Last night I went to my first little get together for my local SCBWI chapter. The topic of the night was revision, so, since I'm in the midst of revising my WIP, I figured this would be the perfect meeting for me to attend.
Everyone came armed with a chapter or two of something they were working on and some critique notes they had recieved or a problem they were having. Then we went around the table and talked revision. I thought I would share some of the tips that came up.
The big tip we discussed was to do several different passes/read-throughs that each focus on one specific aspect of your book.
Some specific aspects we thought up:
Several people suggested using different colored highlighters to do this with a hard copy of your ms. Use one color to highlight where the voice was strong, for example, and another color to highlight where the voice needed work. Or highlight the parts with good humor in one color, and the parts that need some humor in another color.
This is sort of what I'm doing right now. My first pass is all about basic plot, so I'm going through to make sure my story all makes sense. As I was drafting, I made changes to the plot here and there. I wanted to keep my momentum, so rather than go back and change what had already happened, I just kept moving forward as if things had always been that way. Now I'm going through and changing all of those things so that everything makes sense, and I'm not really worrying about anything else until my next pass.
Then I'm going to go back and look for scenes I can cut or combine. I'm a horrible overwriter who takes fifteen paragraphs to say what could be said in one sentence, so I'm going to go back to tighten and get rid of all of the excess. Then go back and look at pacing. After all of that, it MIGHT be ready for CP eyes. We'll see.
Some of the more visual people suggested creating a story board with index cards for each scene, or using the storyboarding available in programs like Scrivener and Writers Cafe. I'm much more of a Excel person, so I have a very complicated spreadsheet on Google docs that I can get to from anywhere. It has each chapter broken down into scenes, then it has a column for each character so I can mark the scenes each one appears in. It also has notes for changes I need to go back and make. When I'm done with this first revision, I'm planning on adding some more columns about pacing and plot.
It was also suggested to look at each scene/chapter and list a clear goal. I like this idea, and I think I'm going to go back into my spreadsheet and add a column for the character's goal in each scene. This way I know each scene/chapter has a purpose that relates to the main plot arc. (Goodbye three-chapter-long trip to the karaoke bar...you were so much fun!)
One of the guys there was having issues with setting; his critique said that he didn't have enough of a sense of place. A suggestion he got was to list each of the five senses at the beginning of each change of scene. Then describe what the character was getitng from each sense in that particular setting. You don't have to write all five into the scene, but maybe one or two, and keep the rest in mind as you revise, so at least your character knows where he is, and maybe more of that sense of place will come out, so it doesn't feel like he's just floating in a generic white room.
I shared with the group that I inserted the text of my ms into a wordle word bubble to see which words I used the most. Imagine my mortification when I saw mine and the largest (by far) word was LIKE. This obviously means that I either 1) really, really love similies or 2) have a mc who talks like a valley girl. I'm thinking it's some tragic combination of both. So this little tool is a great way for me to go back into my writing and look for overused and problem words that I can get rid of. (One woman in the group said that she did this and it was her characters' names that were the largest in the word cloud. I think that's pretty good. Much better than mine.)
Here it is, just so you can grasp the tragedy for yourself.
Our little meeting was only two hours, but I left with a lot of good ideas for revision and ways I can really polish my ms in the next few months. I really like revision (I like it much better than drafting, which has been pretty torturous for me), and I'm excited to take my ms to the next (awesome, like-free) level.
So, do you have any good revision tips? What helps you when you are polishing your writing?