Thursday, February 9, 2012
No pressure ... but what's up?
(BTW, this is the actual tea mug I use every day. Positive reinforcement works!)
In doing all these gut-wrenching-yet-ultimately-satisfying revisions, I discovered a few revising tips I wanted to share:
Read your book aloud. Pretend you are Lorelei King (currently my favorite reader) and really get into the story. Do the voices. Pay attention to the pacing. Feel the conflict. If you get bored, chances are your readers will, too. Does that line sound ridiculous coming out of that character's mouth? Are you left hanging and need another scene to keep the flow steady? It's a great way to catch those ridiculous typos that normal eyes don't see. I do this when I'm by myself in the house and have a hot cup of honey mint tea.
Short sentences are (nearly always) better. I love writing long, complex sentences. It stems simply from an egotistical desire to impress readers with my talent – which is the very honest way of saying that I like to show off. I'm not shy; I know my way around verb agreement, and I know how to undangle my participles and work some serious punctuation. Give me pen, paper and ruler and I could diagram every sentence on this blog. Alas, readers don't like this. Especially teenage readers. I blame Sesame Street.
When you're going through your revisions, look out for words like 'and,' 'but' and 'as.' Break up your sentences there and see how your flow is affected. Hopefully, you'll find that you really didn't need that extra prepositional phrase at all – it was implied.
Rethink minor characters. Be honest: Does that security guard really need to have a name and back story? It's great if you, as an author, have a vague idea. But trust me, the reader doesn't give a you-know-what. Unnecessary minor characters are a sloppy way to move the plot along. Can another character act out their conflict instead? Can anyone else ask that important question? If you took him/her out, would it really make a difference? Taking time to rethink someone slightly random might save you a rejection in the future.
That said, I chose to keep in the minor character of Odin in my story. But, I'm also confident that, if asked, I can defend my decision. Can you?
Don't be afraid to cut what you love. My agent recently told me to shorten a 16-page scene down to 2 pages. I delayed, cried, stamped my feet ... but she was right. Scenes that you loved writing aren't always the best vehicles to move your plot ahead.
Doesn't mean you can't keep them for something else (a sequel?). However, I'll bet you anything that, when all is said and done, you fondly look back on these as writing exercises – bridges that got you from Scene A to Scene B. You may not have needed them in the final draft, but you needed them to get to the final draft, which is, if anything, more important. Never, ever feel that your writing is being wasted on the cutting room floor.
In the end, did I shorten that passage by 14 pages? Well, honestly ... no, I didn't. But, I did cut 6 pages of excess that no one – not even me – will ever miss. The 10 remaining pages are much more succinct, smart and understandable. They fit the characters, the setting and the conflict, and they give all the necessary info without distracting tangents.
Have other revision conundrums? Ask away in the comments and maybe I can help! :)