Posted On September 7, 2012 by Print This Post

Five Things to Consider During Revisions with Loucinda McGary

Please welcome author Loucinda McGary back to the RU campus! Like it or not, revisions are a fact of life. Today, Loucinda gives us a few pointers to keep in mind during the revision process. 

And…as an added bonus, Loucinda is giving away one of her e-books (your choice) to the first five commenters.

In the past six years, I’ve judged a lot of writing contests for both published and unpublished work, though far more of the latter. I’ve judged entries in a variety of sub-genres, and the majority of unpublished work I’ve judged were pretty terrible. Honestly, I don’t think most of the entries were critiqued, edited, revised – nuttin’ honey!

Most of these entries shared common short-comings. I hesitate to call them mistakes because in most cases, they were easily fixable. I’ve lumped these “short-comings” into five major areas. So once you have finished your first draft and are ready to polish your manuscript, take a look at these five issues.

ISSUE #1 – The story starts in the wrong place.

I’ve done this many times and I’ll bet you have too:  I pick up and book, start reading the first page, and it doesn’t hold my attention so I stop reading.

Don’t let this happen to your story! See if you recognize any of these “bad starts.”

  • Nine out of ten prologues are unnecessary 

Deb Dixon, the author of Goal, Motivation and Conflict says there are only three reasons to open your story with a prologue:

  1. Establish suspense,
  2. Establish an important character who won’t reappear for several chapters,
  3. Show a pivotal scene in a main character’s backstory.

Most of the prologues I’ve read don’t do any of these things. Most of them show (or worse TELL) a bunch of backstory that the reader doesn’t need to know yet, or maybe ever. Or the prologue shows an event unrelated to the present course of action in the story.

“If the prologue doesn’t have meat for the rest of the story then it is the wrong place to start.” Deb Dixon

  • There is no hook. 

I’ve heard a lot of editors and agents mention this one. Gone are the days when an author could meander around at the beginning of the book describing the setting or the characters. In these days of instant gratification, everyone has a short attention span. If you don’t pull the reader in on the very first page (or the first paragraph), she won’t stick around to read the second.

  •  The opening is a cliché.

How many times have you seen one of these? I’m afraid I’ve seen all of them multiple times.

  1. The hero/heroine has a dream
  2. The hero/heroine looks at self in a mirror
  3. The hero/heroine contemplates house/apartment
  4. The hero/heroine hates job
  5. The hero/heroine is late for something important
  6. The hero/heroine gets fired 

I’m not saying you can’t make one of these openings work. I’m saying you need to put one helluva twist on it to make it feel fresh.

ISSUE #2 – The pacing is off. 

  • Glaciers move faster.

Remember those short attention spans. A slow moving story is a definite disadvantage. You do not want to risk losing the reader’s attention. Once they stop reading, they may not start again. 

  • The pace is uneven – story starts with fast action but suddenly shifts to slow introspection, or vice versa. 

I love suspense in a story (that’s why I write romantic suspense), but I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been reading a fast-paced action sequence and suddenly the hero/heroine stops in mid-action to remember something in his/her past. There’s a time and place for flashbacks and backstory, but it’s not when the character is in mortal danger. 

  • Character development, setting, etc. are sacrificed for a fast-moving pace. 

We’ve all seen this in movies. The story opens with a big battle or a frantic chase. People are fighting with each other or running from each other, and you have no idea why. We don’t know who these people are, what they are fighting agains, or funning from, what is at stake, nor do we care!

Readers need to know enough about your characters and their plight to become invested in your story. 

ISSUE #3 – The hero/heroine is under-developed or unsympathetic 

  • If your hero and heroine don’t like each other at the beginning of your story, chances are one or both may strike the readers as unsympathetic.

I know there is something called an anti-hero, but most readers want a likeable main character. Just like with those opening clichés, why put your story at the disadvantage of an unsympathetic main character? 

  • If one of your main characters is not introduced right away (like Chapter 1) then the reader may not keep reading. 

