Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Trip Down Into The Revision Cave

Today, as you read this, I'm turning lobster pink at The Kiddo's Field Day. Yes, I forgot sun block. Yes, I also ('scuse me while I wallop this hawk-sized mosquito) forgot insect repellant. And no, I am not writing, even though I'm not at The Dayjob.

What I should be doing is spelunking into the bowels of The Revision Cave. I've stuck a pinky toe into that vast dark space, I've tightened the ropes and adjusted my lighted hardhat. Now all that's left is for me to get my nerve up, take a deep breath in, and then ... let go and drop.

I'm a great believer in revisions. The first guy who ever took a shine to me and to my writing told me, "Writing is rewriting," and he made me say it until I fell into a deep hynotic trance and actually began to believe it. (OK, I'm stretching it about the hynotic trance, but it's all for a good story.)

Revisions are never easy, mainly because, to do it right, you have to re-ENvision your MS. You have to look at it with the cold, uncharitable eye of the worst agent or editor you could ever query. You have to be willing to rip it to shreds and gut it like the trout that it is.

I am (just a touch) OCD about revisions, at least when I'm doing a total overhaul. Say, for instance, when I was transforming my women's fiction into a Superromance, and I sort of needed to get more romance into the novel. Gee, I wonder why?

I'd found a wonderfully slightly-OCD approach to revisions on a website by Beverly Brandt, an author who seems to love spreadsheets even more than me, if that's possible.

Her approach helps in that awful first step of revisions: before you can revise, you have to really see your novel, warts and all. And that's hard.

So that's what I've been doing with UP FROM ROCK BOTTOM. I wrote it for a series romance, but it's a little too gritty and too dark for category. I want to take advantage of that darkness and expand it into a single-title women's fiction.

First step is a scene-by-scene analysis, a la Beverly. It's easier than it looks, because you're mainly just skimming. But already I have found one glaring continuity problem that at least three people -- myself and two CPs -- overlooked.

No matter how many times I've done this, it's always scary to do it again. I mean, what happens if I take a good, hard look at my MS, and it's beyond salvation?

Still, It's only when you see what you've got that you see what you've not. And sometimes that's a good thing. Revision means playing up the strong parts and overhauling the weak ones until they're strong, too.

Besides, if I didn't do this, my CPs Tawna Fenske and Nelsa Roberto would call me a yellow-bellied coward, and Linda Grimes would never let me live it down.


Piedmont Writer said...

I so did that with Masquerade. I went nuts. I ended up cutting 35K off, and I'll bet, if I went back to it now, I could revise the whole thing over again and come up with a completely different beginning. (I love the ending -- and the middle's not too bad either.)

Victoria Dixon said...

Yup. I do the scene by scene analysis thing ala Cheryl Klein's TRUCKS. (I've got a link on my page, but can never remember it on my own. Sorry!) Good post.

Lola Sharp said...

It's painful doing hardcore revisions. I just whacked 20,000 words and am in the middle of rewriting them.

This post was fun and funny, as always, Cynthia.

Know that I am knee deep in Revision Hell with you. Though, I am sans spreadsheets. Spreadsheets make my eyes bleed and my head explode. And, you know, that's messy. I don't want to clean my brains off the floor.

(psst. shhh...don't tell anyone, but, I wish I was a spreadsheety type girl, like you. But I don't even listen to my GPS. Recalculating.)

Good luck with your revisions! :)

Linda G. said...

See, if I'd been there I would've reminded you to bring your sunscreen and insect repellent, because THAT is the kind of stuff I am OCD about.

(Yes, I would've reminded you, in spite of the fact that you refused to drive umpty-hundred miles to bring me fried chicken. Because that's just the kind of friend I am.)

Re the revisions: you're right--I would never let you live it down. Keep that in mind when you go spelunking.

out of the wordwork said...

