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Writing: Revision 1c [Aug. 16th, 2007|12:06 pm]
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Revising in sequence, front to back.

For the writer who has input from multiple readers or from an editor who's already committed to the work, it's sometimes more efficient to deal with multiple layers of problems at one time than to tease apart the various comments into their "layer" references and put them in order.  However, the goal is still to produce a work that feels all one piece, that feels as if it had arrived on the page intended and crafted as one.  Doing this while working from the front of the book to the back has a different feel from working through level by level, but as long as you don't hop around in the sequence, it will still work.

Looking over the comments for the first few chapters of a novel, for example, you might find one or two design-level comments,  another few on construction, and some on finish  (typos circled, etc.)  and some whose level you aren't sure of.   Your alpha readers and editor have given you page references (or marked the manuscript) so you know what comes first...that embarrassing typo right in the middle of page one.   You fix that one.  Next is a comment on motivation, a design-level problem...probably.  It might be, or it might be constructional.  First look at the design-level possibility....does the motivation not make sense because you set it up so it's senseless (design level), or because you didn't express something you knew about that character (construction level)?   Fix it at the level where the problem is.   Move on to the next comment in order...being aware that design still underlies any higher-level problem, and you might spot one the readers didn't...if so, deal with it.   You can't afford to depend entirely on any reader or group of them...even a good editor will occasionally miss something. 

Comments like "unclear" may be either construction or design problems (saying the wrong thing more clearly won't  help!)   Comments like "awkward" may be either finish-level or construction problems.  Think down a level when you see a problem--could it have arisen from a deeper-level problem,?  A cracked sidewalk isn't fixed by plastering over the crack, if the cause is a tree root swelling beneath it.  

When you see multiple comments, and multiple layers of problems, in one section, tackle them from the bottom up, always.  For me, a front to back sequential revision still always requires a complete pass (at least one) to follow at the finish level--again, ideally, reading it aloud--to be sure that the whole now reads as one. 

Both these methods use elements of the other--there is sequential work in the bottom to top, and bottom to top work in the front to back--so obviously they can be combined.   If you know an entire section needs work, you can do everything else in the book up to that in sequential mode, then rewrite that section bottom to top, and they should fit together seamlessly...and then you can do the rest of the book in either mode. 

What doesn't work is hopping around doing design/construction work in random order through the book.  Revisions dropped in randomly stick out like boulders in dirt...they don't fit in.   Lots of people don't understand this, and will say "All you need to do is change this sentence (or paragraph, or event)"...but you can't change anything but a typo without affecting other things, and to seem whole at the end, the work must be re-visioned whole. 


[User Picture]From: green_knight
2007-08-16 06:40 pm (UTC)
Great way of putting it. I tend to call them macro, medium, and micro-level critiques/revisions, but yes, this sounds very familiar indeed.

What I do is a step inbetween first draft and revision: I go and try to grasp the story as a whole, so I go through every scene with a list of questions - who is involved, what happens, what's at stake, why does it matter - and turn them into a synopsis

And once I have grasped the structure, I can go and fix it, but grasping a book as a whole is one of the greatest challenges for me.

I often get frustrated with micro-level critiques, which are well-meant, and often point out recurring problems - but I can't fix them until I've got the bones of the story right.

Thanks for sharing this; I find it reassuring.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2007-08-16 07:00 pm (UTC)
That approach to synopsis is interesting--I'm not sure it would work for me, but I can see how it might--but I do dissect scenes that are giving me trouble and produce a short synopsis or outline to help with the revision. (Sometimes revisions are easy, of course--you see the problem, you fix it--but sometimes it's more complicated and even hard to see what's wrong.)

What I usually do is look at who's there, and establish a "scene arc" for each one--where they are at the start of the scene, where they need to end up, and the "change factor". And what information needs to be conveyed to the reader in that scene, for later use. This may actually be much the same mental process, just using different names.
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[User Picture]From: meltatum
2007-08-16 07:02 pm (UTC)
Hmmm. . . do I sense a "how to" essay or handbook germinating? I know I'd be interested in "Elizabeth Moon on Revisions: How to Re-vision Your Fiction"
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2007-08-16 07:27 pm (UTC)
Well, maybe...I might 'port these three onto my website in the commentary section that's about writing. I've been working on an essay about characterization for it, but these are already written...

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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2007-08-16 08:41 pm (UTC)
Well, maybe...I might 'port these three onto my website in the commentary section that's about writing. I've been working on an essay about characterization for it, but these are already written...

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From: (Anonymous)
2007-08-23 08:00 am (UTC)


Oh WOW - you knew I was waiting for this after the not-so-idle question?! These three posts are a perfect treasure trove, and I've made them widely known, too. Thank you SO much!!
Annalou, who's only 'anonymous' because she hasn't figured LJ yet...
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