Revising the Smart Way

This weekend I finally finished revising my novel Vengeance Will Come, book 1 of a series I’m calling Vortex of Darkness (for now). Vengeance is currently with my beta readers, who will simultaneously strengthen and wound me. (In lieu of your conservative applause I shall begin a new paragraph, thus marking the importance of the previous statement).

It took about a month and a half longer than I was expecting. I’d never revised a novel-length story before and so this was a new and challenging experience. Mustering up all my enthusiasm, baseless assumptions and bravado I attempted to edit everything in one-pass. I now identify that was mostly laziness speaking. (Somewhat understandably, I’ve been working on VWC for so long I’m ready to move on). In reality I probably did a fragmented two stage pass.

Trying to edit everything in one pass is just silly unless you’re superhuman. (I suspect this is true of even accomplished authors). The brain has limits and you can’t simultaneously check 15 different things at once. Attempting to do so resulted in me completely ignoring one thing, to hunt for another. It is better to do one thing well, one at a time, than do everything poorly. 

My editing efforts resulted in a 24% length cut which is pretty darn impressive. Especially when you factor in several thousand words of new text added. Hopefully the cut was a beneficial pruning of the story and not a ring-barking of quality.

vwc-final

I’ve given my beta readers two months to read and comment, so now I move onto revising my parallel-novel The Rebel Queen. Now that I’m experienced I think I can revise it in one pass. Just kidding.

In the interest of learning to do things smarter I’m changing my approach at revision.

Pass 1: Structure and plot

In this first pass I’m hoping to turn off my detailed scanners and be able to look at the story from a holistic approach. Asking myself:

  • Is the story progression logical? Are the chapters and scenes in the best order?
  • Does each scene move the plot forward or reveal something about the character?
  • Is the plot plausible? Is the plot cliche?
  • Are characters acting naturally, given the circumstances?
  • What ‘promises’ am I making to the reader? Am I fulfilling them?
  • Is the content engaging the reader?
  • Is it clear in each scene whose point-of-view it is from?

This already seems like possibly too many things to be looking out for in a single pass…

Time to jump in!

 

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Happy Australia Day!

I do not wear rose-coloured glasses; I can see that Australia faces many challenges, current and future.

Still, it is one of the best countries in the world. To all who call Australia home, rejoice!

Writing

Today I’m busy editing, having just 5 days left of my goal of trying to finish the revision of Vengeance Will Come by the end of January.

As part of my research I came across this excellent image. The vastness of space blows my mind.

Orbitalaltitudes.jpg
Image made by Rranaknishu and published on Wikipedia

There is so much about the universe we still don’t understand; most of which I find fascinating (even if I can’t really understand it myself).

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

Getting closer to finishing my first fantasy-action novel Vengeance Will Come is terrifying. Okay, maybe terrifying is an exaggeration but there is an amount of dread involved.

Not just the usual and constant creative fears of “what if it’s not good enough?”, but also the complexity added because it’s book 1 in a series. If it were a single novel and I make a mistake there is reputational damage (which in itself is not unimportant). In a single novel however there isn’t much story-damage. Any damage ends with the last page of the book; not so with a series…

I have to admit that I’m learning to plot, which is to say I don’t have a detailed master plan for the series. So releasing the first book is like pouring the foundations to a house, without knowing exactly where the bedrooms are going to be. What if I set in place something that I discover to be a real mistake for the latter books? What if I come up with an awesome idea, but can’t use it because of a throw-away line in an earlier book?

There’s real pressure here. No time to dwell on it though, editing to be done… Just look at the next sentence, Ben.

Changing Plot Gears

I’ve written previously that when writing I’m try to remember to consistently refer to the character-related attributes. For example if a character has “daddy issues” then that should appear (albeit expressed differently) in a number of places. The last thing I’d want to do is mention it once and have it like a cheap paint job.