Sorry to harp on the short attention span again, but don’t risk losing your reader. Introduce your sympathetic main characters right away and get the reader’s empathy going. 

  • Pay careful attention to Point of View (POV) 

Don’t be afraid of using multiple POVs. One way to make a character seem more sympathetic is to put the scene in his or her POV. Then you can use internal dialogue, show actions and reactions to other characters and situations. If you’re afraid the reader might not “get” one of your characters, try switching POV in a scene or two and see what happens. 

ISSUE #4 – Info Dumps 

  • Use backstory like fertilizer, sprinkled lightly over a wide area. Large chunks of either tend to stink. 

I know you are intimately acquainted with your main characters. But does the reader really need to be shown everything in the first or second chapter? Probably not, so be careful with the backstory.

  • Same with descriptions (be they setting, characters, whatever), they are necessary, but need to be spread with a measure and thoughtful hand.

I know you have meticulously researched the flora, fauna, and architecture of the Outer Hebrides for your Scottish story. But you are not going to impress me (or 99 out of 100 other readers) if you dump all your findings on one page of your manuscript. More than likely you will annoy me. Worse – I’ll stop reading. 

  • Writing needs to flow. ‘Action then dump’ or ‘dialogue then dump’ is not flow (see pacing).  

Remember what I mentioned already about dumping a bunch of information in the middle of a fight or chase. Don’t do it! Also, don’t end (or worse stop in the midst of) an intense conversation with a three paragraph dump of your character’s backstory. 

ISSUE #5 – Dialogue 

  • Talking heads (also called ‘White Room Syndrome’) 

This is a particular pet peeve of mine. Two characters are talking away – there might even be dialogue tags or some body language – but absolutely nothing is going on around them. If the characters are in a restaurant, then where is their waiter? The other diners? Their food? Anchor the scene with some action or descriptions. 

  • Everybody talks the same. 

The well-educated and sophisticated Dallas lawyer is not going to talk like the cop from Jersey, and I’m not referring to dialect. I mean vocabulary and syntax. Do some research! Learn regional and ethnic speech differences and rhythms. 

  • People don’t really take that way, or they do and that’s the problem. 

I don’t care if he is English, if your hero is trying to extract life and death information from your villain, he is not going to say, “Sorry old chap, if you don’t tell me, I’ll be forced to shoot you.” 

And please don’t have your character give me that flora and fauna info dump in her conversation. She can say, “What pretty blue flowers.” But even if she is a botany professor, don’t have her give a lecture. 

Dialogue is not meant to be a word-for-word transcription of actual conversation. Dialogue has a purpose. It should advance the plot or develop a character. 

So those are the five major issues you need to consider when you are revising your work. This is your chance to polish your work until is shines. The real work in writing is rewriting.

Remember Nora Roberts’ words, “I can fix crap. I can’t fix a blank page.” 

Good luck with making your story the best writing you can do! 

***

Okay, RU Crew, have you encountered any of the five issues during your revision process? What other factors do you consider when you’re revising?  

***

Here’s a sneak peek at Loucinda’s latest book, His Reluctant Bodyguard, which releases on September 14th.

The last person cruise director Avery Knox expected to see aboard her
very first trip out on Valiant is former college football star, Rip
Pollendene. A decade ago, she had turned down his advances at the
University of Miami and lived to regret her decision. Why is she so
reluctant to take the second chance she’s been handed?

“Rip Pollendene is the heir apparent to a beautiful island nation. But
it’s a heritage Rip has ignored and rejected for twenty years. Now his
homeland is on the brink of a bloody civil war with outside forces
trying to manipulate the outcome. Is that why someone wants him dead?

“How much should Rip sacrifice for a country he hardly knows? And is
it sheer coincidence that has thrown golden girl Avery Knox back into
his life?” 

 

***

Join us on Monday when Kelsey Browning presents: Lessons Learned at the Killer Nashville Conference 

***

Bio: A Golden Heart finalist, Loucinda McGary is the author of three contemporary romantic suspense novels, The Wild Sight, The Treasures of Venice and The Wild Irish Sea. Her later books, The Sidhe Princess and High Seas Deception, are available on Amazon, Smashwords and Barnes and Noble.

