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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Speaking of revision...

   
Author Topic: Speaking of revision...
lizluka
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I'm trying to wrap my head around the process. I've read some great articles on revision but I'm curious about what's worked for you guys. Do you use a checklist? Do you read through your draft again and again, polishing as you go? Do you do rewrites? How do you go back and plug holes while still keeping your head wrapped around the big picture so that it all comes out the other side with some sort of logic? Any suggestions or insights into what's worked for others would be greatly appreciated [Big Grin]
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Brent Silver
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Usually, I give my first draft to my writing group, if I'm in an active one, or I find three readers whose opinion I trust and who have the time to look into my manuscript. Based on their reactions, I judge how I wanted them to feel and how they actually felt and will either add or delete as I find necessary to achieve my desired ends.

When the plot is worked out (as this is usually my biggest issue) I do a read-through and tighten my prose so it doesn't sound so clunky. In fact, I try to make it sound beautiful. I try not to do this more than twice, otherwise I never stop tinkering with it and may end up making it worse.

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Meredith
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I don't use checklists. I've found they lead me to over-edit, which then leaves me no option but to rewrite. [Frown]

Generally, I make notes in the ms as I'm writing the first draft and new things occur to me or as I read through after it's had a chance to cool. Sometimes these notes are plot related--develop something more or establish an element earlier, for example.

Then the first pass is to address the notes. I do subsequent passes as necessary to address issues I know I may not have gotten into the first draft (especially if I was in the zone and writing fast). These are things like adding five-senses descriptions and giving more play and motivation to the antagonist (my first drafts tend to be very protagonist-centric).

The key is to figure out what works for you.

Getting readers will definitely help you to figure that out.

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Owasm
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I generally put it into MS Word and do a spell/grammar check. Then I give it to my proofreader (wife). If I can, I'll get some people to do a first read.

At that point, I incorporate the changes. Recently I have a three pass process. I go through MS Word again, (my first draft is done in Scrivener)and then I put the manuscript into Adobe InDesign. This gives me a different look at the words. I have found that when I do that I pick up a lot more errors.

Since I am now publishing a paperback (using CreateSpace), I create the book and order a proof copy. Since this is a physical copy, it's yet another different look and I mark it all up with a red pen.

If you do everything in MS Word (like I used to do), there are a lot of errors that you just pass over with every reading. If there is a large revision (in my next book, I have to add a new character for plot, length, and follow-on series purposes)I write out the change on a piece of paper or in Scrivener and will use it as a guide when I actually write the revisions.

That's my current process. Then you take it to an editor and do it again.

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History
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"A little bit of this, a little bit of that..."

I generally have an understanding of what I wish to accomplaish regarding plot, setting, character, conflict, and theme before I start. With really long works, I'll create a fairly detailed (though not complete) outline.

I often revise as I write, but this is mostly playing with word choice and sentence structure and not plot or character.

Things will change in the course of writing as my characters and story take on life and propose things better than I originally planned, and I'll need to return to earlier in the story to make the appropriate revisions. This may occur before or after I complete the first draft.

After the completed first draft, I re-read and revise and re-read and revise two or three times, do a spell and grammar check in MSWord, then let it sit for a few weeks before returning to it for the next revision (never seems to be the "last" though--I may snip and prune even a year later). While I wait, I often drop the 1st thirteen here and hope someone (other than a family member) will ask to read and critique the story. Well...what do you know? There's one there right now. http://www.hatrack.com/cgi-bin/ubbwriters/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=11;t=004560;p=1&r=nfx [Wink]

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

P.S. I like Owasm's idea for using Adobe InDesign to find more proffreading errors (though I have no idea what it is or how much it costs).

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rcmann
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I recommend reading out loud, to yourself and/or others. If possible, get someone to read it to you. If not, use software to have the computer read it to you. Hearing the story aloud puts it into a completely different context and engages a different part of the brain. I spot a lot of things that way that I would never have noticed otherwise.
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Owasm
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@ History - Adobe InDesign is a sophisticated desktop publishing program (Pagemaker was it's predecessor). It's pretty pricey (I got it four or five years ago as part of a package that cost me $1,200), but I use it to make up the pages for my printed books.

