The Importance of Revising

Dean Wesley Smith has a pretty extensive post on rewriting in all its various forms.

It’s a very good piece, and worth reading.  And as he points out, no writer is the same.

I run what I write through multiple revisions.  The first one will involve cleaning up any wording  that doesn’t quite capture what it ought to, fixing any immediately noticeable grammar errors or typos or missing or extra words, removing adverbs from dialogue tags as well as any tags themselves I can get away with, and cutting or shortening any paragraphs or scenes that just don’t feel as though they’re moving the way they should.

Some chapters will make it through this with very little change.  Some others will require more time while I recapture the mood and tune it.  So I might take as long on two to four scenes that need more work as I spend on about twenty-five chapters of minor work.

One thing that benefits revision is writing the tightest first draft possible.  I haven’t always succeeded in this, although the last two books required very little in the way of extra work – particularly Glowstar – which needed two scenes in particular revised to get them flowing better.  Glowstar also began as 81,000 words and ended up at 84,000 words in the final revision – which is what I was originally aiming for.

Winter Fade – which I wrote in early 2008 – was originally a rather pudgy 154,000 words and came down to a more reasonable 126,000 words.  Eleven of the thirty-three chapters received cuts of at least 20%.  Three of those chapters were 38% cuts.  I hadn’t written a novel in a while, and it took a bit to get back into that style of writing once more.  Also, I was still envisioning the world and characters early on before I got enough of a feel.  The first fourteen chapters averaged 24% cuts.  The last nineteen chapters averaged only 12% cuts.  In fact, the last seven chapters averaged only 6% cuts.

Firefly Kiss ended up close to the same length it began – although several early scenes took more revision than what followed.  Snowflake Promise rose by about 3,000 words and had at least one scene toward the end that required some work to get it smoother.

After the main revision, I do a full read-through in one or two sittings, identifying any areas I think are slowing the pace or not doing what they should, and fixing any other obvious typos and grammar issues.  For these latter, it’s usually more along the lines of missing or duplicate words, although I have a tendency toward writing “awhile” as one word when “a while” is almost always correct.  This second read-through is very much focused on flow – and anything that causes lag gets addressed.

A third revision is mainly refinement – fixing any remaining flow issues, typos/grammar, and substituting a few words with better alternatives when needed.

The first read-through is the most time-consuming as far as making changes.  The second read-through is probably the easiest.  The last read-through falls somewhere in between the others, since it’s intended to produce a final result.  And I’ll usually do a few more read-throughs when I have time to do any small tweaks or discover any last typos.  When you’re familiar with your own writing, your mind will sift past missing words or duplicate words when they’re short ones.  So I might be missing the word “to” in a sentence of “Are you going stay here awhile?” and not notice even on several read-throughs – depending how fast I’m reading and how attentive or tired I am.

I do at least one read-through aloud – usually the second or third or whenever I’m pretty satisfied with flow and am mainly wanting to make sure things sound natural and good.  There is no substitute for reading aloud, even if you’re only doing so in a quiet voice.  You will feel the words in your mouth, moving across your tongue, and taste the feeling and the scene as you speak them.  And you’ll know when something tastes not quite right.

I often fix only a handful of words on many pages.  And then there will be a few scenes – usually two to four in a book – that just require some work to get them right.  Those might need some sentence or word refinements in practically every paragraph, some deletions, or additions.

I’m going to share below probably the most extensive – and therefore an outlier – example of revision I’ve probably done.  Normally, I do not rewrite scenes.  But when I began Winter Fade, I hadn’t yet had a feel for what I wanted from the opening chapter (it emerged on its own after I made it past the first couple pages).  So I went back and rewrote the first page.

The first page as originally written was more like a sketch of notes – albeit in complete sentences and arranged in logical paragraphs and interspersed with a few decent lines of prose.  I didn’t yet know the character, and was trying to see her in my mind.  The opening page as first written was therefore not terribly engaging and didn’t capture the mood.

When I revisited it during the revision, I asked myself what was I trying to do with the first page.  And I rewrote it so that its essence of a sense of isolation for the main character came to the forefront.  I kept only five sentences (most of them slightly re-worded) of the original six paragraphs and 450 words.  The revision has a much tighter 297 words, and evokes a mood of isolation that is reinforced in almost every sentence.

The original had more of a laundry-list character description mixed in with some mood elements.  I was trying to picture her in my mind, to gain a feel for her as I watched her story take shape.  In the revision, she was much clearer and I could focus on only a pair of nuances for her description – dimples that showed only when she smiled or frowned, and hazel eyes.  The clothes description is kept sparse and ignores color – instead focusing on a more important detail – that she is rather poor and trying to keep things well-tended.

Click below for larger images to compare them.

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