Monday, October 8, 2012

On Revision - Clearing Away The Layers

I am sure we would all love to live in that imaginary world where we as authors can write our stories and they are perfect from the start. We want this in our synopsis writing and we certainly want that in our query letters. And yet, that is certainly not how the real world works.

So, we move to the next best thing. We write our stories, queries and synopses, send them to someone to critique and know that when it comes back to us, it is perfect.

Ummmmm, NOT!

And yet, so many authors seem to still stick with this level of mentality when it comes to writing. I will not say we don't want this to happen, and I will certainly not say this cannot happen, but for a vast majority of you (yes we are talking 99.9999% of you) revision is not a one shot deal.

In reality, when we start the revision process, we really are opening up a canb of worms. In other words, that first round of edits is just scratching the surface. I often tell writers, it is kind of like art restoration. We scrape off layers and layers of that dirt until we can get down to the real work of art.

But there is another layer of this I want to talk about. In many cases you will find yourself returning back to an original idea in a later round of edits. For example, in Round 1, you eliminated a scene and by Round 5 you find yourself putting the idea back in there. Why does this happen?

The simple answer to this returns to the issue of how everything in your story relates to something else. We are talking about a huge domino effect here. In Round 1, that element of the story simply didn't work because you had a lot of other things going on in the story. When we get to that Round 5, because we have cleared out all of the other issues, we find that deleted element now does work.

I recently worked with an author who was really frustrated when I recommended that we eliminate certain elements in the first round of edits, only to be told later on that we need to put parts of it back in on the later rounds. It all comes back to this same issue of clearing things away and seeing how it all works together.

I think a great analogy of this is something my wife's grandmother said. In her later years, she was suffering from cataracts so the doctor had the issue fixed. She said, however, that she was far from happy with the outcome. The doctor asked why and she noted that with the cataracts, she didn't see all of the dust and dirt in her house. Now she had more work ahead of her.

Cetainly something to consider.



  1. Oh, I like this Scott. Makes me feel better as I slog through my revisions. Nice to know I'm not the only one!

  2. LOL at your grandma-in-law! As a writer who has learned to ignore dirt, I can empathize. Unlike pawprints on windows, revisions can't wait but when the time comes, talk about layers...yikes!

    I keep cut scenes in a document graveyard so I can resurrect them as needed. And it sometimes gets very crowded in there! Cut, paste, cut can be a workout. Thank goodness for computers, that's all I can say.

  3. Dear John,
    Before you post things on this blog, you might want to visit an earlier post I did here about how the acts of a vew really ruin things for other people. Although you might view blogs as an open forum for posting advertisements that we would have called "junk mail" with the standard mail system, and SPAM in the digital world, most others view blogs as a way to intellectually discuss issues of importance.

  4. And for those of you who are not the "Dear John" in that last post, we once again return to regularly schedule discussions about the writing craft.