I know about reading the book out loud, but I just don't have the patience for that, so seeing it set up different ways, doest the same thing.

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
I recommend reading out loud, to yourself and/or others. If possible, get someone to read it to you. If not, use software to have the computer read it to you. Hearing the story aloud puts it into a completely different context and engages a different part of the brain. I spot a lot of things that way that I would never have noticed otherwise.

I've recently used that with a short story and it was very instructive. My version of word (which is older) has a built-in text to speech function. I'm sure the newer versions do too. It sounds kind of robotic, but it's amazing how you'll spot some things by hearing it instead of reading it. Reading an entire novel aloud is kind of hard on the vocal chords (especially during an allergy attack). Plus, you're still reading it.
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Robert Nowall
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Well, right now---it's evolved and shifted over the years---but right now, I usually write one draft, then write another draft typing it out word-for-word, then do revisions and editing on that last draft.

But those last revisions have gotten kind of nitpickety of late. My last several, I used the search feature of my word processing program to seek out things like "ly" adverbs and "have/has/had" and "was [verb]ing." It's getting a bit much, it gets like chewing used gum over and over. I'm determined to cut back on it---since I'm not sure of the merit of it, on top of the trouble it is.

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AndrewR
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Usually I just re-read and revise the story until I can't stand looking at the thing anymore. Then I know it's done. [Smile]

Reading the story aloud does help a lot.

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Natej11
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I could give an example of a revision I felt I had to make on a story I was nearly finished with.

It started off really slow and the book was a hundred pages in before it even got to the main plot. So I spent a while thinking of ways to get to the point sooner, and especially to include the main character in them rather than having to use other PoVs. I shuffled some events around so they happened sooner and in a different order, making the overall plot more streamlined and action packed.

As far as I'm concerned that should be the main purpose of revision: smoothing the bumps that hamper the flow and pacing that might be unnoticed in the first draft.

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Progonoskis
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I agree with the "read aloud" technique. I find that if I'm saying it differently from how I wrote it, then I need to change it. (Even if I don't end up changing it to how I articulated it.) Listening to others read it out loud also helps. Doesn't have to be all at once. But, my experience is only with short pieces. I am overwhelmed to think about the task of revising a long text, unless I'm doing it as I go along.
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extrinsic
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I could put on a master class in revision strategies, but don't currently have the time. One thing I can say, a first principle of revision is it's about reworking for audience accessibility and appeal. Revision is re-vision, reseeing a work from an audience reception perspective rather than a creator's perspective; in other words, rewriting for an audience.

Will readers accurately interpret and understand this creation's intent and meaning? I ask when I revise. Then I develop reworking strategies. This summary or explanation needs to be reworked into a scene. That scene needs to be cut. This scene needs expansion. That transition needs more setup. This scene needs more development: more introspection, more sensation, more emotion, more action, more description, more anatgonism, more causation, more tension (A.C.T.). That scene needs less detail. And so on.

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rcmann
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Agreed. That's why I think speaking a story is important. I am a big advocate of the position that all story telling is ultimately derived from traditional bardic story telling, sagas, etc. One reason I think children love to hear bedtime stories and being read to is, I think, an instinctive sense of the importance of passing knowledge from past to future via the spoken word.
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lizluka
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Wow, some great advice here:) Thanks everyone. It sounds like one of the most common ideas is to read it aloud (or listen to someone/thing read it aloud). I'll definitely have to give that a try. I also like the idea of looking at the piece in different formats--in addition to catching mistakes, it might be good just for considering different ways of approaching a scene or chapter. I know that as a reader, I perceive even published stories a bit differently on an e-reader as opposed to paper.

One thing I worry about is when to give it to a first reader. On the one hand I don't want to waste their time (or mine) by handing over something that isn't at it's best, but since there's always going to be possibilities for improvement it can be hard to let go and say 'okay, this is good enough for someone else to read.' Or maybe I'm just a bit insecure about scrutiny. Probably both. (sigh)

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by lizluka:


One thing I worry about is when to give it to a first reader. On the one hand I don't want to waste their time (or mine) by handing over something that isn't at it's best, but since there's always going to be possibilities for improvement it can be hard to let go and say 'okay, this is good enough for someone else to read.' Or maybe I'm just a bit insecure about scrutiny. Probably both. (sigh)

It depends on the reader. I have friends I won't give a first draft to because they simply can't restrain themselves from doing a line edit--which just isn't appropriate for a first draft.

