– the writing process – step 3: revising

For me, revising is the worst part of writing.  It puts me to sleep, bores me to tears, and leaves a literal pain in my butt and shoulder.  However, without it, stories would suck.

Revising mainly involves reading, re-reading, and asking questions. 

“Does that make sense?  Will the reader see what I see?” 

“He said he has a dog, but I think a few chapters before he said had a cat.”

“Is that really the best way to say that?”

Revising is reviewing your dialogue and thinking if that’s really how people talk.  We don’t always speak in complete sentences, so dialogue should not always be complete sentences.  Many writers make several common dialogue mistakes.  One is names in direct address.  Think about these two lines in which John is helping Mary put away a dishes in a cabinet:

     “That’s not where it goes, John.”

     “That’s not where it goes.”

They seem similar enough, except the name in the first one.  When two people are talking, and nobody else is around, they don’t usually use their names because they know there isn’t anyone else they might be talking to.   Too often I see written conversations like this:

     “John, what time is it?”

     “It’s 6:15, Mary.”

That wouldn’t happen.  Maybe Mary would use John’s name the first line, maybe not, but there’s no way John would use Mary’s name in the second line.  However, there is a time when we use names in those situations – when we’re unhappy or mad at the person.  So let’s revisit the lines above:

     “That’s not where it goes, John.”

     “That’s not where it goes.”

The first one is what Mary would say if she were mad that John was putting a dish in the wrong place.

     “John, what time is it?”

This is what Mary would say if she had asked John already and he had not answered yet, or if he were supposed to tell her when a certain time arrived and he wasn’t paying attention.

Revising is like my one rule of poetry – try to say as much as possible in as few words as possible.  Here’s the first line of the story I’m currently revising:

     Chris normally did not like flying unless it was on the way to Florida to take his family to Disney.

Here’s my revised sentence:

     Chris hated flying unless he was taking his family to Disneyworld.

I changed normally did not like to just hated because one word does the job of the other four but also because He will need a reason for when he’s really rude to someone he’s about to speak with.  I also changed it was on the way to Florida to take his family to Disney to just he was taking his family to Disneyworld.  Here I have to hope readers know the difference between Disneyworld and Disneyland.  Even if they don’t, they really need to know he hates flying.  The Disney part is to let the reader know he has a family and they go places together.  I also added he was taking to emphasize that he’s an active member in his family who organizes and takes control of situations.

Revising means reading each sentence slowly, carefully, one at a time, and over again to make sure it all works.  In the current story, Chris is slowly having memory issues, slowly forgetting things about his life.  At one point he can’t remember his dog’s name.  Later in the story he goes home, nobody is home, but there’s no mention of the dog.  The dog has to be somewhere.  It can’t just disappear.

Revising is keeping track of time.  I have characters on a plane taking off right about at sunrise.  Later, they’re on a train and the sun is setting.  I have to account for the time it takes to fly from point A to B, how long it takes to then get to the train station, and where during the course of the train ride it would then be sunset.  I have to account for that time or the sunset won’t make sense.

Now, do I really have to do all that?  Only if I want my story to be well written.  If I’m trying to get it published, an agent might see the mistakes and think, “This guy doesn’t know what he’s doing.”  Or, and agent might say, “It’s a good story, and we can fix those things later.”  I can’t know what an agent thinks, so I have to cover all the bases just in case because inconsistencies will distract a reader, and a reader will lose interest easily.

Oh. Forgot. After reading and scribbling on 200+ pages that I printed, I then have to crawl through those pages in the MSWord version to type in all those corrections. And, as I do that, I’ll actually end up revising it again.

Writing the first draft took 3 weeks when writing full time. Revising takes maybe 8 or 10 days, but it feels like a year.

what say you?

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