revising, part 3: different books, different needs

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Actually, Phillipa’s remark in the comments to the last post has made me realise that I gave the impression that I use this big arsenal of revision tools–calendar, drawings, index cards, etc–every time I’ve revise a book. That’s not true at all; I was talking about the last few books, and not every book I’ve done.

Generally with my Mills & Boon books, the story focuses so intensely on hero and heroine and their relationship, that I can keep the story quite easily in my head all at once. Emotional arc is paramount; everything else is secondary. I’ve never felt, writing a M&B, that I was losing subplot, or neglecting a secondary character, or things like that. Likewise, my M&Bs all take place within a short amount of time, so a time line isn’t so necessary. With two big exceptions (my first book before it was published, and Delicious which was overhauled twice), my self-directed revisions on my M&Bs have consisted of printing out the ms and making changes on the pages themselves, mostly to fill in continuity, layer in detail, and heighten emotion. Because I’m a totally anal writer, I’ve already designed the setting, plot, etc to reflect the main storyline.

That’s not to say that M&B novels can’t benefit from different revision methods; Michelle has broken her index card virginity on her latest, for example! But (aside from those two exceptions) my M&B revisions have been more straightforward.

It’s the Little Black Dresses that have required all the hoo-ha flash-bang revision stuff. One Night Stand was the first book I did a calendar for, because it follows the course of the heroine’s pregnancy, and I had to map the events on a nine-month time period, allowing for things like holidays and the football season. I actually used an online pregnancy calendar for that book, and used the three trimesters to structure the book. That was the only flashy thing I used for that book, though, because it really focuses mostly on the relationship between Eleanor and Hugh.

I did quite a bit of calendar-type revision with Honey Trap, because the story takes place all over the UK, and covers the length of a rock tour. So I had to figure out things like dates, venues, travel times, etc. I looked at real rock tours to do this and I have, somewhere, a stack of cards outlining every date on the tour, even the ones that I didn’t write about.

door plotting 1door plotting 2

Girl from Mars was the first book I used index cards on for plot elements. It’s the story of three friendships, a romance, and a comic book, and it was hard to keep track of all of that in my head at once. So I used colour-coded index cards to arrange events as I composed (the pictures above are of my first attempt, left, and right, how it got more complex as I wrote on) and I colour-coded scenes after I was finished, to help me check pacing. It has a whole separate synopsis for the comic book story arc, too. I also had to use a calendar, because the story was plotted around a) the comic book being written, illustrated, and published; b) monthly editorial meetings; c) weekly pub quizzes. PAIN in the BUTT, and that took me about two hours and two decaff lattes in Starbuck’s one afternoon.

With Nina Jones, I’m going to have to use everything I can think of.

(This discussion started with part 1 and part 2, and part 4.)

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  1. I always get jealous when I see pretty and civilised revision tools. I’ve done major revisions on two books this year and it was so messy that I can’t even talk about it without fear of being sent to therapy!!!!

    Thankfully, at our recent NZ conference Margie Lawson gave a one day workshop on deep editing that involved highlighter pens and that was amazing. I totally clicked with what she was saying so I’m definitely going to use when I finish my current wip.

  2. Oooh! Oooh! What’s the highlighter pen method??

  3. Hey Julie,
    Thanks for your message on my blog!
    I am so with you on calendar issues. I am awfully hung up about making the timings work out, yet every time I seem to end up with bank holidays or birthdays or whatever clashing with the action. Next book I might make last just two weeks to get over the problem…

    I always love looking at your charts too. Mine are more displacement activity than tool, I have to confess.

    Kate x

  4. Hi Julie

    When is Girl from Mars going to be published?



  5. Kate, there might just be a little displacement activity there, too….just enough so I can think, though. Really.

  6. Hi Sadhbh! Good to see you!

    Girl from Mars is scheduled for May 09.

    I should get a move on and put something up about it on my website, huh?

  7. The nuts and bolts of it is that you use higlighters to breakdown your text.

    highlight all physical emotions (but only ones that can’t be controlled like blushing, pounding hearts) in Pink. Use blue to do dialogue. Yellow for internal thoughts. Orange for tension/conflict and Green for setting and description. Oh, and use a red pen to underline nonverbals such as action/gesture/movement

    Margie Lawson obviously goes into it in a LOT more detail but once you do it, it’s very easy to see what’s going on in the page and so far it’s the only tool I’ve ever used that actually makes sense to me!!!

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