Posts Tagged ‘revising’




revising, part 5: BIG ONES

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My last revision post…next week is going to be given over to Close Encounters. I think B. H. is going to have a party on her blog so you must come, darlings.

Anyway, Liz asked (ages ago, sorry Liz), did you ever have to go in and do another big revision and if so how did you attack it and why?

So far, I’ve done two really major revisions after what I thought initially was final draft stage. Both were books that I wrote before I was published, and both revisions were done after I’d sold other books, to get the manuscripts to publishable standard. In both cases, I don’t think I could have made the changes I eventually made, before I’d written several other books and had editorial feedback.

DeliciousThe first one was Delicious (aka McAllister’s Baby), which was the second manuscript I ever wrote, and which was rejected twice by Harlequin/Mills & Boon before they’d bought anything of mine. But I loved that book and its characters so I blithely informed my editor at my first lunch with her that for my third M&B novel, I was going to revise Delicious for them. Easy, I thought.

It was tremendously difficult. I’ve blogged about it a lot already, here.

The second major big dammit revision was on Spirit Willing, Flesh Weak. This was the book my agent took me on with and I revised it for her before she sent it out everywhere. It kept on coming back with rejections. Nice rejections, but still…rejections. (On a side note, this is one of the many pros of having an agent–the rejections come a lot more quickly and more personally.) An interesting thing about the rejections was that they all mentioned something that the editors didn’t quite think worked…but those things were different in every case.Spirit Willing Flesh Weak

Usually I think that if several people tell you something specific is wrong, it’s definitely wrong. But if several people tell you that different specific things are wrong, then there’s something wrong overall–and not necessarily with any of those specific things.

Anyway, we decided to leave it, until we heard of this brilliant new romance list, Little Black Dress. My agent had lunch with the editor, and she rang me on a Thursday afternoon. “She wants to see it, but she says it’s too long at 100K words. Can you cut it down to about 70,000, and make sure it’s got a strong focus on the romance? By Monday?”


First I made a game plan. I took a page in my notebook and wrote down the heroine’s conflict. Then, I ruthlessly eliminated everything that did not directly impact on that. There are several scenes in the book where Rosie, a fake psychic, pretends to contact the dead; I changed every one of those so that the fake dead people she contacts somehow reflect her own problems. I cut dialogue whenever possible; I got rid of a prologue I loved and an epilogue I thought I needed; I drastically reduced the role of one of my favourite secondaries. I cut over 20,000 words in one weekend and printed out the manuscript and sent it to my agent, who sold it within about three weeks. Obviously, those 20,000 words had to go.

I could never have done it, I don’t think, without the training of having written for M&B, and the strict focus that category romance requires.

I’m hoping I won’t have such a desperate slash-and-burn session again. But odds are, I will, and probably something more difficult. But that’s this business; you have to be prepared to take a chainsaw to your own work.

What’s been your biggest revision?





revising, part 4: agent and editor revisions

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Right. Back to the topic in hand. No time to talk about gorgeous men popping up out of nowhere during my son’s entertainment. Must finish my series of posts about revising. I have two more topics–one about agent/editor revisions, and one, in response to a question from Liz, about the major overhaul revisions I’ve done in the past.

First, agent/editor revisions.

So, I’ve finished a first draft, and then revised the first draft (sometimes in several stages) to fix big things like continuity, character, plot and structure and layer in detail. Then I’ll give it another read-through to deal with any niggling language issues…for example, my propensity to over-use speech tags and adverbs, any sentences that read funny or rhyme unintentionally, places where I should break up paragraphs. Stuff like that. Plus, I’m always looking for things to cut. Sometimes just shaving a sentence or two every couple of pages can make a real difference to pacing.

Basically, the general tendency is to macro-revise first, stuff on a whole-book level, and then micro-revise on a page level. In practice, I micro-revise the whole time, but the focus is on bigger things at first.

