Revision Tips and Tricks

Specifics about craft, talent, technique, etc.
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reigheena
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Revision Tips and Tricks

Postby reigheena » Wed Sep 25, 2019 4:02 pm

My first question for the forumites: How do you structure your revisions?

I've seen some authors will do multiple passes, focusing on one skill at a time (character, description, theme, etc.) I tried this once. I feel like it didn't do much beyond my normal method (described below). Possibly this is due to my lack of skills in these areas.

Other authors will revise as they write. I found this doesn't work for me, because then I never finish. But I'd like to hear from other how they've made it work.

My usual method for revising is to read through my previous draft and leave a comment on everything that I feel needs to change (description here, emotional reaction there, explain this better, etc.). Then I open a new window and using my marked up draft as an outline, write everything new. If there are some sentences or paragraph that survived my scrutiny, I'll copy them over verbatim, but otherwise, everything is pretty much new. While this can be more work that working within the draft itself, it means I don't have to worry as much how changes will cascade, because I'll be thinking about that when I get there.

Any other strategies for developmental edits?
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SwiftPotato
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Re: Revision Tips and Tricks

Postby SwiftPotato » Wed Sep 25, 2019 6:30 pm

I'm one of the multiple passes types! I'm with you in that I can't revise while I write because it makes me totally lose concentration. Usually my first pass is for grammar, run-on sentences, misused words, purely mechanical stuff. Then I wait a few days to let it cool off and do a read-through, editing where I find things that just clang weirdly in my head and adjusting word choice. After that's done, I go for actual story structure: how does the opening look? Does the ending make sense? Are the characters and their actions believable? Did I show their feelings and motives effectively? Then I let it go to beta readers, incorporate their feedback, and make one final pass myself before submission. I try really hard not to read or touch the story while it's with beta readers so that my final pass can be as fresh and objective as possible.
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czing
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Re: Revision Tips and Tricks

Postby czing » Wed Sep 25, 2019 7:59 pm

I have to leave things sit for a relatively long time. I admit I fall in love with my stories as I write them and I am incredibly blind to their flaws unless they sit for a really long time - OR I get good crit(s) to work from. I do have some tendencies which get mentioned repeatedly in crits and I am getting better at working those elements into earlier drafts (most of my big crit things are around things I don't naturally include like setting and character descriptions - not that I believe there needs to be much of that but my inclination is to write without ANY of it).

But my overall revision process is to go through it a couple of times making adjustments and modifications as I go. Then hopefully get some feedback and then revise again. With longer works so far I have generally stepped back either after a full first draft or a substantial start (discovery writing) and then I look at whether I need to modify the overall structure. I set the planned revised structure up in Scrivener and then head out on the re-write/revision. So I guess you could say I am a pantser first and then after that I plot and plan and use that for the revisions.
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Re: Revision Tips and Tricks

Postby thegirlintheglasses » Wed Sep 25, 2019 8:37 pm

Wonderful to see this here. I'm desperately trying to get my Q4 in, but I want to come back once it's over (Oct 1 lol). I have a story I'd love to resubmit (2 really but 1 I'd focus on first), and I think I know what I want to do with it, but at the same time, I'm worried I'll destroy it (Since I wrote it almost two years ago at this point). But maybe that's the wrong way to look at it...because I haven't been able to do anything with it yet. It's just...sat on my computer. Perhaps on this revision thread, we could also come up with some sort of challenge on how to go through it. How to break down revision? I do like using the 10% solution, but honestly, I've never taken a blunt hacksaw to a piece like I think I'm going to have to for this story. I liked reigheena's process with going through beta's et cetera and getting fresh eyes. (Because I get blind to things). And maybe we could figure out some sort of beta read rotation for the challenge? I dunno. I'm rambling. I better get back to my story. But I INTEND TO COME BACK! lol. Carry on. I'll be around.
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reigheena
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Re: Revision Tips and Tricks

Postby reigheena » Thu Sep 26, 2019 10:14 am

In order to alleviate the fear of revising making things worse, I always save the old draft in another file. That way, I can always go back and restore what I broke. In practice, I've never actually done that, though I have sometimes gone back to look at how I had things previously, like if I accidentally deleted something I thought was still in there.

