I was in Ann Cannon’s WIFYR workshop last month. She offered plenty of advice on the craft and among the gems, she shared how she revises a novel.
The first thing she does is print out a copy of the story. She puts it in a three-ring binder then celebrates that she has a book. Good in and of itself. We need to pat ourselves on the back whenever we can.
At this point, she puts it away for a few weeks. This is so when she returns to it, she comes back at it with fresh eyes.
Next – and this is important - she checks into a motel for a day or two just to read the story. Got to get away from the day-to-day interruptions – family, friends, the garden, chores – half finished chores, chores not started, etc.
In the motel, armed with colored sticky notes, Ann reads the book several times through. She has a different purpose with each pass over. She reads looking at plot, to see if the story makes sense. Are there gaps in logic? Is it is moving forward in a logical manner? Does one chapter lead to the next? Do readers want to find out what happens next? At WIFYR, Ann spoke of grounding the characters in the space/time continuum, which she looks at her initial reading as well.
With a different colored sticky, Ann reads again, concentrating on her characters, asking questions as she goes. How soon do readers learn names, age, and gender of the main characters? Do we know what they want and have a sense of what is preventing them? She looks at the minor characters. Are they distinct in name and personality? Do you have too many of them and if so, can you combine them into fewer? For major and minor characters, are their motivations consistent and realistic? Do they have purpose other than to just to move the plot?
Another reading and Ann looks at setting. Does she have enough physical description to give a sense of place? Does she maximize setting to create mood or to tell about the characters. Has she engaged the readers’ senses?
Then Ann reads just for language, to insure clarity of meaning and intention with a rule of thumb: precision first, flowery words second. Is she saying things the best way possible? Has she avoided passive language?
Great advice. Wish I had followed it. I have been 99.9 % finished with a project the four months. I’m tired of it and want to get it into publishers’ hands soon. I did not shelve it for weeks. I didn’t do the different colored stickies, nor read it several times. Probably should have checked into a motel for a few days, too. There’s way too many things going on that interrupt the flow of analyzing a story.
(This article also posted at http://utahchildrenswriters.blogspot.com)