Imagination doesn't just mean making things up. It means thinking things through, solving [problems] or hoping to do so, and being just distant enough to be able to laugh at things that are normally painful. [Some people] would call this escapism, but they would be be entirely wrong. I would call fantasy the most serious, and the most useful branch of writing there is.
--Diana Wynne Jones

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tips From Dave on Revising

 "Your first draft is for what you want to say; your final draft is  for how you want to say it." --Dave Farland.



The most useful advice anybody ever gave me as a novice author was go to writing conferences.

I had a 27-page picture book that wanted to be a novel, 60 pages of another book, and no idea how a person would go about getting anything published - or whether my writing was good enough to bother trying.

Writing conferences answered my ignorant questions, pointed me to the resources I needed, gave me valuable feedback on my writing, and eventually led to signing with my awesome agent, Steve, who loves my writing and believes in my books, even when I am ready to throw them in a mud puddle.

I still often find something I hear at a writing conference gives me some little insight I needed. Last week at LTUE it was Dave Farland's session on revising.

Aha, said my brain. Oh, yeah. Now I see.

I got a little excited. I like revelations. So I'm passing Dave's secrets on to you. Maybe you're stuck, and something will help you, too.

Dave's Excellent Editing Tips:

Your first draft of a  novel is the one where you're figuring out what your story is, where it's going, finding its shape. After that, Dave goes through each novel at least 7 times before sending it out into the world.

First time through: what Dave calls the "triage" edit; the high-level, drastic edit, where you add, chop, and change major stuff, figure out what shape your story needs.

Second time through: "Shotgun" edit. Go through manuscript, identify problems, bug-a-boo areas, look at all ways to improve my story--world creation, characters--go through until every word feels right, then make a to-do list to come back and fix it all.

Tracy Hickman says at this point that he likes to print manuscript out and do a chapter-by-chapter break-down on paper, with color-coded markers for different characters, to see where somebody's not getting enough page time, etc. Which sounds really organized. Like the kind of thing I will never do. Although I admire Tracy for being able to.

3rd time through: Voice edit.
- throw away the beginning and start where characters come alive.
-make sure each character sounds consistent, uses the same kinds of unique buzz-words and dialogue tags.
-make sure each is recognizable, remind the reader of his characteristics throughout, so they don't forget what he looks like.
-do research at this point, if necessary, to make the character feel authentic, to get a true feel for your guy or gal.

4th time through: Descriptive edit.
Check all your descriptive passages and ask
- are you using all five senses?
-do you give a clear sense of place throughout?
- are your metaphors/similes fresh? Do you need more?
-check the poetic elements; is your language evocative?

5th: Syllabic edit: Dave loves Hemingway. Hemingway uses short words.
- Dave's take is that cutting back syllables speeds up the writing, lowers the level required to read it. Sometimes that's not what you want. I feel you could overdo it, give your writing a chopped, too-harsh rhythm, but it's something to consider.

- cut extra words (you can always cut "finally" and "then")
- cut extra paragraphs
- cut extra pages

6th: Line edit.
- Put the manuscript in a new typeface, like palatino 14, and print it out, then read aloud for typos.

Um. I'm not a math person, but I'm pretty sure that's only six edits. I don't know what the mystery seventh edit was, but Dave swears he does seven. Maybe I got mixed up somewhere in there.

*Dave's final warning: don't over-edit or you'll kill it.

My mini-apotheosis: I was trying to do all six edits at the same time. I am a compulsive copy-editor. Triage needs to happen all by itself or I will copy-edit my book into oblivion. Ready to dive back in. Hooray!

What's your revision style? Do you have any methods you love? What works for you?

6 comments:

  1. Editing is hard for me. I want to make it right the first or second time. It can be frustrating,but I liked this, thanks for sharing it!

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  2. I'm at the half way point for the first draft of my first novel. I have enough writing behind me that the idea of editing has started to crawl into my head. Structuring the editing into separate sections like this will be wildly helpful!

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  3. Gaylene: I like to remember that established authors like Dave who pay their mortgages with book money and have their face on t-shirts in Japan work really hard at their job. Good writing doesn't slither out of the brain onto paper in a perfect state.

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  4. Alex: Welcome to the blog--glad you found something to help you. Yes, Dave Farland is brilliant. Happy writing and revising!

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  5. I'm really glad you posted this Elena, thank you!

    I happen to be in the middle of edits myself, so this is perfect timing. I'm not exactly sure where I am in these steps since my book was basically a first draft, but it was a rewrite--so the voice, characters and basic story were all more well formed than a normal first draft. But I guess I'm somewhere between 2nd and 3rd. I'd never heard or considered the syllabic one. That's very interesting.

    Thanks again!

    And can I say? I totally am bummed we're not in that full-novel group together. You were brilliant. ARE brilliant.

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  6. Ali: Thank you! Yes, it's sad that group died. I miss my writing friends and I appreciated everyone's excellent feedback.

    Hope your writing is going well. Happy if my post helped!

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