Urban Fantasy writer C.J. Redwine takes a step beyond Query 101 today and tells us how to get the most out of our revisions
It’s time. You’ve slaved over your manuscript, ripped the words out of your (mostly) willing brain, and reached THE END. Your book is awesome. Amazing. A shining testament to your talent, imagination, and fortitude as a writer.
It’s also a hot mess.
Not all of it, of course. But there’s that one scene where you couldn’t figure out how to end it so you just sort of trailed off into nothing. And there’s that secondary character who is gloriously, hilariously intrusive for the first third of the book, and then is never heard from again. And don’t get me started on the amount of convoluted sentences, awkward phrases, excess dialogue tags, and frilly prose that accomplishes nothing. Plus, you have a sneaking suspicion your ending was obvious.
The good news?
You’re exactly where you should be. You’ve got the bones of the story, you understand the world now, and you know your characters like you know your own face. It’s time to dive into the true art of writing an incredible novel—revising. Here’s how to get the most out of your revisions:
1. Understand Revising: You aren’t having to go back and rework your story because you suck as a writer. In fact, writers who suck never realize how badly they need to go back and revise. They just shove their first effort out into the world, congratulate themselves on how amazing they are, and then start the next book without having learned a thing. YOU aren’t doing that. You’re committed to learning your craft, and revising is often the best way to do it. Trust me on this. The things you have to work so hard to revise on this book will be the things you absolutely nail on the next one because now you’re aware. And experienced. And by golly, you aren’t going to drop a secondary character off into the plotting netherworld never to be heard from again if it kills you.
2. Take Your Time: Books need a breathing period before you can see them clearly enough to revise well. Set the story aside. Give it to some trusted readers (Readers who will be honest with you about what works and what doesn’t. Praise is nice, but praise doesn’t get your book publishing-ready.). Let the story sit in the back of your brain until you start to see the gaps between what you meant to write and what you did write.
3. Make A Plan: List everything you’d like to address. Compile comments and feedback from your readers. If you’re the type who needs to talk things out, call one of your CPs and talk through your notes. Then, organize it all into something you can deal with chronologically as you move through your manuscript.
4. Write It Out: If you need to step back and see your pacing, your plot arcs, and your various threads of conflict, write a quick one-two sentence description for each scene or chapter. Then, go back through and highlight each arc or thread with a different color. You’ll quickly see where your pacing falters, or where you’ve left a thread dangling midstream never to be seen again.
5. Ask Hard Questions: As you read each scene, ask yourself if every piece of that scene truly moves the story forward. Do you need all those dialogue tags? All that description? Do you need more description? More sensory detail? More action? Higher stakes? Harsher consequences? Don’t be afraid to push yourself beyond your comfort zone. That’s often where truly exceptional books are created.
6. Open A “Pieces” File: It’s hard to cut a gorgeous piece of description or a heartbreaking scene of emotional depth and brilliance, but you must if it comes too early in the book, doesn’t fit with the rest of the tone in that chapter, or is unnecessary. We hesitate over that delete button because we worked hard on this, and it’s good. It just doesn’t belong where we’ve put it. Open a separate document and move that piece over. You might find a more appropriate home for it later in the document, and this way your beautiful words won’t be lost forever.
7. Take Your Time: It’s easy to feel like you have to finish this manuscript now. You want so badly to get it out to agents, or to your editor, so they can fall in love with this book. There’s wisdom in not lingering over revisions forever (that’s an excellent way to ensure you never reach your goals), but taking time to be thorough in your revisions is necessary so others can see the book you meant to write, not the one you originally wrote. ☺
8. Push Yourself: Don’t settle. If a scene isn’t working, fix it or cut it and start over with a blank page. If you can’t figure out how to make a plot twist work (or you know you need one, but a brainstorm eludes you), step away from it for a bit, or call a CP and talk it through. But push yourself to make every word count, to shave off anything that doesn’t move the plot forward, and to make this your best work ever.
9. Read Aloud: It’s amazing how many missing words, run-on sentences, and awkward punctuation you can catch if you slowly read your work aloud to yourself. If grammar and punctuation are a consistent weakness of yours, buy the latest Chicago Manual of Style or find a grammar diva for a CP and pay close attention.
So go on! Take that hot mess of a beautiful story, pull it apart, ramp up the stakes, streamline the prose, push yourself and uncover the story you truly meant to write. I think you’ll love the lessons you learn about craft along the way. And I promise you, if you take revising seriously, when you sit down to write the next book, you’ll be surprised at how far you’ve come as a writer.
So tell us RU crew, what are your revision challenges? What works for you?
Join us Wednesday as Indie author L.J. Charles chats about self-promotion.
Bio: C.J. Redwine writes urban fantasy with a side of comic relief and is repped by Holly Root of the Waxman Literary Agency. She also teaches a monthly online query workshop where she offers unlimited critiques of each writer’s query until it’s perfect. To learn more, go to http://queryworkshop.blogspot.com/.
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