As for a challenge, I hadn't really planned on issuing one, because I wasn't sure how it would look. I certainly couldn't come up with something pithy like 4 in 36. But I did some brainstorming and here's what I have. I'd love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

Revision Challenge:
A: Try a different method of revising each quarter.
B: Revision focuses on a different aspect of writing (description, line edits, POV, etc.) each quarter.

Critique Groups:
A: Submissions are for entries for the current quarter. Perhaps to alleviate time constraints, we could do something like submit the first 1,000 words + a synopsis of the rest and split into smaller groups, depending on interest.
B: Submissions are for entries that have gotten results from the contest. Even if an author chooses not to revise that submission, they can learn from analyzing the other submissions to see what it takes to hit each level.
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einstein36
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Re: Revision Tips and Tricks

Postby einstein36 » Thu Sep 26, 2019 5:27 pm

Revising is just a another way of doing things when writing...
My technique is I just write, write, write just to get the framework of the story done, plot, characters, etc. Then I go back and check for spelling errors, etc.
This next step might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I like to see my story physically, so I print it out and read it first for plot inconsistencies, weak characters, etc. I then make changes with a red pen so I can go back later at a future time to correct the story(I do work full time and sometimes when I get home from work, my brain is like a zombie hahahah)… the best time I am creative is on the weekends after taking naps:)
I then correct the story according to what I have marked on the physical copy..
Then I print it out yet again, this time going line to line to check grammar, etc. along with plot holes ,etc. I then make more changes according to this pass.
Finally. I hand it off to beta readers for more scrutiny and I know more changes coming....
and the loop starts all over again as soon as I get the beta readers comments back....
I can't emphasize that having a second or even more eyes on your stories will help your plot, characterization, etc.

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Re: Revision Tips and Tricks

Postby AlexH » Wed Oct 02, 2019 4:54 am

I've been building a checklist for revisions over the past year or so from various sources. Although I can't resist line edits at times, bigger-scale edits should come first, with line edits left until a piece is close to submission.

E.g.:
  • Does each scene serve a purpose? Is there change/does the story move along? Would the story work without this scene? This is something I struggle to figure out, as I have managed to remove details/scenes others think helped the story.
  • Do things get worse, especially as the story builds to a climax?
  • Are there strong try/fail cycles?
  • Is more setting needed? Is there too much? Is the setting relevant to the character?
  • Sensory details. Check them all off.
  • Replace telling with showing (plus getting the right mix, telling isn't always bad). I generally find my stories are stronger when I do this.
  • Emotion. Where can I add this? Don Maass emotion book is helping, though I still struggle. Remove/replace anything melodramatic. Replace cliches (e.g. tears, heart pounding, racing etc.).
  • Will the reader care? Is there something about the character or setting they can hook on to?
  • Double-duty. I struggle massively with making writing do double duty. Sometimes it's easier, like how a particular character would describe a scene to show their current mood. Or through dialogue.

Smaller edits:

  • Are sentences in the best/correct order? E.g. cause then effect rather than vice-versa.
  • Are sentences shorter than the average during action and the climax? During action, will the reader know enough about the setting so I don't need to add much detail?
  • Read the story aloud.
  • Is that the best word? Does it fit with the voice?
  • Replace negative information e.g. "the meat isn't difficult to chew" = "the meat is easy to chew" (often this results in fewer words).
  • Grammar. Aaargh. I'm rubbish with comma rules, but I try.
  • Word checklist (I adapted my own from https://hobbylark.com/writing/How-to-Se ... Like-a-Pro). I wish I'd read The 10% Solution by Ken Rand a couple of years ago, as I'd created my own by the time I read it, which was very time-consuming and painful! I imagine I'm better off for that pain, but that book's a shortcut. Also with the checklist, I'm amazed how much I improve sentences in general by looking at individual words. I spot things I wouldn't on general read-throughs.

