First Draft in Revision (Writer Stuff)

Revising a first draft gives the writer a chance to re-think and re-vision the project.   Almost everything is up for grabs–grabs to keep, and grabs to toss in the garbage.  If the book in question is part of a larger work, and if it is under contract to a particular publisher and editor, some things aren’t up for grabs (no, you can’t contract to send them a historically accurate mystery set in 1750 and instead decide that you’d rather dump the whole draft, saving out only the mischievous pet monkey, and hand them a dark and unsettling horror story set in Trump’s America instead.)   But practically speaking, every scene, every word your characters utter, every sentence can be changed if you see a need for it.  That red brick house can be brown; that adjective “red” can become scarlet or a “scarlet” can become red.  Ten pages of children at a party, which seemed hardly enough when you wrote it, can be cut back to two, with only the most plot-relevant comment from one mother to another that Janet looks sallow today (Janet’s being poisoned by her stepfather) because something else became more important during the latter half of the book.  When you see the thing “whole” (unless you’re the most gifted outliner in the world) there will be things that weren’t in the outline but are now clearly important, and things according to outline that have changed in significance.   This is when the word “revision” means most, unlike “editing”–you have the chance to make a new vision of what that book should be, and then–informed by that new vision, that re-visioning–you can more easily see what parts don’t fit, what parts fit but fit badly and need pruning (more common) or more fertilizer (less common, at least in my experience.)

Nothing that happens in this revision will be visible to future readers (unless you have alpha readers you trust with your first draft.)  This is good; it frees you from having to worry about what “they” think.   If you run across a scene or a character that really needs to be out of that book, save it…I’ve never yet found them as useful as I hoped, but it’s perfectly OK to keep your own private “Chapter X”  to enjoy because you just love how that scene goes.   I kept the “snow respite” that had to come out of Oath of Gold for several years…but it wasn’t of use anywhere else, and the book was better without it.  What you’re concerned about in this first revision of a new book is making the book that readers end up with the best possible book telling its story.   What you take out will not be noticed; what you leave in that shouldn’t be there will trip people up.    You don’t have to kill your darlings.  Just get them offstage so they don’t interrupt the play.

But don’t junk that chapter or scene or character when you first wonder if it should go.  Read the entire story, start to end, as uncritically as you can, as fast as you normally read a book.   Something that looks clumsy and “not fitting in” in Chapter Three may have attained plot-relevance by Chapter Twenty-eight.  As you read, if something seems to slow, boring, too confusing, or doesn’t make sense, mark it to look at again.  Maybe something’s a few pages (or chapters) out of sequence…put it back in where it really makes sense.  Make sure effects come after causes (whether the causes are stated right there or not…causes can be discovered later, but they can be causes only if they precede the effect.)   Be sure it’s a cause that can cause that effect (especially if dealing with physical cause/effect…in areas of science or medicine where you’re not an expert.

(And don’t try to write a post if you’re also fixing Thanksgiving Dinner…the gap between putting the turkey in to bake and serving it is full of interruptions!!!)

8 thoughts on “First Draft in Revision (Writer Stuff)

  1. Happy Thanksgiving!

    We do not have any equivilent to Thanksgiving in the UK, but I usually take the reminder of others Thanksgiving days to say my thanks. So I know I have said this before, but thank you for writing books that are so engrossing I forget my pain, and that are complex enough to pay rereading so I can forget my pain again, it is an incredible gift to someone like me.

    1. Jazzlet, I find it interesting that you say there is nothing in the UK that is equivalent to Thanksgiving. From the history I’ve read, the concept of giving thanks at the end of harvest was a direct import of “Harvest Home” celebrations in England brought to the colonies by early settlers. Our church hymnal has a song that mentions Harvest Home. Now I’ll have to go look that up.
      Mom and I had a marvelous Thanksgiving, friends brought food over to us; and today I took a gift to a darling 6 year old for her drive by birthday party and came home with sandwiches. I know food is a huge part of birthday parties around here, but had no idea they handed out food for drive by parties. I save so much money because I don’t have children!
      Elizabeth, re-vision! Thank you. There are several areas in my life that could use this idea of looking for a new vision.

  2. Hi – more indication of your hard work. Please do not let Janet be poisoned. While things do happen to children that are not good, I still hurt when I read them.

    Take care,

    Jonathan up here in New Hampshire.

  3. Janet is a phantom character–I toss out phantom characters to use as examples in writing, but they’re not real characters, let alone real people. Real characters (from real books) will have their books & authors cited. (“As his father said to Miles Vorkosigan in CIVIL CAMPAIGN by Bujold….”) Does that help?

    1. It does help – but if you remember, when Dorren goes into the torture chamber at her home she finds a little boy dead from neglect and torture. I know that it is just a story and I do not have to read it – I sometime skip when Paks is set adrift after thinking she loses her courage. I do not know if I a just sensitive or the writing is just good, but I do cringe. See also Dombey and Son. This is why I do not read “women in trouble” books.

      And even phantom characters can hurt.

      Jonathan up here in rainy New Hampshire

  4. To a great extent I am with Jonathan: I cringe at descriptions where children or dogs are hurt or die. I was re-reading Dumas a while ago, and then Rafael Sabatini just to stay in the old adventure novel zone, and I noticed that neither spend a lot of time of actually describing violence. It’s kind of what happens between an angry challenge and a body on the floor. I suppose in this age we face that in-between more, but maybe some authors (not Elizabeth; I’ve read all of her stuff) dwell on that in-between too lovingly. So, I, too, tend to avoid or go past violence where children and dogs are affected. /Mitch in sometimes snowy but more often drought ridden sunny Colorado

    1. I’m not working on that; I’m working on the book. Trying to install new software (which I’ve been told it will take, and which usually takes time and thought and figuring out) when I’m in the book is too much.

      I’ll get to it when I’ve got a cleaner draft of the book. Work first. I can live w/o Facebook; I need to get this book clean, polished, and marketable.

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