I worried earlier that I’d failed to maintain consistency. Now I realize that wasn’t my issue. I can best describe the situation with an analogy. My novel was like a theme park with each character like an individual attraction. In the early chapters you get to know the characters. However when the plot really kicks in it’s like you’re on a roller coaster. The thrill of the plot is so intense that for the moment you’re not thinking about other issues. If you’re in the middle of the plot and thinking about anything beyond the immediate surroundings then the author has missed the mark.*

I have realized that my current speed bump is that my plot has changed gear. The engine has been racing but now the plot calls for some simmering instead of boiling. Wow, that’s more analogies than you can poke a stick at, which probably counts as another one.

Chapters 5 through to 9 are completed in 7 hours of story-time (13,000 words). The subsequent chapters will be over a number of days which is far less intense for the reader. My first thought was that I needed to find a way to keep the pressure on. That if I was unable to rush the timeline I needed to add pressure or intensity elsewhere.

I think that was also a wrong turn. There is an alternate view which says that too much intensity wears the reader out. The reader must get breathers between action.In a way I think we see this in movies like Jaws. The prolonged presence of danger can be more terrifying than instantaneous danger. Not that I’m writing a book that is  terrifying but I think that same intensity can translate across genres. Even James Bond has some time to wine-and-dine his female counterparts between bare knuckle street-fights.

Not entirely sure how I solve this issue of gear-changing, yet.

On another note, by way of an update. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you have probably noticed I overuse commas and semi-colons.  I’ve been going over my earlier chapters of Vengeance Will Come and correcting that. Consequently, the progress bar hasn’t moved (in fact, it has actually dropped as I found more words to cut). Hopefully it is a better story for the haircut.

vwc progress.PNG

Some of the columns are not actually comparable, given I’ve moved the chapter order around a bit. It’s now down to 97, 452 words. At the current rate of editing I think it will be down to about 75k by the time I finish, which is a good first-book length.

* There is a school of thought that says the plot should be character-driven. I don’t think I am breaking that rule.

Millimetring-forward

The phrase goes “inching-forward”, but I have two problems with that:

  1. Sorry to my US friends, but “inches” are only still being used by three countries on the entire planet (Liberia, Myanmar and the USA). The fact that everyone else has gone metric, might suggest something; I’ll leave that for you to ponder. (Maybe that could be one of Trump’s first-day executive orders?)
  2. Inching-forward would suggest a movement of 25.4+ millimetres per day. I think it’s more accurately a fraction of that.

I’ve said before on multiple times that I find editing hard work. OK, so said in this context is a synonym for complained. I probably sound like a broken record, or to modernise the phrase, a looping mp3.

I’d like to think that editing would be easier if I wasn’t diluting my efforts by working, volunteering and dealing with other responsibilities and commitments. That at least salves my conscience somewhat. I’m now a long way off from my ambitiously crazy goal for Vengeance Will Come.

I am, however, still making progress. I’m almost under 100k words and am over 40% of the way through the revision process. It feels like I have crawled over every single one of those sharp words. (Sharp as in painful, not sharp as in really-well-honed). Still, that’s a reduction of some 14k words, not to mention the scenes I have added.

One of my problems is that when I lose momentum I have trouble keeping it all straight in my head. Not only am I trying to remember the story line but I am also keeping one eye on pacing, tension and character arcs. That’s a lot to remember.

To help with this I’ve been toying with a couple of visualisations.

The first is simple: drawing a box for each chapter and writing a 1/2 sentence to describe the main thrust of the chapter. It’s tempting to try and add more detail, but more is less in this case. At a quick glance I can see plot progression.

chapter-plot-cards

The second is what I call a Character Emotional Map, which is a diagram describing the key aspects of a characters personality and their motivations between characters. Each character gets their own box and has key personality attributes written underneath. (More than four and they are no longer key). Then there are directional arrows between the characters which describe how they feel/relate to one another. The boldness of the text or arrow should signify relative importance. (Except when I’m using an old version of Excel, and it’s limited).

CEM1.PNG

This diagram should keep in my mind important points to emphasize. For example Menas as a developing alcoholic should be drinking, or thinking about drinking, on a semi-regular basis (without overdoing it, pun intended).

As character arcs progress, new Character Emotional Maps should be developed, adapting as the plots progress.

That’s two methods anyway. If you have any silver bullets or tricks that you use, I’d love to hear them.