Rip and Rebuild: Revisions Part 1
Posted by Diana Layne Mar 15 2012, 12:01 am in Diana Layne, GMC, Holly Lisle, Randy Ingermanson, revisions, snowflake, story conflict, The Good Daughter, writeway pro
Does the thought give you nightmares, make you break out in a sweat, make your head pound like when you’re in a room full of screaming kids? (Sorry, I’m a mom of six, I’ve dealt with a lot of screaming kids.)
If you haven’t been through a revision and you bravely, even defiantly state, “I’m not afraid,” I offer you a quote from my favorite two-foot high, green Jedi dude, “You will be. Oh. You will be.”
Because when I use the word revisions, I’m not talking about editing, which is making new word choices or rewriting a few sentences, or rearranging a few paragraphs. No, I’m talking about totally ripping the manuscript apart and rebuilding because sometimes, like with remodeling a house, it’s necessary to rip out those walls and rebuild.
Why would you need to do this with a manuscript? Maybe like mine, it’s been sitting under the bed waiting until you learned more about the craft. And then when you pull it out, you realize the vision you had when you wrote it would no longer work. Or you’ve finished a manuscript but you know there’s something not quite right and it desperately needs repair work. Or, in a happier scenario, you’ve gotten an R&R from an editor (revise and resubmit letter) and you need to figure out how to make the editor-requested repairs.
With The Good Daughter I did this sort of major revision. It originally came in at 120,000 words. I cut 40,000 words in the revisions. Intending to indie publish because it still didn’t fit the “guidelines” for a true romantic suspense, I sent it to an editor who thought it was then too lean and suggested places where I needed to flesh it out; as a result I wrote almost 15,000 new words.
If you, too, have a manuscript that needs to be ripped and rebuilt, here is the method that worked for me.
First, I had to decide what I wanted from this book. Theme helped me do that. Fortunately once I figured out what theme was, I realized I had one, whew. I venture to suggest that if you decide on a theme before you actually write the book, then you might not have so much to revise later? A lot of these methods actually work better before you write the book, but if you’ve already written it, they’ll work too. It’s just more work!
Back to theme. There are those who say theme should be stated in one word. In that case, The Good Daughter’s theme is: Justice. Others say theme is a concept, not a word. For instance, Holly Lisle, in her course How To Revise Your Novel© says, “Your theme is the central idea of the story that you’re demonstrating by writing your story. It is the philosophical and emotional foundation of your book.”
If I were expanding my theme to the “philosophical and emotional foundation”, it would be: Justice is in the eye of the beholder. I even called the book Eye of the Beholder for a while, and former contest divas might remember seeing it final a few times.
But, if you don’t have a theme, or don’t know what it is, well, that’s stuff for another post. And even though I lucked out and instinctively wrote around a theme, The Good Daughter originally was big, rambling and self-indulgent. I had a lot of fun writing it, and when I have a lot of fun writing, I tend to get wordy.
So I had a theme, but I had to tighten. There were two main characters in this story, but the other two characters were just as important. What? Am I saying I had four main characters? Yep. Still do, although the focus has shifted from the original version. Still, The Good Daughter is not a typical romantic suspense.
In realizing that each character was quite important and had a symbiotic relationship to the others, I knew I needed to pick one and focus. Who had the most to lose if they didn’t succeed in stopping the mob? Unfortunately, all of them had a lot to lose. That question didn’t work.
Time to try another question. Whose life would change the most if they succeeded? No doubt about it. Marisa, the mob daughter’s would. She was risking her family and her whole way of life.
This realization provided a problem. Originally, Sandro and Nia’s story was the main plot. That’s because a soccer game sparked the idea for the book, and they were the soccer players (don’t worry if you hate soccer, there are no soccer games in the book). But there was no conflict between them. They deeply loved each other; they simply had to find a way to get back together for their life to be perfect.
I was told a long time ago, practically my first RWA group meeting, that if you have two characters who love each other and the plot keeps them apart, it would not work as a romance. (Though I do love Sandro and Nia’s love story and if you agree and want to read more, I’m putting together a short story for them.)
And though, as I said, this book does not follow a typical romance pattern, I realized if I used Marisa as the focus character and paired her with the FBI agent Dave—suddenly the story got more interesting. Definite sparks with those two. Dave didn’t trust Marisa. Marisa didn’t trust Dave, and as typical in a romance (I do meet some expectations!), there are unexpected and unwanted sparks between them.
Therefore, I had to rewrite the story with Marisa and Dave as the main characters, making their story the plot and moving Sandro and Nia’s story to a subplot. Easy, right?
Yeah. Not so much.
As for you—where is your book? What was your original vision? Did you miss the target or did the target change? Do you have the right characters in the lead? What do you want to accomplish with this revision? Now is the time to decide.
The Tools: What you need in order to rip
In addition to theme, I used these tools:
Sentence for Revision
(Note: none of this software is necessary, you can do the same with Word or another word processing program, I just like gadgety-type stuff.)
WriteWay Pro software: I like this because I can split the book into scenes and write stuff about each scene. Does a lot of the same things as Scrivener, but I have a PC and was used to WWP by the time Scrivener for PC came out.
Snowflake software: very handy for writing synopses and proposals. And I will admit I subscribe to Randy Ingermanson’s Advanced Fiction Writing E-Zine and used his Snowflake method before there was the Snowflake software. I bought it when he ran a special on it.
