in her article—Structure Matters: Building Great Stories to Endure the Ages.

Today’s Kill Zone blog also asked their commenters, many of them published, to share their writing process and I find that inspiring because there are differences. (It’s also deflating because some of the authors write fairly clean drafts that don’t require much polishing.)

Writing My Non-Fiction Book

My non-fiction book was relatively easy to write.

Inspired by my Pastoral Study Journey, I started writing some months after arriving back home from the Instituto de Estudios E Investigacion Intercultural (INESIN), in San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico.

Those life-changing two weeks in Chiapas in August 2004 kickstarted my long-dormant writer. With the approach of Advent (Christian season of four weeks before Christmas), I began writing my first non-fiction that November.

I pulled together Scripture passages and pieces of contemporary readings from magazines and scholarly books, and for each subject, I reflected on these writings in non-academic language. Then I fussed with where each part went according to theme and sent it off to beta readers.

By March or April of 2005, I was done writing and submitted it to Wild Goose Publication in Scotland. They worked with me on getting permissions to use quotes, helped me edit a bit and it was published in October 2007.

I’ve done other writing since then, some published but now it’s 11-years since I’ve had a book published. Too long.

Encouragement and Inspiration

Most helpful for me today were the words of Jessica Faust from Book Ends Literary on her September 5 blog—Editing: the Toughest Job an Author has to do.

It’s in editing that the authors are separated from writers.”

and

“The hardest part about editing isn’t knowing where to add a comma, it’s knowing when the course of your journey has changed and it’s listening to your heart and what you want.”

Do I have some serious editing ahead of me? Yes. Perhaps I’ll even need to re-plot and rewrite it from scratch. (Yes, I will save my other drafts. No writing is wasted.)

Wish me well on the journey.

My Writing Space

I don't have an author's office in my home. I don't have a desktop computer. I use a transportable laptop and my dining room table which sits by an east facing window.

You'll notice a couple of things in the picture: blankets to wrap up in the morning when it's chilly and I've not yet turned up the thermostat, an old pillow to sit on, and a box on the floor to rest my feet on (I'm short-legged). 

My craft books, for the present, are shelved in my bedroom until we construct a bookshelf in our living room.

This is my small selection of books so far, squeezed between Georgette Heyer books and thrift books. The narrow blue book is James Scott Bell's Writing Your Novel From the Middle. It's only the past 3 years that I've purchased books about the craft of writing. That's when I became a more intentional fiction writer, more serious about finishing up my story.

And where am I in my story writing process?

After a couple of critique partners had read it chapter-by-chapter over the past year, I created a more complete and full-fledged draft (as in, perhaps, no plot holes). I had two paper copies made in October.

I gave one to my first beta reader. She had not read my story except an early draft, way-back-when, of the first chapter.

I let my paper copy sit during November. Then I read it through in December. As a reader. And read through it again with a red pen in hand.

Yup. Some boring parts. Some illogical parts (still!) that needed to either be cut or fleshed out. And some wonderful parts.

I am now retyping it with both paper copies as references.

As of today, I'm almost 1/3 of the way through the story. I've been derailed since mid-January by a chronic illness in my family as we try to sort how to best provide care and support. Because right now, that's my priority.

My hope is to finish this revision and get it out to another beta reader, perhaps my critique partners (if they're not tired of the story), by June.

Will it be ready to query literary agents in 2017? That is my hope and that is my aim.