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I love revisions, part 2

I’ve always enjoyed editing second drafts (and third and fourth) more than I’ve liked writing the first. Once round one is behind me, I’m eager to dive into analyzing and improving the mess I made. 

Two weeks ago, in the I love revisions (part 1) post, I shared 3 of my favorite revision techniques.

  • Rediscover the heart of your story 
  • Witness scenes from all perspectives
  • Give all relationships an arc

Today, I’m sharing 3 more techniques, with exercises to try for each tip, plus examples from my YA contemporary romance The Possibility of Somewhere (a multi-cultural Pride & Prejudice between a poor white girl and the son of wealthy Indian immigrants.)

 

Make each chapter’s last sentence tempt

As a reader, I often find myself thinking “I’ll stop reading at the end of this chapter.” And, unless the author gives me a reason to keep going, I do.

I want my books to have that “un-put-downable” quality to them. So part of my revision process is to revisit the last sentence(s) of each chapter, to see if they lure the reader to continue. I’ve created 3 questions that I ask about each chapter’s ending.

  • Does it raise a compelling question in the reader’s mind?
  • Does it give insight into a new aspect of the hero’s/heroine’s character–a trait that may lead to trouble ahead?
  • Does it foreshadow something significant?

I hope to get a YES from at least one of those questions. If I don’t, it’s time to rethink the chapter’s final impression. How can I punch it up? Should I go back a few paragraphs and see if I need to end the chapter earlier? Should I look ahead and pull something from the next chapter? Should the POV character pose a question that hints at internal conflict?

I do allow myself the occasional “wildcard.” If there has been a lot of intensity in a story, sometimes the reader just needs a moment to catch her breath. But I don’t use wildcard endings often, and I avoid using them back-to-back.

Exercise: Review the final sentence(s) from the first 5 chapters of your story. Do they foreshadow, raise a story question, or develop character? If not, has the intensity of the story earned a pause?

The Possibility of Somewhere Examples:

Compelling question – Eden knows exactly what she wants from life–to escape the poverty she’s been raised in. Throughout high school, she has kept her “eyes on the prize”…until her father throws a wrench in her plans.

…my dad had stolen my future, and I had no idea how to steal it back.

 

Character insight – Eden is proud, driven, and confident. Yet, when her stepmom makes a suggestion…

“Invite Mundy over sometime.”
The suggestion buzzed in my head. Invite her to our trailer?
I grunted noncommittally. Not going to happen.
Ever.

 

Foreshadowing – Ash is Eden’s academic rival–and complete opposite in life. When they are assigned to the same project, Eden wants to try something edgy. Although Ash opposes the idea as reckless–especially for her–he grudgingly concedes.

“Ash?” He paused but didn’t look back. I enunciated clearly, to make sure he heard.
“No hard feelings afterwards. I promise.”

 

Isolate each main character’s dialog.

One of the last techniques that I apply to a manuscript is to read through the dialog of each major character. I start on page 1 and go all the way to The End, focusing on one character, reading the words between his/her double-quotes. I read no narrative. No actions. No responses from other characters.

Before I begin this process, I spend a couple of minutes thinking about the character’s speech patterns. What kind of vocabulary does she use? Does he speak in monosyllables, short bursts, or paragraphs? Is her voice generally cheerful, sarcastic, or sad?  Once I’m anchored with my understanding of their unique way of communicating, I read only their spoken words.

Exercise: Pick a character in your story who has a small role and a memorable voice. Reflect briefly on his/her typical diction, word tics, and attitude. Then skim through the manuscript, reading only when he/she speaks. Are they consistent (when they should be)? If they sound out of character, is it for a good reason?

The Possibility of Somewhere Example:

On the first day of their senior year, Ash confronts Eden over his belief that she deliberately tries to needle him.

Original version:

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to call a truce.”
“I’m not at war with you.”
“It feels like it. You fight me every chance you get–whether the situation needs it or not.”

I changed both of their quotes after applying this technique. Eden doesn’t speak much in school, but when she does, she makes every word count and often ends her sentences with power words. Ash speaks economically, keeping his words pared to the minimum required to convey his meaning.

Revised version:

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to call a truce.”
“Why? We’re not at war.”
“It feels like it. You fight me every chance you get.”

 

Visualize the story’s pacing

Many young adult readers like fast-paced stories with lots of dialog. When I write the first draft of a YA, I focus on getting the dialog right–which means I often scrimp on the narrative. To combat this, I use the Zoom-In feature of Microsoft Word and take the manuscript down to 10%.

At ten percent, the text in the manuscript is too small to read, but I can visualize where potential pacing problems might be. If I see more than 3 consecutive pages of heavy white-space (mostly-dialog) or dense paragraphs (mostly-narrative), I flag them and review later (at normal Zoom).  I usually discover 5 – 6 places in the manuscript where the pace needs tweaking. 

a snip of a document in WORD 

Exercise: Open your manuscript with your word-processing application, and zoom the document down until you can no longer read the words. Then just eyeball the pages. Does the pattern surprise you? Do you have any sections with a lot of white-space or page after page of dense paragraphs? If you do, is there a good reason?

