Thursday, October 14, 2010

Writing Tips: Revision

This week, we bees are posting our favorite writing tips. So, if you or someone you love is crazy enough to want to write, send them here to get the scoop on how we do what we do.

My writing tips topic is near and dear to my heart. Revision - the ugly "R" word. Something a lot of people dread.

A lot of people will claim that their work is perfect as is - that they never need to revise. But if you really want to be an author, one of the most important jobs you have is to make your story better and stronger.

I spend a lot of time revising -- whether I’m writing a paranormal novel or something realistic. It’s an important way you improve the experience of your book (and your fictional world) for your reader. You want them to get the sharpest picture, the clearest image of what you’ve created.

Ok, so where do you begin? Whether you have completed a long short story or just finished a novel -- but the process is pretty much the same. Start by reading through the story and asking yourself some basic questions.

Does this make sense? Fiction has to make more sense than real life. You have to show why the characters do what they do. The choices they make in the story should be true to their personalities and motivations. If a character’s action seems unfounded, find a way to add clues for the reader - a line in a conversation, a small detail about the character’s environment - that back up the action. For example, someone who decides to become a ghost hunter might have paranormal research books in their room. Or maybe, they argue with a friend who doesn’t believe in ghosts in the first few pages of the story. You need to set things up so they make sense.

Are my characters likable? Remember that readers want to be rooting for your main characters. If your protagonist is always whiny, or feels sorry for herself, we are going to get sick of them quickly. Give them traits we can identify with, or show them doing something kind or noble. For example, maybe despite having a shy exterior your protagonist goes out of her way to defend someone in her class who’s being bullied -- okay, now we’re rooting for her.

Did I use interesting language and description? Check through the story for overused words and ditch them for more interesting ones. Get rid of some (not all) of the boring verbs like “walk” in favor of “saunter” or “stroll”. Make sure you’re including specific sounds (have you ever spelled “aaaaahhhoooooooooo!” for a werewolf?) and other sensory details your reader needs to imagine what you’re trying to tell us on the page. This includes the five senses, of course, but don’t forget in paranormals, we often need to feel that creepy foreboding -- something’s not quite right in the neighborhood anymore.

After you’ve gone through those questions, check for the regular stuff. You know what I mean here -- grammar, misspelled words, etc. It does make a difference, so if you’re not really great at this, ask a friend for help, check out dictionary and grammar sites on the web, or, crack open that dusty reference book on your shelf.

Get some Feedback. When you think the story is in good shape, you might want to show it to a friend or writing group you trust. Be brave! Get some feedback on the story from other storytellers. They will see things that you didn’t, and if you think they have valid points, you can use their feedback to tweak the story.

Be true to yourself.
Remember that this is your story. You are the artist. The things you’re trying to tell the world are important and real. Don’t ever change your story because of feedback that doesn’t resonate or make sense to you. Go with your gut, your heart -- and your sixth sense.

Do you love or hate to revise? Have any great revision tips? Share them in comments!



Never Cry Werewolf - HarperTeen
The Clearing - Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Wherever You Go - Harcourt, Fall 2011


stephhale said...

This is an amazing post, Heather. I think I'm a better reviser than writer, if that makes any sense, but revising is SO hard!

Jessica Subject said...

For me, the best thing I can do while revising is to get feedback from others. I don't mean from family and friends who are going to say they love it no matter what, but from others who don't care. I have a wonderful critique group as well as others I have met online, and we critique each others work. I have received some excellent feedback which can only help me to improve my work.

nymfaux said...

Great post!!! I haven't done revisions in a while--but I always end up focused on the technical stuff, like grammar. I know I need to revise as much as the next person, but until now, I haven't had anything solid to point me in the right direction, to tell me where to start or what to look for, so this totally rocks!!!!

Terri Tiffany said...

Excellent steps to take. I learned on my last MS that I had to show reasons why my character would do certain activities. Helped a lot!