I wish I could figure out plot holes. I rarely spot them in films, never mind my own writing.
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Re: Revision Tips and Tricks

Postby storysinger » Wed Oct 02, 2019 7:52 am

When I first ventured into writing short stories I was clueless about technique. At the end of the first year I thought I had done good because my count was around thirty. The bad news was about half of them were unfinished.
The way I write now is one story at a time all the way to completion. I take an idea and start my train of thought in that direction.
The next session I read what I've written correcting and adding or deleting as needed. When I get to where I left off I begin to take the story in the direction that feels right.
I repeat this process until a satisfying ending arrives.
Between sessions I'm brainstorming possible directions to go.
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Re: Revision Tips and Tricks

Postby disgruntledpeony » Mon Oct 07, 2019 9:28 am

I have a few different approaches, depending on how far I am into the process. My rough draft (which I used to call my first draft, back in the day) is sometimes written in prose, but sometimes written in screenplay format and then shifted to prose afterward. (It's more like writing a really detailed outline than anything else.)

My first pass, before sending it out to beta readers, is usually to read through the story, looking for weak points. I've tried leaving comments to myself in the past, but I've found it goes quicker for me if I just save a new draft (draft 0.1, 0.2, etcetera) and change things as I find them. That way, instead of having to make two passes on the same edits I can do it all at once, and I still have the old version if I end up liking bits of that better. This usually results in three to five mini-drafts, because any time I make what I feel to be a major change in the story I start a new draft so I don't lose my old work. I catch most grammar mistakes and some major story problems here, but I haven't written a first draft that critiquers haven't been able to point out problems with yet. wotf019 (I used to consider the results of this draft my second draft, but now think of it as my first draft because... I don't know, I'm weird.)

Once I hit the point where I've fixed all of the problems I've noticed and/or am not sure how to fix the problems that remain, I do a handful of critique trades with people (five is usually a solid number, although sometimes I end up doing more). When I was new to critique trades, I tended to take everything at face value, but I've since found that analyzing the critiques I've given tends to give me a better result. People sometimes offer solutions to a story's problems that might work for them if it was their story but doesn't necessarily work for me. On the other hand, if I look at the solutions being offered and ask myself why those solutions are being offered, I'll often find that I can decipher the problems those solutions are meant to correct and come up with a different solution that better suits the story I'm trying to tell. (I may well write up a thread about giving and receiving critiques later, just because it's a very useful talent to have as a writer.)

Once I've fixed any general problems pointed out by multiple critiquers, I go through individual critiques one by one and fix any remaining problems that I notice based on their comments. Sometimes I agree with the suggested changes; other times I don't; sometimes, I agree that a change needs to be made, but not the specific change that was suggested. I save a new mini-draft for each critique, for the same reasons I save a new critique for each major revised section on my rough draft. It's just nice to have a record of where I've been.

My final revision is usually for flow, pacing, and making sure nothing has gone wonky in the editing phases. This is generally done by listening to someone else read the story aloud and/or running the story through a digital reader. Listening to the story as opposed to reading it by myself lets me gauge the flow and pacing of the tale, and helps me catch odd words or awkward turns of phrase. At that point, I usually feel satisfied with the results of the edit and consider my story done.
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Re: Revision Tips and Tricks

Postby storysinger » Tue Oct 08, 2019 5:56 am

disgruntledpeony wrote:I may well write up a thread about giving and receiving critiques later, just because it's a very useful talent to have as a writer.

I look forward to that thread. I've only received two critiques ever. It is something I really want to learn so I can reciprocate.
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Re: Revision Tips and Tricks

Postby RSchibler » Tue Oct 08, 2019 7:01 am

Everything I learned about critiques I learned in kindergarten.

No wait.

Critters.org! That's where I learned it. (Although there's some overlap now that I think about it. Playing nicely, sharing, taking turns, using nice words...)

I recommend going to their "Writing/Critiquing Resources" links and reading through them. Some are quite lengthy, but it's worth the effort. I did critters weekly for about a year and it was a wonderful experience. I would particularly suggest Andrew Burt's articles "Critiquing the Wild Writer; It's not what you say but how you say it" and "Tiny Word Changes Make All the Difference".

Something I see fairly frequently in critiques is the phrase "You need to". I'm sure I've slipped up and used it a few times myself. We shouldn't, though, use any imperative in our critiques. Writing is art, and art is subjective. Not only that, but we're being asked for our opinion. Unless money has been or will be exchanged in the interaction, which would give one or another side more weight, I feel it's important to remember and remind ourselves that we are just one voice, one opinion, and one reader. The writer doesn't NEED to do anything we say, and should consider every comment on its merits alone.