A few days before I’ve finished, I’ll ring my agent and give her the heads-up that my book will be coming to her. She’ll generally tell me a good day to send it, so she’ll be able to read it straight away. I print the whole thing out, bung a rubber band around it, and mail it to her.

Within a couple of days she’ll give me a call. I always both anticipate and dread this, because usually it begins one of two ways. “It’s wonderful!” she’ll say, and relief and joy will flood through me. Or, occasionally, she will say, “I like it, but you need to work on it,” and I’ll nod my head in resignation.

Don’t get me wrong–even when she says it’s wonderful, I’m gonna get revisions. But it’s nice to hear good things before we get stuck into the inevitable list of what’s not so great.

My agent gives me revisions by having a conversation with me on the phone, while I scribble frantic notes. She is right 100% of the time, but sometimes it’s up to me to figure out exactly how she is right. That is, she’ll often point out a problem–usually focusing on the larger things like pacing or tone–and suggest some solutions, and then I have to figure out which solution will work for me and my book. Generally she gives me a lot of leeway to do my own thing to make it better. She’s great, though, at suggesting physical revision methods I can use–it was her idea to break down every scene in Girl from Mars, for example, to find the key to the scene, and use that to streamline my pacing.

So my agent revision conversations are like “Here’s the problem, it’s up to you how to fix it, but here’s a technique you can use to help you.”

After I speak with her, I go through my notes and make an action plan to follow, and do another set of revisions. I find this problem-solving to be very invigorating, and I like the way my agent challenges me. Then I gird my loins, and email the ms to my editor.

My editor generally writes me a revision letter. I’ve had six editors since selling my first novel, and I’ve been extremely fortunate in that they have all been wonderful, and work in quite a similar way. The letter will usually give me a nice page full of praise, which I can wallow in quite happily for a while. Then she gets down to business, outlining what I need to work on. This can be just a few things, or a massive letter 12 or 15 pages long.

The best revision letter will show you that your editor totally understands your story, in most cases better than you do. My editor has this knack of finding the things I was trying to do but didn’t quite succeed in, and giving me suggestions about how I can achieve them. It’s like magic how she does this.

Whilst my agent is more “here’s the problem, you can fix it”, my editor is more specific in suggesting individual revisions, added or deleted scenes, which threads to bring out and which to lose. She’s also great at explaining to me why she thinks this, and what effect it will have on my story and my writing skills overall.

For the most part, I do exactly what she asks me to do; I go through the letter point by point, and work on each thing she mentions, ticking it off as I go. About 10% of the time, I’ll agree with her assessment that something isn’t right, but I’ll have a different idea of how to fix it, and so I’ll do things my way instead. Less than 1% of the time, and usually about very small things, I’ll disagree with her, I’ll call her up to discuss the point and explain my point of view, and she’ll normally say that’s fine.

Of course, making even little changes in a story can have ripples through the whole thing, so it’s not quite as easy as going through the letter point by point, but you get the idea. By this time, too, I’ve had some distance on the ms and probably started writing another one, so I make my own changes as I go along as well.

Then I send it back. Sometimes I get another round of revisions, though these are likely to be minor. Then copy edits, where I delete yet more adverbs. Then the book comes out.

Whew. Long post here. Thanks for reading through to the end!

(This discussion started in part 1, part 2, and part 3, and will eventually have a part 5.)





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.)





revising, part 2: first round

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So, as I said in the previous post, I resist the urge to revise until I’ve finished a first draft. Then, ideally, I leave the whole thing for a while. Preferably a couple weeks, but in reality, my deadline is looming so it might only be a day or so.