I LOVE revisions. LOVE them. I may be weird but I just feel like I'm taking the lump of clay that the draft is and constantly cutting, shaping and making it more into my vision of what that lump should be - an actual, real life STORY. That has characters with motivation, goal and conflict. With a story that has a nifty pace and enough action to keep you turning the pages. That has a kick arse beginning and a hopefully not too lumpy middle and a nifty, all tied up loose ends ending. It's a nasty dark cave sometimes and realizing when you pull out a thread can start a whole unravelling of the novel might make you feel like your dangling from your rope and your headlamp has gone out but a good spelunker always has something ready for emergencies.
I know you'll do a fabulous job on the revisions, Cynthia! Take lots of energy bars with you into the cave (and bug repellent).

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Have fun in your "revision cave." I have to trim a six page synopsis to three pages for my editor. I think I need a head light for this. :0)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I was working on revisions this morning - my MS is such a trout! But I'm making some very cool changes (if I say so myself) and I think it could be a beautiful salmon, if I keep at it.

Thanks for the encouragement! Back to the cave...

L. T. Host said...

I think the grass is always greener for me. Whenever I'm in revisions, I get an idea for a new book. And whenever I'm writing, I get the hankering to re-work an old idea. It takes all my willpower to focus on one or the other... Here's hoping I can keep it up! Great post, and good luck :)

BillRicksofSoperton said...

I'm glad you spent the day with the Kiddo. I didn't know about field day until too late. Interesting comments from the writers.

Margo Berendsen said...

Oh yeah I had a scary experience down in that cave of revisions a while back. Discovered that my MS didn't fit the word count (remotely) for MG. I would basically have to cut it in HALF.

Like cutting one of your babies in half.

I cried.

But when I finally recovered and started hacking away at my outline, I discovered really how much better my novel was going to be.

I'm going to check out that link you mentioned.

Shannon said...

I love the imagery of a revision cave. That's exactly how I feel right now. I can see the way out, but it's an uphill climb.

Thanks for the suggestions. I'll check it out. :)

Jamie D. said...

I've tried to like revisions. I've even come out and "said" I liked revisions, just to try to make it real.

The fact is, I don't. I loathe them. And I'm actually sort of relieved to be rewriting my whole ms (which is a hot mess) instead of continuing to try to revise the thing.

Line-edits, I don't mind one bit. I actually like going through and correcting grammar and punctuation. But revisions make me shudder.

In any case, best of luck climbing out of the cave! :-)

Cynthia Reese said...

Anne, isn't it nice when you can see the good in spite of the warts?? Yay for you!

Victoria, I'll have to check that out ... sounds fascinating!

Lola, we will avoid mixing you with spreadsheets, as why would we want any more cleaning to do? Good luck! And when my GPS system gets completely lost (like me, in the middle of revisions), she says, "Please make a legal u-turn."

Linda, just for that (and because I am lobster pink from really forgetting the sun block), one of these days, I'm gonna have to make you a big ol' platter of fried chicken. And I'll even meet you half way. (Yes, my butt has most of its feeling back now.)

Nelsa. I'm so glad you're my friend. Otherwise, I'd be duty bound to hate you. :-)

Kathi, ouch on the chop-job, but you can do it! Here's a headlight!

Susan, you're right! We should see the salmon instead of the trout!

LT, you have hit upon one of the biggest frustrations in revisions ... the I-so-wanna-be-done-with-this-MS. That siren call is hard to resist!

Bill, my head aches, I'm overcome with heat exhaustion, and The Kiddo's class won the tug-of-war. It was a fun day for all.

Margo, the idea that you can completely change something you THOUGHT was written in stone is a liberating idea. Once you get through it the first time, that's when you no longer fear it. Can you divide your MS into two books? Or are you just making it a leaner, meaner MS? Good luck!

Shannon, I can't take credit for the term Revision Cave -- heard it long, long ago, but it does fit, doesn't it?

Jamie D, so it won't help to click your heels together and chant, "There's no trick like revisions, there's no trick like revisions?" I was about to pull out my ruby slippers and see if I could lull myself into believing it.