Friday, December 26, 2014

Revision tips

It’s been about a month now since NaNoWriMo. Perhaps it is time to drag out that November endeavor and see what can become of it.

A recent article by Allen Eskens addressed revision. In 3 Tips For a Better First Revision he says the first revision is probably the most important factor in sculpting your novel. One of his favorite quotes on the idea is by Shannon Hale who wrote: “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” Eskens says the first revision is the building of those sand castles. Though there are numerous tips to a successful rewrite, his three to make a novel better are: conflict check, transitions, and the “was” edit.

Conflict Check:
As Terry Pratchett says, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story,” so it is centered on getting the main storyline established. Eskens says that Kurt Vonnegut once wrote that every character in a scene should want something, even if it’s only a drink of water. In his second pass, Eskens asks what does every character in each scene want, and what obstacles are standing in his or her way, trying to add suspense. Rarely does a first draft take advantage of all the opportunities for tension and conflict. They can be added in the revision.

Quite often in the first draft we may tend to jump abruptly from one plot point to the next. Eskens says transitions should be eloquent and have wait on their own, not just move the reader from one scene to the next. He compares reading a novel to kayaking a river, sometimes shooting through rapids, bound up in the excitement of the action. At other times, one floats peacefully, admiring the landscape. “The pace of a novel is the balance between those two competing forces (between plot and scene),” says Eskens. If your transition floats, maybe you can go off on tangents that deepens characters or enriches the scenes. If you’re shooting through the rapids, the transition will be shorter. 

The “Was” Edit:
I’m guilty of including passive language and probably nowhere as much as in my first drafts. Esken uses a word find function to look for instances when he’s used “was,” then tries to find a way to rewrite the sentence to make it stronger. “He was taller than me,” may be revised to say “he stood three inches taller than me.” Other times, “was” may work just fine, but at least the “was” edit forces one to examine their word choices.

If you’re ready to dust off an old first draft and start revising, incorporating these tips may be of use.

(This article also posted at

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