The Possibility of Somewhere example: The image to the right is a snip from an early draft, showing the title page and parts of the first three chapters. Chapter 1 felt like it had the right mix of dialog and narrative. But Chapter 2 had more white-space than I expected, so I took a look at the text and decided to add a couple of paragraphs where Eden has more internal dialog during a conversation with her parents.

 

There we are: 3 more techniques. Did you try any of the exercises from I LOVE REVISIONS, parts 1 or 2? Do you have other questions to share for making chapter’s endings tempting? Share with us in the comments!

 

 

Elizabeth Langston writes YA magical realism and YA contemporary (as Julia Day). Her latest release, The Possibility of Somewhere, was her first manuscript to final in the Golden Heart. Her next book, Fade To Us, will release in February 2018. To learn more about Elizabeth/Julia, visit her website or subscribe to her newsletter.

 

20 responses to “I love revisions, part 2”

  1. Often we forget the techniques we’ve learned all the way and that make our work really shine. Thank you for reminding me today and last week to use them.

    I did your exercise and took a look at my first five chapters of a book in edits and found that chapter two’s hook is not as strong as it could be. (SLAPPING FOREHEAD. Chp 2, really?) So, I’m tweaking, because I want my reader to head on to chapter three where the heroine’s and the town’s future is put into jeopardy. Thank you, sister!

    I’m going to pin these articles to my edit file.

    Great post and great examples, Elizabeth.

    READERS: Part one of this article was awesome too and if you didn’t read it, you should.

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    • Elizabeth Langston says:

      Thanks, Autumn!

      Hooking the reader doesn’t have to be hard. Sometimes, it just takes a few words or a sentence or two to keep them interested enough in turning the page.

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  2. I have always suffered my way through revisions, but I love the way you’re approaching it. Maybe if I employ some of these techniques I won’t be quite such a miserable reviser!

    And your book sounds AMAZING. I love P&P and I’ll have to check this one out! Great post, Beth/Julia. 🙂

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    • Elizabeth Langston says:

      Thanks, Lizzie–and please don’t be a miserable reviser. Let me be your revision-evangelist.

      There are a lot of quotes floating around cyberspace that say first drafts are often crap–and they only get good during the revision process. That’s a lifeline for me. If my first draft feels like complete junk, I relax, because I know that editing is where the fun starts.

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  3. jbrayweber says:

    Wonderful post, Elizabeth. I’m going to be more conscious of these tips when in revision. These are excellent techniques.

    Jenn!

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  4. More excellent revisions tips, Elizabeth! After your first post, I employed all three of your initial revision strategies with great success. 🙂 Today I took on your first exercise, evaluating the last sentence of the first five chapters.

    Chap 1 – foreshadows, but the foreshadowing may be too subtle. Will rethink.
    Chap 2 – compelling question
    Chap 3 – insight into character trait
    Chap 4 – compelling question
    Chap 5 – Ugg!! Revised to end on sentence to provide insight into character trait

    Now off to put the rest of this ms through these exercises. Again, thanks for these posts, Elizabeth! Such simple, manageable strategies are particularly helpful to me as I’m in the middle of revising a beastly 100,000+ word ms with multiple POVs, timelines, and subplots. Joy!!

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    • Elizabeth Langston says:

      Thanks Shelley, for showing us the results of your exercise. So glad that some of these tips are making a difference.

      And when we’re facing revisions for mss that can grow to 100K+ words, small changes aren’t so daunting.

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  5. Thank you for sharing your tips, Elizabeth! Especially since revisions are the hardest part for me, especially in the early stages. 🙂

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    • Elizabeth Langston says:

      I’m working on something new, but the first draft. And I am aching to get this done. It’s really the most miserable time for me.

      It’s wonderful that so many unique processes can still produce uniquely great books!

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  6. Great tips. And so timely too as I’ve just stared revisions of my new book.This will keep me on track. Thanks, Elizabeth!

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  7. Darynda Jones says:

    WOW! This is kind of incredible, Beth! Thanks for posting.

    I love where you cut “whether the situation needs it or not.”

    So much more powerful! (Powerfuller?) I find myself doing that all the time. Adding unnecessary information onto the end of a sentence. It sucks the power out of the sentence.

    Love this and sharing!

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    • Elizabeth Langston says:

      That’s so true. I tend to overwrite (to borrow a word from Shelley), to overexplain, to try too hard to make sure that the reader “gets it.”

      So, yeah, –that less can be more “powerfuller”.

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  8. Elisa Beatty says:

    Such cool techniques!!

    I love emphasis on re-seeing the story through the secondary characters’ eyes and roles. I wouldn’t have thought of that, but it must open up all sorts of emotional energy. Will try!

    Thanks so much for sharing!

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  9. Jacie Floyd says:

    Brilliant! Thank you! I’ll use these tips on my next edits.

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  10. Cynthia Huscroft says:

    Yesterday after reading your post, I looked at the last sentence of my first 10 chapters and, yep, made some changes.

    Enjoyed PART 2 as much as PART 1! Thank you for the tips, Elizabeth!

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