With many fellow writers, you can specify that you're only looking for a content edit--what works, what doesn't, where are the plot holes, etc.

On the other hand, preparing for getting your first critiques is nerve racking, so if you want to make sure you've got it in the best shape you can, that's understandable, too.

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Robert Nowall
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Oh, yeah, my first drafts look a lot different from what I pass off as finished product. One thing I do is put notes-to-myself in the middle of the draft, in boldface, usually, like insert [something] here or check this fact...which, hopefully, I work out while I'm doing the next draft.
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mobewan
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I use Scrivener which gives me a great way to move things round on the fly, make notes that I can go back to and compile things quickly and easily for sharing.

My general "process" is to get a section (usually a chapter) done, whilst making quick notes if something strikes me as I'm doing it. I try not to edit anything until the chapter is done. Then I'll go back to the prevous chapters and change things based on my notes (I find I often need to change the emphasis of certain scenes as a result of something I later write). I can't emphasise the brilliance of Scrivener during this. If you've put a bit of time (minutes) into tagging each scene then its a piece of cake.

Plus I constantly use a "random scenes" section, for when a piece of dialogue or a scene pops into my head that I may want to use. These can then easily be slotted in at a later point. My brain tends to work quite randomly, and it avoids me being too distracted.

Then I compile the chapter to ePub or Kindle format and read it on iBooks or my Kindle (depends whether my other half has nicked my kindle!). I find that is the best way to get a feel for it, plus you can highlight and take notes as you are doing it (spotting grammer, sentences that don't make sense, or just highlighting a paragraph I want to redo etc). Then I go back to the keyboard and correct/change the things I've found. I have to be disciplined doing this and just do it the once at this stage.

Then start the next chapter.

Once I've done 3 or 4 chapters I read it on the kindle from the beginning. Looking for consistency of plot, character and tone at this point.

Rinse and repeat.

I have gotten friends to read things as going along, but I generally only get them to check bits I think don't make sense or aren't consistent. I have never shared a finished work with anyone yet...(only been writing a year or so).

So for me, the tools are just as important as the process.

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extrinsic
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Wow, am I the odd writer out when it comes to revision processes. I shouldn't be surprised, though. Writing students I tutor have similar approaches as many of you-all. Their revision strategies plateau at ironing out mechanical style concerns. Craft or organization and content, voice or expression and narrative point of view, and audience accessibility and appeal features are struggles for every writer, but cause no end of heartache and confusion for composition and creative writers inexperienced with their applications. I'd save each of you the misery if I could. However, the struggle is the reward.
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Meredith
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I don't know, extrinsic. When I say my first pass through is to address the notes I've made in the ms, those very often are things that will affect the reading experience. I'm setting the story in what will (hopefully) be it's final form. (Subject to change based on critiques.) I think it's at least similar to what you describe.

After that, it's cosmetics and mechanics of greater or lesser import.

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mobewan
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@meredith, extrinsic - interesting. I do it in the reverse order. Partly I think because I need things to be "correct" before I can sink into them. But I'm also a very inexperienced writer, so my work needs a lot of corrections :-)

Must admit, I'm hoping with experience comes less of a need for actual corrections and I can focus on the experience more.

Love seeing what others do (and why). Makes me think...

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by mobewan:
@meredith, extrinsic - interesting. I do it in the reverse order. Partly I think because I need things to be "correct" before I can sink into them. But I'm also a very inexperienced writer, so my work needs a lot of corrections :-)

Must admit, I'm hoping with experience comes less of a need for actual corrections and I can focus on the experience more.

Love seeing what others do (and why). Makes me think...

Well, in my experience, it's not worth trying to fix the smaller things until you've got the story in order. You don't know what you're going to decide to cut or redo completely. Why spend time fixing a sentence or a paragraph that might not even be in the final draft?
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by Meredith:
Why spend time fixing a sentence or a paragraph that might not even be in the final draft?

