Friday, June 11, 2010

The Art of Revision

Revising truly is an Art. No two writers are alike. For me, first drafts are the most exciting. I get,  get to know the characters and discover what the story is about. Some writers find this part the hardest, relishing something concrete to work with. I relish seeing where the story leads me and get a huge rush when finally making the connection between the story and where it's come from. 
As a result I sometimes find the work of revision to be finicky and time consuming. Never the less, I am driven by the challenge of making my writing sing, dance and paint a living picture in the readers mind. One of the things I love about being a writer is that I'm constantly learning. First off, I'm often two quick off the mark and send things out too early, thinking they are finished. Maybe it's my way of letting go of them so that they can grow.
Often my revision process is part of learning about my story and growing in my writing ability. It's uplifting to pick up something I wrote 6 months ago and go, "OMG, I wrote this... I can't believe I thought this was done," and begin making huge changes to the writing and structure of the story.

However, there's a difference between adding layers and refining colour and the final fine tuning of a piece; that point where the story is fine, the writing is good, the editor loves it, but it is too long. After my elated I danced about the room, I realized this meant I needed to revise yet again, but not really revise anything. This time I had to shorten the piece and yet keep the original story. Aaaaahh!!
My plan of attack in a previous post involved an elaborate plan which was way more complicated than it needed to be. What I did was go through the story line by line. I questioned how each sentence contributed to the story; what was its underlying purpose? How did it connect to the rest of the story? This was gave me a clear idea of the key events and specific details which were pertinent to the telling of the story - the bare skeleton. This was important when considering what I could prune. For example, aside from plot, at the end of the story Ben puts the mouse in a birdcage. This make it imperative that I leave in this detail, mentioned earlier in the story when Ben and Flic are cleaning out the closet.
When I looked at the end manuscript, equal part notes and typing. It became apparent there were some sections where the purpose was clear, but the sentences were weak in delivery. I also noted that these sections slowed the story down because the reader had to process more information to understand where the story was going. There were also places where I expressed one idea in 2 different ways with 2 different sentences.
The best sections were effective because they contained only the pertinent information needed to smoothly connected events in the story together and move the reader from one idea to the next with little or no effort. 
There were, of course, individual sentences which could be tightened or combined. But the greatest word count reducer was condensing the slower sections and eliminating all repetition - unless it was necessary to the actual plot.
In successfully shortening my word count by the desired amount. I learnt this method of editing should be a part of my revision process; how to focus the details necessary to the telling, polishing the narrative and allowing it to dance unclouded along the plots line from beginning to end holding the audience in spellbound suspense. 

The other extremely important and not to be overlooked part of this process was the feedback I received from friends and other writers. This showed me the parts of the story which came across as I'd planned and those which did not and enabled me to add, rearrange, or strengthen the details needed to convey what I'd intended; leaving me with a clear, concise and moving story and a new bar by which to measure every other story I write.

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