Monday, November 3, 2014

Fiction Craft: Revising the Novel

By Robert Ferrier 

Completed first drafts unleash a torrent of emotions. Enjoy the moment. Few writers finish a novel, and you've passed those who dropped out along the way. Now you're eager to launch that book into the world. 

Beware the trap. First drafts don't sell. 

Euphoria masks sins: overwriting, plot holes, faulty character motivation, stilted dialogue, research errors, flawed scene structure and style mistakes. 

Editors look for reasons to reject. Craft your work into a salable manuscript -- one that stands out -- by taking the following steps: 

I. Delay 

Take a 4 - 6 week working vacation from the manuscript. Distance yourself from the book and let it "cool." The objectivity gained will prove crucial later. 

Use this time to seek evaluation of the manuscript by your critique group or a published author. Check your ego at the door; you don't need validation, you need red marks on pages. 

(By the way, this is a good time to copy the novel to a separate disk for safekeeping in a deposit box.) 

II. Take Notes during "First Read" 

After returning to the project (You didn't peek did you?), read the manuscript straight through with a notepad. Don't revise; make margin notes and jot down page numbers for repair jobs. 

Focus on key issues: 

A. Confirming significance of story goal and scene goals 

B. Strengthening characters: 

1. Are their actions motivated and logical? 
2. Do the characters grow? 
3. Does their "inner humanity" change? 

C. Checking key elements of: 

1. Beginning: Threatens protagonist with change? 
2. Middle: Moves toward confrontation with opposing force? 
3. End: Forces choice of sacrificial decision by protagonist, reversal and achievement of 
story goal. 

D. Ensuring ascending importance of scene goals 

E. Noting fluff and personal opinion 

F. Marking viewpoint mistakes 

G. Staying consistent on details 

H. Avoiding overuse of words or phrases. 

I. Varying chapter openings. (Use action, dialogue, narration or description.) 

III. Begin Revisions 

A. Cut overwriting 

Remember Stephen King's advice: Second draft = first draft minus 10%. Tighten the manuscript by cutting: 

1. Adjectives and adverbs 
2. Wordy passages and personal opinion 
3. Excessive research 

B. Correct errors listed in your notes and critiques 

C. Continue building characters: 

1. Add color and background to major characters 
2. Look for ways to use minor characters as major players 
3. Tag characters physically and psychologically 

D. Insert plot pointers 

Now that you know the story line, insert incidents that prepare readers for major events occurring later. 

E. Strengthen scene and sequel relationship 

Does each chapter-ending scene finish with a "hook" that pulls readers into the next chapter? Does each sequel (emotion, dilemma, analysis, decision, new scene goal) match the previous scene's intensity? 

F. Check story logic 

At crucial plot points, reinforce why the protagonist doesn't quit the quest. 

IV. Polish for Submission 

A. Correct grammar, punctuation and spelling 

Style errors warrant a rejection slip. Don't rely entirely on your word processor's spell check and grammar functions. 

B. Read aloud 

Whatever the length of the book, read every word aloud. If your voice trips over a word or phrase, delete the word(s) or revise the sentence. The final result will set you apart from amateurs. 

C. "Kill Your Darlings" 

Some of your "favorite" phrases, sentences or passages won't fit. Delete them. Find solace in your royalty checks. 

V. Submit the Manuscript 

When you've completed the above steps, submit the work. Two things will happen: 1) you'll suffer postpartum depression, and 2) you'll obsess about the status of the manuscript. The antidote: begin another story. Setting new characters in motion frees you from looking back.

Twitter: @Dante_Dreams 
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