If we're critiquing someone newer to writing than us, they may take our opinion as gospel and ruin their perfectly good story with our dribbling, well-intentioned, inserts. As I've grown in my writing, I've gotten more willing to say things like "this sentence needs attention" but I try not to say "this sentence needs to be rewritten in these words" or worse, directly change the words in the document itself. I personally try to avoid directly editing documents I've been sent except to correct typos, instead relying on the much gentler use of comments. I try to phrase my comments as questions: Do you need this...? Would this be stronger if...? I'm not sure I understand...? I've received critiques with so many imperative comments and edits in the text that I almost didn't recognize my story in the result, and in consequence, didn't use much of the critiquer's comments and so wasted their hours of effort. We aren't rewriting their story for each other, we're helping each of us find the best way to tell our own story in our own words.

On the other hand, we need to have a thick skin about our writing. I've gotten brutal critiques back, where nearly every sentence had a comment, or the reader expressed frustration at my writing, or they didn't like the ending etc etc. I usually have to take a day to recover before working through the comments, but I appreciate those critiques so much for their honesty - as long as that honesty was tempered by a professional tone. Every part of professional writing involves critiques and other people's opinions. It's part of the gig. I have never, to my knowledge, argued with a critique or tried to explain to the reader why they just didn't get it. (But boy howdy have I received some interesting emails in response to critiques!) Writing is subjective. If the reader was confused, that's my problem, not theirs. If they didn't like a character, I either failed in my goal as a writer, or the story just wasn't for them. If the former, it's still my problem. If the latter, it's not a problem. Never gonna please 'em all, as they say.

I meant this to be a quick comment and it turned into an essay so I'll stop there. Check out critters, and keep on keepin' on. :)
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Re: Revision Tips and Tricks

Postby RSchibler » Tue Oct 08, 2019 7:08 am

As far as revisions go, I'm a very haphazard reviser. I edit as I go, I poke at sections, I change big things and small things all the time. I don't know if there's a method out there that I'll someday discover and stick to, but I personally find it difficult to do a pass JUST for grammar or JUST for setting. I always end up changing more than just that. Something that has helped me is using the search function. I skip through documents (usually do this more with novels than short stories) and focus on one character's voice throughout or one setting etc. Ken Rand's 10% solution is very helpful, as well. I also check the beginning of scenes for KAV cycles and do a read-aloud pass before submitting.
Trying to refute entropy with words.

Vol34: R, HM, R
Vol35: HM, R, R, HM
Vol36: R, HM, HM, pending

ALWAYS available for critiques. PM me.


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reigheena
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Re: Revision Tips and Tricks

Postby reigheena » Tue Oct 08, 2019 9:19 am

My next question was actually going to be about critiquing. :)

I really like Mary Robinette Kowal's guide to training your internal editor - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgFE2W9qICo Specifically, a writer should ask those they are critiquing to address their reactions to things, which fall into 4 categories. Awesome, Bored, Confused, and Disbelieve.

Occasionally as a critiquer, I'll wander into diagnosis ("this is why I'm having this reaction") and prescription ("this is how to fix it") if I think it will clarify my symptom/reaction. I always preface this with "I think" or "I wanted x" because I've had critiquers give suggestions that are way wrong for my story and don't want to make an author think that my way is the only way. In fact, they can often come up with something better.
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Re: Revision Tips and Tricks

Postby AlexH » Wed Oct 16, 2019 12:28 pm

Thanks for the super helpful responses disgruntledpeony & RSchibler. It seems I need to find way more people to critique swap with! I've previously been happy with one or two critiquers. Critters is a no, unfortunately, as I live in the EU (at least for another couple of weeks). I did try another critique site but only 1 in 3 critiques was helpful, as some people seemed to be doing it for the points rather than giving considered responses. It didn't feel good considering I put so much time and effort in critiquing others.

I don't think I've ever had a beta reader. I guess I considered a beta reader and critiquer as almost the same thing, as beta readers give feedback.