First, I make a list of the things I need to change. This might be overall stuff like a plot thread, or pacing, or even just facts I couldn’t be bothered to check the first time round. Then I print out the whole manuscript and give it a read-through with pen in hand. Some text-level changes I make right on the ms; sometimes I go back to my computer to write fresh stuff. I’ve been known to cut pages physically into pieces to rearrange bits. Sometimes I colour-code stuff, so I can see what’s happening; often I make a calendar to check the time continuity. I might stop to figure something out using index cards or flow charts (I’m a visual thinker). I might write a synopsis at this point (I’m not good at writing them before I’ve done a draft.) All the time, I’m making more notes on my list–continuity things, or stuff I need to add more to, or questions I haven’t addressed.

I tried a pacing/plot thread chart with my last ms (Kate/Cat blogged about her own here). I think with this current one, I’ll outline the first section in index cards before I start to revise/rewrite it. I’m probably going to make lists of themes and draw out the heroine’s emotional arc, too, so I can make sure the story’s consistent.

I find revising a whole novel takes up more brain-space than writing the first draft. It’s a different kind of thinking skill. You have to hold the whole story, everything, in your head at once, whereas when you’re writing, you only have to hold the scene you’re writing. I get very cranky when I’m revising for the first time. I hate being interrupted, or doing anything else. I can easily revise for 12 hours straight, if I’m allowed to, without remembering to eat or drink, whereas I need to take lots of breaks from composing. In my perfect world, I would disappear to a cabin in the woods to revise.

Ideally, once I’ve produced a revised draft, I’d let it sit for awhile, and then go through it again. And again. In practice, my deadlines are usually too tight.

Finally, I give the book in. And then, the real work begins…but I’ll blog about that a bit later.

What do you do?

(This discussion started with part 1 and continues in part 3 and part 4.)





revising, part 1: first draft

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Rachael, who’s been chosen as a runner-up in the Modern Heat contest (hooray!), posted a comment asking me to talk about how I revise my work. I assume this is because you’re facing revisions, too, Rachael?

She said: Would love to hear more about how you revise and whether this is purely from editorial feedback or you have a method of revision you go through for each book.

I think it’s because I’ve been working to such tight deadlines for the past four years, or maybe it’s because I’m half-pantser half-plotter, but when I write a first draft, I don’t tend to revise at all, or minimally. If the scene I’m writing is rubbish, I’ll scrap it and start over, but I won’t go backwards in the book to fix stuff I’ve already done some time ago.

There are two reasons for this: one is that I’m a perfectionist, and could easily get caught up with making everything “perfect” before I move on, which would mean I’d never get a book done. The second is that I never know precisely what’s going to happen as the book goes on, so it makes more sense to revise earlier parts once I’ve finished the whole book, when I’m confident of the story, the emotional arc, the structure, the imagery and symbolism, where I need to scrap or add subplot, etc. Otherwise, I’ll have revised it earlier for nothing.

This means that in theory, once I’m done with a first draft, I can have a lot of revising to do. For the past few books, though, that hasn’t happened. I think I’ve been lucky, and had a fairly clear vision of the characters from the start and the kind of plot and structure that were necessary. Most of my revisions have been to add depth, flesh out plot and character, or refine what was there in rough from the beginning.

With this book I’m working on now, though, a lot needs to change. Even such basic things as the verb tense. A couple of the secondary characters are totally wrong at first, I wrote lots of unnecessary bumpf to write myself into the book, and the subplots are off. About midway through I came up with lots of ideas that I thought would solve my problems, and as I wrote I incorporated them in as if they’d been there all along. Some of those ideas work, and some of them don’t and have to be scrapped. I’m going to have to rewrite or seriously change most of the first 30,000 words.

The upshot of all of this is, that composing and revising are, for me, two different processes. I know some people can revise as they go, but I don’t choose to. I could, but I think it would slow me down and I’d end up revising a lot more.

Anyway, with this book that needs lots of revision I expect I’ll follow the same revision process as normal. And I’ll talk about that a little bit later, tonight or tomorrow, because now I have to tend to cranky child.

And eat chocolate.

(This discussion continued in part 2 and part 3 and part 4 and part 5.)


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