You say you’re revising your draft, but are you really? In the past, I’ve thought I was revising a manuscript when in fact I was really just editing it.
A revision is just that: a “re-visioning” of the story – looking at it in a whole new way. It’s easy to think you’re revising when what you’re really doing is making small edits, reworking sentences, and tightening up scenes and dialogue. Those things are important but don’t go far enough to truly create a publishable manuscript.
Instead, when you’re ready to dive into revisions, think big. Open your mind and pen to rethink every aspect of your manuscript.
To move into re-vision mode, consider these questions:
- Use a logline to maintain focus. A logline is one sentence (at most two) that conveys the dramatic story of your novel or screenplay boiled down in the most succinct way possible. It presents the major throughline of the narrative without details about subplots or characters. As you begin to revise, go back to your logline or create one if you haven’t already. Read more
In July, I took Margie Lawson’s Immersion Master Class, an intensive three and a half day workshop on deep editing. My brain is still teeming with all the tips we learned to turn our manuscripts into bestsellers.
One day, as we reviewed one of my first-draft chapters in my current project, we came across a short paragraph about a character’s driving skills.
In the scene, my character is driving along a dark, windy road in the mountains at night when he comes across my protagonist walking along the side of the road after she’d just seen her maybe-boyfriend sucking face with another woman. (Every time I hear the words “sucking face,” I think of the 1981 movie “On Golden Pond,” where I first heard the term. The power of fresh writing!)
Anyway, the driver of the car offers my protagonist a ride home (she knows him—he’s the new man in town). She learns more about him and why he’s in town. He ends up giving her relationship advice and flirting heavily with her.
Here’s the paragraph in question:
“Hmmm,” he said, tapping his brakes before the next curve, then laying off them during the turn. He handled the vehicle as if he’d had years of experience coaxing the two-ton beast into compliance. “Any news on your grandfather?”
Questions that came up in class: Read more
In my earlier post, “Rhetorical Devices: Your Secret Writing Weapon,” I mentioned that, as a poet, I often use alliteration, which is the repetition of the same sounds or the same kinds of sounds at the beginning of words or in stressed syllables.
I never really thought about using alliteration purposely in my prose writing…it just kind of happened naturally as I wrote and tuned in to my “poet’s ear.” But after taking Margie Lawson’s online class on Deep Editing and Rhetorical Devices, I realized what a great tool alliteration (and other rhetorical devices) can be to make my pages pop.
You don’t want to overdo alliteration making your prose sound forced or “writerly” but you can learn to use it to add sparkle to your sentences. Read more
Rumor has it that Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write the shortest novel ever. In response, he wrote: “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”
Whether or not Hemingway actually wrote those six incredible words, they show the power in simplicity. One of the “rules of writing” that I’ve heard over and over is that sometimes less is more—especially when evoking strong emotions. Novelist and TV Writer/Producer Lowell Cauffiel stated in an interview on Storylogue.com that Hemingway’s “shortest novel ever” reminds him that when he’s editing to especially look for what he can delete or pare down—long paragraphs of description or setting that don’t move the story forward, unnecessary dialogue, or large chunks of information.
There are as many ways to write and as many styles of writing as there are fingerprints but remember the beauty in simplicity and lean writing. To read some of Hemingway’s (short) writing tips, check out this post by Brian Clark: “Ernest Hemingway’s Top 5 Tips for Writing Well.” To learn more about six-word memoirs, read Carly’s post.
When editing my work, I inevitably discover more of my bad habits. When I do, I add them to my editing list so I can be sure to catch them later. Some of these bad habits are listed in my post, “Edit out literary throat clearing to make your work stronger.”
My current work-in-progress is told from the first person point of view. In reviewing recent chapters, I discovered I was using too many “filter” words: I saw, felt, heard, thought, noticed, and especially, I “glanced.” Cheez Whiz. I must have had this last verb six times in one chapter!
But it’s not just first person narrative where this is a writing sin. How many times have you read, “She touched, he heard, she saw, he felt…?” Read more
Our brains are capable of doing amazing things, including adapting to typos and duplicate words in text as we read so that we can speed through a document without even noticing the mistakes. Convenient. We see what we expect to see.
But that can be a problem when we’re trying to create a polished manuscript free of typos and glitches. Add to that the fact that the more we read the same piece of text, the closer we are to it and the less likely we are to spot errors.
There’s even an Internet meme (with an element of truth to it) that calls this malady typoglycemia. See for yourself:
“I cdn’uolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg: the phaonmneel pweor of the hmuan mnid. Aoccdrnig to a rseearch taem at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Scuh a cdonition is arppoiatrely cllaed Typoglycemia .
“Amzanig huh? Yaeh and you awlyas thguoht slpeling was ipmorantt.”
Go to the Wikipedia typoglycemia page to see the correct text.
So knowing this, how do we bypass our brains when it comes to reviewing text for errors? Read more
Having been a poet for 30+ years, I know the importance of each word. Every single word needs to be polished and perfect—perfect for our intended meaning, the emotions we want to evoke and the music it brings to our ears.
A great way to learn how to improve your prose is to read poetry. For help developing a daily poetry habit read Carly’s post “Write lyrically by reading poetry.”
The great news is we can apply the lessons we learn from poetry to our prose. It seems like a daunting task, doesn’t it? Every word in your 90,000-word manuscript polished and perfect? Read more