For more information about Loucinda, please check out her website and her blog

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37 Responses to “Five Things to Consider During Revisions with Loucinda McGary”

  1. Hi Loucinda,

    Your post comes at a critical time. I’m revising a manuscript for my editor. I fall into repetitive words and phrases. Find and Replace are great features.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | September 7, 2012, 5:58 am
    • Hi Mary Jo!

      I think all of us have “pet” words and phrases. Critique partners are great at helping you keep track. Then Ye Olde Find & Replace can ride to the rescue. ;-)

      Thanks for commenting today and I’m happy the post was helpful. If you’d like a free copy of one of my ebooks, please email me through my website.

      AC

      Posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy | September 7, 2012, 10:11 am
  2. Thank you so much for this article, Loucinda! Your guidance is spot on and comes at a perfect time for me. Thank you!

    Posted by Monica Tillery | September 7, 2012, 6:00 am
  3. I think my first draft had all five mistakes. By revision 2 I managed to start at the right place, by 3 I got rid of the info dump paragraphs, and by 4 I had the setting and characters defined. Now I’m working with a critique group to polish it up. Writing is definitely rewriting!

    Great post!

    Posted by Patricia Moussatche | September 7, 2012, 6:17 am
    • Hey Patricia,
      They weren’t really mistakes if you fixed them. GOOD FOR YOU! I’m glad you are putting in the work to make your manuscript your very best work. Sounds like you are well on your way.

      Appreciate you taking the time to comment this morning. If you’d like a free copy of one of my ebooks, please email me through my website.

      Thanks!
      AC

      Posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy | September 7, 2012, 10:21 am
  4. Great post. I fall into the unsympathetic character category. I’m not sure why I end up writing prickly sorts.

    For this revision, I softened up Mr. Prickly.

    I always end up with the most unsympathetic characters in stories with horrible faults. I don’t know why they find me. It’s always a challenge trying to find balance.

    Posted by Mercy | September 7, 2012, 6:47 am
    • Hi Mercy,
      You are so right about characters being a challenge! Those prickly ones with lots of faults are really interesting when they are redeemed. ;-) Glad you are finding ways to smooth out some of those prickles. LOL!

      I appreciate your comment and if you’d like a free ebook (Sorry, limited to my self-published titles) please contact me through my website.

      AC

      Posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy | September 7, 2012, 10:27 am
  5. Fantastic post! I find I spend a lot of time on my openings. During my last round of edits, my editor suggested I check out the openings of three books and I was amazed at how fast the pace was. There was also very little backstory. :)

    Thanks for being here, Loucinda!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | September 7, 2012, 7:35 am
    • Hi Adrienne!
      Thanks so much to the gang at RU for inviting me back! I love blogging with you. :-)

      Openings are one of the most difficult things for me too. Unfortunately, being a very linear writer, I have to write some kind of beginning before I can go on.

      Please email me if you’d like a copy of Sidhe Princess, High Seas Deception, or His Reluctant Bodyguard (as soon as it is released).

      Thanks again,
      AC

      Posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy | September 7, 2012, 10:33 am
  6. Morning Loucinda!

    Excellent post! I’m always starting in the wrong spot…in my current ms I KNOW it’s the wrong spot, but I can’t seem to find the right one…I’m hoping as I keep on writing, it will come to me!

    Thanks for posting with us today!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | September 7, 2012, 8:55 am
    • HUGS, Carrie!

      Don’t despair! I think I rewrote the opening to Treasures of Venice at least four or five times before I settled on the version that made it into print.

      It never hurts to try out a few different openings once you are in the “revision stage.” But meanwhile, KEEP WRITING! ;-)

      Thanks again for inviting me,
      AC

      Posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy | September 7, 2012, 10:36 am
  7. Hi Loucinda! Where to start is always a pickle for me. Not unusual for me to change the opening a few times.

    Your book looks/sounds intriguing.

