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I love revisions

I love revising a manuscript. I’d rather fix a second draft than write the first, and today I’m sharing three of my favorite revision techniques. I’ve included an exercise with each, plus examples from my YA novel I Wish.

Rediscover the heart of the story

We’ve had other great Ruby posts about creating taglines. To recap, a tagline narrows down the story into a few words, to entice the reader to learn more. For I Wish, the tagline reads: What Lacey needs is a miracle; what she gets is a genie–with rules.

The heart of the story is different. It’s not about enticing the reader; it’s about enticing you. What is the point of your book? What is its “North Star”? Whenever you’re feeling frustrated during revisions, it helps to have clarity on the emotional core—the heart—of the manuscript.

Can you capture in one sentence what the protagonist is striving for or needs to discover by the end of the book? Since you don’t have to share the sentence with anyone else, it can be as corny, sweet, raw, or idealistic as you like. The heart of the story can be whatever helps you (the author) to stay focused.

Draw your sentence on an index card, place it in your WORD doc’s footer, or make it your computer’s background. Just have it front and center, so you’ll always know where your story has to lead.

Exercise: Write the heart of your story in one sentence. If you can’t think of something original, then you could:

  • borrow a proverb: “slow and steady wins the race”
  • use a movie quote: “there’s no place like home”
  • fill-in-the-blank: “[protagonist] discovers that _________________”

I WISH Example:

Lacey discovers that asking is for help is a strength

 

 

Witness scenes from all perspectives

Early in the revisions process, I read through key scenes multiple times, once from the perspective of all major characters present. I focus on the most emotional, intense, story-changing scenes–and start with the “least” important character in those scenes. What does the character know before the scene begins? What does she observe in the scene? What does he smell, hear, taste, and feel? Do her dialog and reactions reflect her true emotions? Does his presence contribute something critical? If not, could the character be removed from the scene?

Once I’ve allowed a character to affect the scene (or not), I go through the scene again in the head of the next character, and then the next, revising as I go.

Exercise: Pick an important scene (from your 1st or 2nd chapter) with at least 3 characters, such as a friend and the hero and heroine.  Get into the friend’s head and experience the scene, especially using all of her senses. Is anything missing from the narrative or dialog?

I WISH Example: Lacey argues with Grant (the genie) about her mother’s mental illness—in front of her mother. In the first draft version, Lacey speaks with Mom after the genie leaves.

I wanted to be part of my mother’s solution. I wanted her children to be the reason for the miracle. “Why does it have to be a stranger who helps you get better?”

“Grant isn’t a stranger.”

“What does he do that I haven’t done?”

“Nothing. It’s just different with him.” Her fingers reached out to smooth my hair. “You don’t get to be a kid anymore, and I can’t even promise when that’ll change.”

 

When I reread the scene through Mom’s eyes, I realized that she felt regret for how her depression was affecting her daughter. So I let Mom reveal her regret through dialogue.

I wanted to be part of my mother’s solution. I wanted her children to be the reason for the miracle. “Why does it have to be a stranger who helps you get better?”

“Grant isn’t a stranger.”

“What does Grant do that I haven’t done?”

“Nothing. It’s just different with him.” Her fingers reached out to smooth my hair. “I’m sorry, baby. You don’t get to be a kid anymore, and I can’t even promise when I’ll be the adult again. I’m just…sorry.”

 

Give all relationships an arc

In the first round of revisions, before I analyze the subplots, I analyze the protagonist’s most important relationships.  I write a mini-synopsis of how each of her relationships evolve over the course of the book—ensuring that I address their status at the beginning, middle, and end of the story.

Exercise: Pick a secondary relationship, such as between the MC and a friend or employer. How do they feel about each other on page 1? On the final page? Does their relationship arc flow smoothly? Should it?

I WISH Example: When the story opens, Lacey has isolated herself from practically everyone.  By the end, I wanted her to have happy or hopeful connections to all people who are important to her.

  • Grant, Mom, brother, and former crush: All of these relationships had clear arcs. I only had to tweak and smooth.
  • Estranged friend: Lacey remained estranged from her best friend Sara from start to finish in the first draft. I decided to bring them to more a civil place by the end of the book—which required 2 new scenes.
  • Deceased stepfather: Lacey is angry with her late stepdad for leaving a financial mess in her lap. In the first draft, her anger never went away. But really, she needed closure. I added a new chapter so that Lacey could release her pain and remember how much she’d loved him.

So there you are—3 techniques to consider when you’re revising a manuscript.  I borrowed and modified these ideas from a craft book called Second Sight: An Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl B. Klein. I highly recommend this book.

Did you try any of the exercises? Can you describe the heart of your latest book with just a few words? Share with us in the comments!

 

 

Elizabeth Langston has 2 YA magical realism series– time-travel (Whisper Falls) and genies (I Wish). Writing as Julia Day, Elizabeth’s latest release is a modern, interracial Pride&Prejudice, The Possibility of Somewhere . To learn more about Elizabeth, visit her website or join her newsletter.

6 responses to “I love revisions”

  1. Ooooo, Beth, I’ve been waiting for this post ever since I saw it on the Ruby calendar! I love the joy and wild abandon of the first draft and the orderly, rule-driven process of copy/line edits and proofreading. Revisions? Absolutely BEASTLY! Your three tips are great ways to help me tame the beast, particularly the process of rediscovering the heart of story. Off to add these exercises to my writerly toolbox. <3

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    • Elizabeth Langston says:

      Thank you, Shelley. When I discovered these tips in Klein’s book, it felt like striking gold; they just made so much sense to me and really worked with my writing process.

      (And sorry about the slip-up with posting late. WP bites me again 🙂

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  2. Darynda Jones says:

    HI Beth! What a fantastic post!!! I’m not sure how I missed it, but I did. I am like you. I lurve revising. So so much. The hardest part is the first draft. After that it’s all fun and games. Okay, not really, but it’s fun!

    Thanks for these tips!

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    • I agree about the first draft. It just feels like a total slog to me. I know that I have to revise my way into something good–so I’m impatient to get the bad part over, and let the fun begin.

      So glad that I’m not the only one who likes revisions!

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  3. Cynthia Huscroft says:

    I really enjoyed this post & have “enjoyed” it several times since. I am fond of revising…that’s one of my “go to’s” when I get stuck. I can see where the various characters came from and how they got to be who they are now. Does their current life jive with the past? Is there a development that I might need to include to make the whole thing mesh…or not?

    Such good info! Thank you:)

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    • Thank you, Cynthia. I’m glad it helped!

      I am a software engineer by day, so I think that must be why I like the analysis aspect to revisions.

      And next week, there is an I Love Revisions, part 2.

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