I agree, Meredith, but it could be considered good writing exercise as long as it doesn't consume you as a writer.

Editors mourn for all the perfect first paragraphs or perfect first chapters that will never reach their desks because all the writing energy went into making that first whatever perfect and the rest of the story was never completed or submitted.

You have to find the balance that works for you and your story.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Meredith:
I don't know, extrinsic. When I say my first pass through is to address the notes I've made in the ms, those very often are things that will affect the reading experience. I'm setting the story in what will (hopefully) be it's final form. (Subject to change based on critiques.) I think it's at least similar to what you describe.

After that, it's cosmetics and mechanics of greater or lesser import.

Yes, I'd include you in the exceptions group. Your phase of writing development is above the sophistication curve average. Where I think you are is in the misty realms between advanced and winning writer, an emerging audience student.

What Ms. Dalton Woodbury says about mechanical style editing regarding mobewan's approach to revisions is spot on. Working out mechanical style wrinkles is a leg of a poet's journey. Next comes craft, then voice, then audience, and frequent circling back episodes, if done the conventional route.

quote:
Posted by mobewan:
Must admit, I'm hoping with experience comes less of a need for actual corrections and I can focus on the experience more.

It does. Perseverance and a nudge here and there along the poet's journey from the writers who've come before you and upon whose shoulders you stand will manage the mischief magnificently. Take heart that what others give you also gives back to them from caregiving-sharing enhancing their development as writers as well.

I think you're ready for in-depth experience with craft development, a glimpse of voice, and a hint of writing for audience accessibility and appeal. I suggest Damon Knight's "Plot" chapter from Creating Short Fiction, which also applies to long fiction. Online at the Wayback Machine:

http://web.archive.org/web/20020124104145/www.efn.org/~dknight/plot/

[ October 17, 2012, 09:42 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Osiris
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Wow, am I the odd writer out when it comes to revision processes.

Definitely not. I think learning what to prioritize in revision goes hand-in-hand with learning what a writer's priorities are.

My first year as a writer I focused on mechanical concerns, and only when I realized that I wasn't selling any stories because of shortages in story-crafting did I begin to sell my work.

So based on this experience, my revision process follows three stages (separated by cool-off periods), the first of which begins before the story is written:

Outline - Yes, I consider outlining a revision step, in fact the most important revision step. This is where I deal with the bulk of scene organization, plot development, character outlines, etc. My experience has been that by spending time outlining before the first draft is written, I spend less time revising after the first draft is written.

Alpha Draft - This is where the first draft is written. Here I try to write as quickly as possible. If I got stuck, I make a note in the manuscript and that allows me to move on. Then I try to find some first readers, which I've learned is a lot harder than finding a beta reader. Alpha readers need to have the same understanding that story/plot is more important than mechanical issues. I don't correct mechanical issues in an alpha draft because, frankly, why should I correct a mechanical issue in a scene that may be cut from the manuscript? A carpenter doesn't stain and polish a piece of furniture before it's cut from the wood. This whole process may involve more than one round of critiques.

Beta Draft- Once I'm satisfied the story-crafting is generally how I want it, I focus on mechanical issues. Once this is done, I put it through a second round of critiques, this time asking the reader to focus on mechanical issues. Then I pack the story's lunch and send it off to market.

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Robert Nowall
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There are those who advocate writing one draft and one draft only---but that's more of a pulp-magazines-and-deadlines kind of thing, and nobody's prose is that perfect the first time out. Stick with some polishing, some reconsideration once the initial impulse has faded...but don't go bananas revising...
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lizluka
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Hmmm, I hadn't thought about getting first readers for an alpha draft. It makes sense of course, as story is so important. I guess the key, like meredith said, is finding first readers who are willing to be patient with the mechanical issues of an alpha draft and focus on the story.
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Osiris:
quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Wow, am I the odd writer out when it comes to revision processes.

Definitely not. I think learning what to prioritize in revision goes hand-in-hand with learning what a writer's priorities are.
I guess I'm not as odd writer out as I first thought.
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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by lizluka:
I'm trying to wrap my head around the process.