And yep - never argue with a critiquer! Someone did that with me recently and I'll never critique a piece of their work again. It was over something two other critiquers had pointed out too, and this person had already been less than grateful on a previous critique. Thankfully, they're the minority as the only person who has ever reacted like that. There are times when I've asked for clarification on something in a critique, but that's a last resort.

Edit: Here are the critique articles RSchibler mentioned above:
http://www.critters.org/whathow.html
https://critique.org/c/tinywords.ht

I'll be reading them on my commute tomorrow. :)
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Probably free for critique swaps, but double-check in case I'm away.
If you're a new writer and concerned about giving a critique, you're welcome to send me something anyway. :)

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Re: Revision Tips and Tricks

Postby Forest Cat » Mon Oct 21, 2019 11:01 am

I didn't begin writing seriously until I turned 40 when I had to learn everything from scratch, but aside from checking the usual flow, grammar, reading aloud, etc., I have found personally that if I get stuck on certain parts, I write down the important questions: what does the character really need? how can they accomplish that? Then I leave the manuscript alone for a while, do other activities like play the piano, go for a walk, chores, interacting with other humans or animals, etc., but I find that the biggest and most profound answers come to me in the shower or while dreaming, often resulting with a total revision to my novel like I'm writing now since getting my SHM in the 3rd quarter this year which has given me insight to change that major novel revision EVEN MORE!! So while it's awesome, alas it means more work, but that's what the writing life is all about, the work is ongoing and I LOVE IT!! Keep up the good work, fellow forumites!

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Re: Revision Tips and Tricks

Postby Bill » Tue Nov 05, 2019 5:08 am

Nobody is interested in a story about dead people. No, I don't mean Zombies, but lifeless characters. Characters are brought to life when they speak, apart from action that is their only job, to communicate with the reader. The author provides the physical description but how do they provide the other, the personality. It is not what you say but the way you say it. Describing a person's action or reaction at a piece of dialogue is better done in how they reply. It is the tone that matters. So, think about it, how do you get the tone, anger, joy, sadness, yes the emotions, how do you get it across in the dialogue, on paper.
Think about it for a while and then write.

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Re: Revision Tips and Tricks

Postby reigheena » Sat Nov 09, 2019 10:40 am

From author J Scott Savage on Facebook
For me, the writing/editing process has four distinct phases.
1-Getting the words on the page. This is the hardest part, but also the most fun because I don't have to worry about perfection, I just get to splash worlds and characters around and see what happens.
2-Figuring out what story I was actually trying to tell while making big additions and subtractions. This is where my editor and I look at themes, story and character arcs, and overall flow. This is often the hardest part for me, because it often involves some pretty big changes that feel painful at the time.
3-Pruning and planting. Now that we have a pretty good idea where the story is going, what the character will learn, and what the messages are, it is time to cut out the things that don't fit that flow and add the seeds early in the story that will bloom toward the end. These changes aren't as big, but there are so many of them that they can be disorienting. There are times at this point in the process where I start to feel like I don't even know if the story is working anymore because I am focusing on the trees and not the forest. Tons and tons of rereading the story from beginning to end here to check for continuity.
4-Tightening and cleaning. This seems like it would be the easiest. But by this point, I am so sick of the story that reading it over and over makes me crazy. This is also often the point where my editor and I push back and forth over issues that we've been trying to resolve through the rest of the process but haven't been able to agree on. There is a lot of, "I have to have this in because I feel strongly that . . ." "Yes, but it doesn't work because you didn't . . ." Most of the time we brainstorm until we find a way to make it work, but sometimes I give in and cut it, and sometimes I keep it because I feel like it's important enough to fight for and I hope readers end up feeling the same way.
This is why I am super cautious about what BETA readers I use when. 90% of the time, the story BETA readers experience after the first draft is a hugely different version by the end. At the same time, without the feedback of good readers and my editor, the story would never become what it needs to be.


And Dave Farland commented
Yeah, I'm much the same with the parts of creation, and I can really surprise folks when I throw something out and create whole new pieces.


My first 3 drafts or so are me sitting in part 2 of this process, but I haven't been spending as long in parts 3 and 4. I think I'm going to focus on that for my current WIP. What are your thoughts on this process?
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