    Posted by PatriciaW | September 7, 2012, 10:12 am
    • Hi Patricia!

      Thanks for commenting on my post. You are in good company with changing your openings. I heard that Margaret Mitchell rewrote the beginning of GWTW 29 times and was STILL not happy with it! :-P

      I hope to have His Reluctant Bodyguard released next Friday and hope you and everyone will enjoy it.

      AC

      Posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy | September 7, 2012, 10:38 am
  8. Oh my, the pet words is my worst problem. I adore dialogue, though. It’s the most fun part of my work. Plot pace . . . a constant WIP. Excellent post, Loucinda (haven’t heard that name in forever!). Thanks.

    C. Hope Clark
    Lowcountry Bribe
    Bell Bridge Books, Feb 2012

    Posted by C. Hope Clark | September 7, 2012, 10:19 am
  9. Perfectly time, Aunty Cindy. I am revising and updating my next story to be released. I think I’ve done all that you advised – at least I’ve tried. :) It’s always that doubt lurking in the back of my mind…

    Hugs!

    Posted by Paisley Kirkpatrick | September 7, 2012, 10:39 am
  10. Hi Loucinda – Thanks so much for the excellent – and timely – advice! I’m working on some revisions now, so I’ll keep this checklist handy!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | September 7, 2012, 11:36 am
  11. Loucinda, great post! I think beginnings are the hardest parts of books. I work on them over and over and over again.

    Posted by Nancy Northcott | September 7, 2012, 12:41 pm
  12. Hola AC!

    I’m slashing and revising my first five chapters right now. The first line is something I’ll play with until the bitter end. :)

    Thanks for blogging with us again!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | September 7, 2012, 12:55 pm
  13. Hi Loucinda (Cindy),
    Thanks so much for sharing these true pearls of wisdom from your experience judging competition entries and of course your own writing. It’s great to learn from mistakes and even better when someone can pinpoint with such eloquent precision, the exact problems we can all fall into so easily. Thank you. I plan to print this up and keep it beside me as I begin my rewrites. First up, start later in the story. Second, sympathy/empathy, grab that reader. Third, paint the full picture. Fourth, write only from the character’s perspective, no back story dumping! Love the fertilizer analogy. Useful. So useful. Thank you. Lexi

    Posted by Lexi Greene | September 7, 2012, 2:02 pm
    • Hi Lexi,
      Thanks so much for your kind words. I’m glad the post struck a chord with you, and I hope it will make your revision process that much smoother. ;-)

      Not sure how I came up with the fertilizer analogy, since I’m not really a gardener. I must have been visiting my BFF who has a great green thumb.

      AC

      Posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy | September 7, 2012, 3:19 pm
  14. Great topic. I totally agree about what you and I often see in contests. I find that I have to write backstory and other stuff out, just to get it out of my head. There’s only so much room in there! LOL Then I put it in another file, not the story one. I have also used your idea about rewriting a scene in another POV, and it made all the difference in the world. To me, the story is really put together in the revisions. I’ve worked hard on coming up with a process that helps me step back from my story to see what’s really going on. And a good critique group really helps!

    Posted by Ann Macela | September 7, 2012, 2:16 pm
  15. Loucinda,

    Thanks for blogging with us today! And thanks to everyone who dropped by. Have a great weekend!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | September 7, 2012, 7:39 pm
  16. Great article, Cindy! I learn something new every time I read it, or every time something is reinforced.

    Right now I’m in the middle of revising a novella that I’m starting to HATE, and I realized how many of your points could be helpful in the revision.

    Thanks, friend!

    Posted by Jo Robertson | September 8, 2012, 9:37 am
  17. HUGS, Jo!

    Don’t we all go through periods where we HATE our WIP? I sure do! I know readers are gonna LURVE your new novella. ;-) Keep up the great work.

    AC

    Posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy | September 8, 2012, 10:20 am
  18. Great article! I learn so much on this blog. I’ve changed my first chapter several times.

    Posted by Laurie Evans | September 10, 2012, 7:50 pm

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