I'm not surprised that wrapping your head around the process is challenging. Calling all the things that fall under the heading "revision" by the same name doesn't mean they're exactly the same thing. The only thing they have in common is that they're all changes you make to some part of the manuscript after you've written it. Even that's not entirely true -- sometimes revision involves inserting new material.

As far as I can see, there are three or four basic types of revisions, going by literary function. Extrinsic may be able to help here with a better taxonomy than mine:

(1) Line editing -- correcting grammar, punctuation, usage errors. Eliminating obvious composition mistakes that distract from or obscure your meaning.

(2) Story development -- changes that enrich the story. Introducing or complicating character arcs; linking plot elements together; foreshadowing and obscuring the course of future events; drawing out, introducing, or balancing themes. I think of this as shaping the story.

(2b) Enforcing consistency -- correcting illogical or inconsistent plot developments, character actions or world-building details. I'd include this as part of story development, but it often happens in response to issues raised in critique. Most writers aren't open to the critique suggestions about introducing new plot elements or character arcs -- but they'll nearly always correct an obvious deficiency.

(3) Polishing -- increasing the impact of the story through stylistic improvements. This includes the poetic aspects of the writing (rhetoric, rhythm, imagery) and various tricks and tools of the writing trade (e.g. giving characters distinctive speech patterns or quirks). It's good to balance different kinds of story elements here; if you find you're short on atmosphere and long on dialogue, you trim the dialogue and add a little description.

I numbered these, but they don't necessarily occur in any particular order, other than this: a lot of story development happens as a result of feedback, and as a courtesy I always take a stab at line editing before handing a manuscript out for feedback (albeit with indifferent success).

Meredith likes to give the advice that one should not self-edit too much before producing a first draft. This is sage advice, but you do have to accept that one cost of setting down whatever comes out of your head is that it is often unencumbered by taste, logic, or sometimes even intelligibility. Drafting is where you finally get that manuscript you've been noodling about for so long. Revision is where you try to make that manuscript as good as you imagined it being.

Revision is also the place where you *consciously* develop your voice as a writer, rather than just living with whatever pops out of your head. Within each of these kinds of revisions, there are countless things you can focus on -- more than can be put on a comprehensive checklist I suppose. It is the details that a writer chooses to iron out that determines his style. There may be writing prodigies out there whose style emerged right in the first drafts of their first stories, but I haven't met any and the few claims I've read by published authors that their work comes out ready for publishing except for maybe a little editing have whiff of fish story about them.

I've been doing literary critiques now for about four years, and I've scene a fair number of very promising manuscripts in that time -- a disproportionate number from Hatrackers I'd say. But while I've seen some quite good manuscripts, I've never yet seen one that was good enough to be published as-is. For those authors who have written promising manuscripts (I think you know who you are) I believe closing the gap between promising and published requires three things: (1) revision, (2) self-promotion, and (3) luck.

Now, for an awe inspiring example of story development revision planning, check out J.K. Rowling's plot chart for *Order of the Phoenix*: http://www.hp-lexicon.org/about/sources/jkr.com/jkr-com-trans-revision-ootp.html. It's a stunning display of revision discipline, although the immense scale of the book may have made this necessary. At over a quarter of a million words long, it's by far the longest of the Potter books.

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Grumpy old guy
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I'm learning that Meredith is so 'right on the money'. When I first started writing, the words poured out like an endless stream of consciousness. Then, something happened, and I became a constant revisionist of my own work. That something, I think, was the realisation that there are rules to writing that need to be follwed despite some people's assertion that there aren't.

I think I am now past that stage; although I'd love to come up with a name to describe it. Now, I envision my scene, write it and move on to the next. I may revise it while I'm within the same chapter, but once I've moved on, I'll wait for my alpha readers (I have one and another person has offered) to tell me I'm so full of it I really should change that.

So, my advice for what it's worth is to write your story then worry about the mechanics of it. If I ever get my MS in a state where I'm thinking of trying to get it published, my first point of call will be a professional proof-reader followed by an editor; and then probably back to the proof-reader after I've made all the major revisions the editor suggested, ever so politely.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
As far as I can see, there are three or four basic types of revisions, going by literary function. Extrinsic may be able to help here with a better taxonomy than mine:

Your terms are as good as any for a writer's private use and adequate for public use. The terms do facilitate meaning access and comprehension ease.

