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The Revision Process

So the alpha draft of my fantasy short story is completed, and the first round of revision  is also completed. So far this has been a pretty weird experience resulting in some mixed feelings. I like going back and looking at the words I’ve laid down and figuring out how I can make them better. I like to think of it as dragging a whetstone along my work, sharpening its ability to appeal to my target audience. However,  I can have a good deal of trouble working with some of the feedback I get.

The experience, thus far, has made me think of a Neil Gaiman quote I read awhile ago.

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

I’ve run into both ends of this quote, and I feel it really hits the nail on the head. My alpha writing is available to most anyone who wants to read it and I’m certainly happy to receive any comments I get, be they negative or positive. (How can I expect my writing going to get better and more appealing if I can’t take criticism.)  But I’m not going to start actively asking for opinions till I’ve polished the story a great deal more. Even so I’m fortunate enough that my girlfriend and brother both give me feedback. My girlfriend’s feedback normally falls in the first half of Niel’s quote, she’ll come across something in my writing and say “I don’t really feel like this person would talk this way.” I’ll ask back “Well how should they talk?” and she’ll say something like “I’m not really sure, but from what I’ve learned about this character so far, this part of the dialogue just seems wrong.”

I go back and read it, and I usually find she’s right.

Then on the other hand I have my brother. He’ll read something he does not like and he will tell me exactly why he doesn’t like it and what I should do to fix it. I’ll go back and look at what he said and most of the time, if the statement revolves around plot, I don’t at all agree with him. (If it revolves around word usage or non plot related things I do tend to agree with him though).

Overall though I’ve really enjoyed the first pass at the story, I feel like I’ve been able to strengthen characters and increase the weight that certain situations carry. I’m a bit worried that as I make the third or fourth pass that this will begin to get stale, leaving me to hunt down minor problems with the story. I’m still determined to make those passes though, if you want something to really shine, you’ve got to polish it to a high luster. That just simply isn’t something you can do without making multiple passes. In my humble and inexperienced opinion that is.

So what are your thoughts on and experiences with revisions? Do you have a specific code you adhere to when you begin? Are there specific people who you trust implicitly? Let me know in the comments section.

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9 thoughts on “The Revision Process

  1. It will get stale…..really, super, fantastically stale, but it’s a necessary evil. Like I’ve said before, I’ve lost count of the edits I’ve done on my book – I’ve grown to have a love/hate relationship with it. When that relationship started turning more to the ‘hate’ side, (probably around edit 12 of ~ 400 pages) I put it away for the better part of a year. I didn’t think about it, look at it and most definitely didn’t tweak it. Then when you go back you arrive with relatively fresh eyes. That way you can edit 8,000 more times without wanting to slam your head into a bear trap. Maybe.

    • I don’t know if I’ll run into issues that extreme on this project. It’s a short story meant to be the forerunner to a longer story, so the story itself is just a shade over 10 thousand words at the moment. I do plan to put it away for at least a week or two before I make some of the final changes to it so I can read it with fresh eyes.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. I’m just about to finish my alpha draft. The long journey begins for me.
    I intend to set the story aside for a month, go through it at least two times, and then hand it off to close family members who have expressed an interest in reading. After that I will go through the novel once or twice more on my own before handing it off to friends and more distant family who have expressed an interest. After that, once or twice more on my own, then off to the critters workshop, an online workshop I have frequented for many years. After THAT, once or twice more on my own before I sent it off to a content and copyeditor.
    Then. Done. I hope. But that’s the plan.

    • My process is going to be fairly similar to that, but I think I want to shy away from friends and family being my beta readers. I want people who will criticize the crap out of me if they don’t like it, and I don’t really trust family members to do that. I’ve made one pass at it already and tweaked a thing or two here and there along with doing my best to eliminate over used words or phrases. Plan to start a second pass soon (plotting out the next story has consumed my brain the last few days). I suspect my editing process will be a bit different though. I’m lucky enough to have an editor girlfriend, so I suspect the editing process will be a bit like ping pong.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • That’s pretty much how I do it. I have friends who don’t read at all who have taken a peak at my work and pointed certain things out that made it pretty obvious to me that they didn’t read much. Then I have friends who do read a great deal and actually give decent feed back.

      I do particularly like operating along the lines that Neil lays out in that quote though.

      • I’ve only read American Gods, which was fairly enjoyable. I did feel like parts of it were unnecessary and drug the story down a bit, but he did an excellent job illustrating his ideas of how gods and other mythical beings are born and die.

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