White notecards (lots, it was 120,000 word book)
Moving on. Next, I wanted GMC’s for my characters. I needed to make sure that I was clear on what they all want. What is GMC? Goal, Motivation, Conflict. I thought Debra Dixon had saved the world when she came up with this concept. And yes, I’ve been hanging around RWA that long. Longer, even. By the way, do not look for this book on Amazon, sheesh, it’s $292 for a new copy. Seriously, it’s a small book. Go to Deb’s website. Much more reasonably priced.
A quick summary of GMC for those who might be unfamiliar with the concept: Your character wants [fill in goal] because [fill in motivation] but [fill in conflict]. Here’s what I came up with:
Marisa’s GMC: A mafia princess wants to stop her father’s crime organization, because the path of destruction is wide and deadly and personal, but to do so would change her life.
Dave’s GMC: An FBI agent wants to stop the mob because that’s what he does, but he can’t do it this time without stepping outside the lines.
Sandro’s GMC: A blackmailed soccer player wants to rescue his wife because she is being held prisoner but he doesn’t know where the mob has taken her.
Nia’s GMC: A mom soccer player must escape the mob because she is afraid her husband will get himself killed trying to rescue her possibly leaving their son an orphan, but these are bad guys with guns who won’t think twice about murdering her.
This helps me make sure I have goals and conflicts for each character. This is helpful at the very least so your CP (critique partner) can’t relentlessly grill you, like mine once did, and leave you stuttering, b..b..because I want it that’s why. Nope, not a good answer. So come up with GMCs and keep them in mind for later when you have to come up with The Sentence. Also, notice I tried to describe each character in two or three words. Using these descriptive words instead of their names, helps make sure I have a clear image of the role the character will play—and will help later when you write a query and synopsis.
Next, and this is gonna be fun. Not.
First the white ones. You’ll be using one per scene. I, and Holly, suggest you punch holes in the cards and find a way to bind them. You can bend a paperclip to thread through the hole, or use yarn. I recently discovered an index card notebook (was the highlight of my day!)—I’ll post a picture of it tomorrow.
Now that you have the holes punched in the white ones, you’ll go through each scene and write a summary sentence about the scene. (Note: number each card, because later you’ll get them out of order) The summary sentence will work better if you use Holly Lisle’s Sentence For Revision (later, we’ll use The Sentence, too, which is one of the coolest tools I’ve ever used).
Here’s the Sentence For Revision (SFR): Protagonist with a need vs. antagonist with a need in an interesting setting with a twist.
Incidentally, I asked permission to use SFR and The Sentence from Holly’s copyrighted courses.
Now, I’ll go into more detail in tomorrow’s post, but for now, realize that antagonist does not necessarily have to be a person; instead it can represent something that is in opposition to your protagonist, providing conflict.
I learned in a scriptwriting class the 7 basic conflicts: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Himself, Man vs. God (or supernatural), Man vs. Machine, Man vs. Destiny, Man vs. Society. I mention these so you can realize that each scene can have conflict even if it just has one person in it.
Here’s an interesting article about Conflict if you want to read more.
And the twist portion in the SFR is the one thing that changes everything in a scene.
If you don’t have conflict, and nothing changes, you don’t have a scene. Which is exactly why you’re writing down a summary sentence of each scene—so you can see what you have.
One more thing about this summary sentence: Holly teaches to set up your Sentence for Revision in this format: PACTS.
If going through your scenes, you find for example, a scene with no twist, just write down: [no twist] and move onto the next scene. Resist the temptation to do editing now (although I admit, I circle typos or something that sounds stupid, sometimes big somethings that sound stupid). You don’t want to get caught up in editing, though, because at this point you don’t know if you’ll end up cutting that word, sentence, paragraph or scene. Wait until later.
Also, make note that in doing the scene cards, you might have *more* than a scene, for example, you might have protagonist vs. antagonist plus twist, twist, twist…in other words, you have a lot going on in the scene and it rambles from one thing to another with no real focus. Holly calls these scenes: Frankenscenes. (cool term, huh?) Make note of your Frankenscenes on the scene card; they will have to be fixed.
Yes, going through your manuscript scene by scene is boring and tedious. Do it anyway.
And that is enough for today. If you’re anxious to learn more, I invite you to check out Holly Lisle’s website. I have taken most of her courses and read most of her books, and I have notebooks and notebooks full of information. It has been invaluable. At this time, she’s planning on cancelling her courses: How To Think Sideways—last registration for the year long course will end March 31, and How To Revise Your Novel—last registration date not set. Although, if I understand correctly, she’ll be switching the courses to e-book format.
Also Randy Ingermanson’s website, to read more about the Snowflake method. As I mentioned, I subscribe to his newsletter, and I print it out most months to put in a binder as well. I never fail to learn something new. However, I am NOT advertising for either one of them or the software mentioned. These are just tools I used to learn how to do revisions and I’m happy to share my knowledge.
So what do you think? Already way too much work? Or something you think you can use? I tell you, though, I’ve revised several books, and this, for me, is the fastest way to get a cohesive finished product. Questions on the process so far?
Be sure to come back tomorrow for part 2 to learn the Nuts and Bolts: How to put it all together. As always, feel free to check out my website!
FOR PART 2 PLEASE GO HERE.