Developing a private writing terminology is a best practice for learning and deploying complex topics. Call revision reworking or reassembly or rewriting or scrunking. Whatever. A writer's private life is private. Naming has a magical power, like categorizing genre, for creating a shorthand dialect that substitutes catch words for lengthy principles and meanings that thinking about bog down in minutia a thought or speech or writing discourse.

A public writing lexicon's benefit, though, is sharing. Shared lexicons have become more important in the digital age. Writing groups have broader public interactions nowadays. An insular, customized, private writing language will no longer do adequate public service. In-group writing lexicons may seem to the esoteric group eminently practical and ideal and best for all. Simpler anyway, for the esoteric group if everyone adopts the esoteric group's lexicon. Yet outside groups, exoteric groups, might find the terms confusing, impractical, and insensible. Clashing, contentious interactions will and do arise.

MattLeo, you touch on three of the four elemental writing revision areas: mechanical style, craft, and voice. Those are prose writing terms. Composition writing terms substitute organization and content for craft and expression for voice. Mechanical style is a shorthand term for both systems, encompassing nondiscretionary writing qualities, foremost, accordance with the first principle of communication: facilitate meaning access and comprehension ease, or reading and comprehension ease. Grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc., make up mechanical style's manifold expectations.

The fourth and most important area of revision, or writing and communication discourse in general, is audience. Like Meredith has noted about revising for voice and craft before mechanical style, revising for audience accessibility and appeal before the others is a best practice if manageable. Revising for audience prepares a discourse for publication. An inspiration moves from deep in a creator's private imagination, on to the page, as it were, then out to the audience, ideally.

Why revise for mechanical style, craft, or voice if a discourse is incommunicable to an audience? For practice mostly. More practical to begin revisions for audience accessibility and appeal. After all is written and offered for consideration, will a particularly well-crafted plot appeal? Not if it's leaden and emotionally flat. A strong voice might be especially entertaining but, in the end, will the promise of a powerful voice yet unfold into a trivial reading experience?

Rhetorical appeals are most on point for appealing to an audience, decorum first and foremost: suiting words and subject matter to each other and both to the occasion and the audience. Appeals that serve those functions are pathos, logos, ethos, and kairos. Respectively: emotional, logical, credible, and timely relevance appeals.

Experienced writers may not have a working public writing lexicon. However, their revision processes focus first on audience accessibilty and appeal. Then voice then craft, regularly circling back to audience. Then, at last, a final pass for mechanical style. The terms I know for this method are, respectively, heavy, medium, and light copyediting or revision and proofreading. Experienced writers do the heavy lifting first.

[ October 21, 2012, 10:57 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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lizluka
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
[QUOTE]

Now, for an awe inspiring example of story development revision planning, check out J.K. Rowling's plot chart for *Order of the Phoenix*: http://www.hp-lexicon.org/about/sources/jkr.com/jkr-com-trans-revision-ootp.html . It's a stunning display of revision discipline, although the immense scale of the book may have made this necessary. At over a quarter of a million words long, it's by far the longest of the Potter books.

Wow, this is awesome! MattLeo, thank you for your very useful delineation of some important aspects of the revision process. I think I've been doing each of them to one extent or another in both writing and attempting to revise, but it helps to see them separated into distinct but related parts. Story development, or craft, or whatever we choose to call it, was the most stressful part of the drafting process for me. I tend to see the main points of the story in my head and then I just want to rush through all the in-between stuff. I think one of the main reasons I actually finished this last novel is that I didn't let myself give the small stuff the brush off. Frustrating, but ultimately more fulfilling in terms of development. Now, looking at the prospect of revision, I'm realizing that the frustration is going to save me a lot of time as I focus in on other aspects of the writing/revising process. There will probably still be development issues to resolve and improve upon, but I don't foresee any major rewrites.

I have to say, I'm feeling much more confident after reading through the discussion here. There are some very knowledgeable people on this board and it's nice to be able to learn from other/more experienced perspectives:)

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