Friday, July 20, 2007

Lesson #3: How to revise

As you may remember, I started out the month posting some lessons I
learned from my MFA residency. I stopped at #2 not because I only
learned two things, but because I forgot to blog about the rest. Here
we go again...

A.J.Verdelle led a two-session seminar on revision. The most useful thing I got out of the seminar was that revision should be methodical. It's funny because I am methodical when revising my writing for my day job, but not when revising my fiction. By methodical I mean that you should pick 15 or so areas that you want to work on in revision, and go through your manuscript 15 times, working on one area at a time. What should you focus on? Here are some suggestions:
1. Verbs. A.J. said that everyone should chose this as one of their 15 areas for every story. She suggested reading through your story, circling your verbs as you go. Then go back and look at just the verbs: you should be able to tell what's going on just by reading them. Edit out any "to be" verbs, "ing" verbs, and verbs in the distant past (ie "She was dancing", "she had been dancing." Change those to "she danced" for more immediacy.)
2. Redundancy: Look for places where you tell the reader or imply to the reader something he/she already knows. Cut those out.
3. Ask yourself: Does enough happen?
4. Ask yourself: Are the actions of the story clear enough? Are the places, people, things clear enough?
5. Watch for vague words such as it, one, someday, anyplace, something. Replace them with specifics.
6. Read your story aloud and edit for flow. (I would argue that everyone should do this for every story)

What are others that should be added to this list?

Another tip I found helpful was, before you revise ask yourself these three questions and answer them specifically. Then revise with the answers in mind:

1. Why did I write this story?
2. What story did I write?
3. Do I want to go with the story I wrote, or the story I had planned to
write? (As we all know, those are often very different things!) Best Blogger Tips


Becca said...

Bug, thanks so much, this is just what I needed. I have a story and a novel to revise, and I've been putting it off because it seemed like such a huge task and I had no idea where or how to begin ~ now, I do!

Repeater said...

Ah, yes, thanks for the reminder. Of course, I haven't even gotten to the point where I can do any "passes". I started out circling verbs, panicked & started looking at my 8 letter words, tried to change from 1st to 3rd person & then decided I needed to cut out more than 1/2 the story. Now I've got 1 new scene written. I could make a list of how NOT to revise a story!

Bug said...

LOL Repeater. I think what AJ forgot to mention was that it's fairly impossible to revise a piece until you've had some time away from it! You should now blog about what you're working on! Go! :)

TI said...

I tried circling verbs and bailed after one page. I"m revising right now and I haven't tried anything else -- thanks for the reminder. I should take out the list and see what "pass" might help.

TI said...

Does anyone have the list and are you willing to fax it to me I lost mine. TI

日月神教-向左使 said...