Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Revising a novel can be overwhelming. It requires a different frame of mind than drafting, and it can take so many different paths. I've always used story-boarding for revisions, meaning I have a large white board with a chapter grid and tons of sticky notes. But I feel like I've gained so many different perspectives since the last time I chipped away at a first draft.

1. This post by Susan Dennard is fabulous. She explains her technique for addressing plot, character, setting, and pacing in a really manageable way.

2. Back in 2011, Donald Maass tweeted 58 prompts for writing a breakout novel. I've been looking back over these as I tackle character revisions.

3. At the SCBWI conference last August, G.P. Putnam's Sons editor Ari Lewin talked to me about manuscript real estate. This was a new concept to me. Basically, she encouraged me to look at a chapter and ask, "Why did I spend three paragraphs, or two pages, etc. on this event or description, but only one paragraph or one page on another?" When I look at my story board now, I can already see where I've spent the most words. This concept is helping me to evaluate whether those are the areas I want to emphasize, or if they need to be cut.

4. I'd heard of other writers outlining and color coding their favorite books to use as a road map for their own manuscripts. (I'm not talking about plagiarizing here; I'm talking about taking a successful novel and trying to find out what techniques made it work. For instance, looking at how many scenes took place over a certain period of time. Or how many lines of internal monologue were included per page of action.)  I'd never done anything like it until I watched season 6 of Dexter.

The story was so exceptionally well told that, in true English major style, I wrote out a diagram of the themes, internal and external conflicts, the ticking clock for pacing, and an episode by episode story arch. This story couldn't be more different from my WIP, but I'm learning from the way the elements worked together. The themes were touched on in each episode (book translation=chapter). The over-arching external conflict is hinted at in the beginning, but grows to be the focus about 1/4 into the story. Lesser but connected plot threads are introduced in the early episodes and resolved before the half-way point. And the ticking clock is introduced around that same time, increasing the pace up to the climax.

These aren't one-size-fits-all formats, but by understanding how other effective storytellers work, then maybe I can improve those same elements in my own writing.

Music for today: Stand By Me, the John Lennon version