Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Wordcraft – Jaye Wells’ 10 things to know about revision

Anybody else out there getting emails about NaNoWriMo? (For the benefit of newcomers to this blog, that’s short for National Novel Writing Month, the now international event each November during which legions attempt to pound out at least 50,000 words of a novel.) Me? I’m just trying to finish up my last year’s NaNaWriMo manuscript, with the 10 steps of manuscript revision used by prolific author Jaye Wells.

Wells was the writing workshop instructor at this year’s FenCon science fiction/fantasy convention in Irving, Texas. She’s the author of the Prospero’s World paranormal series, the Sabine Kane series, and (writing as Kate Eden) the Murdoch Vampire series, as well as novellas and short stories. And by the way, she’s also completing her master’s degree in creative writing. The woman knows revision as only the writer of more than a dozen full-length manuscripts can. What follows is the stripped down version of her revision list. See her site for much, much more.

1. Let it gel. After writing a first draft, let your story rest awhile. A couple of days is good, a couple of months is better. Then read like a reader, looking for the big picture only.

2. Have a plan. For Wells, this step means going through the manuscript chapter by chapter, making notes on what needs to be added, deleted, rewritten, or moved to new locations.

3. Time for the bloody pen. This is the point at which Wells frees her inner editor, the one with the cruel red pen, to do her worst. This read-through of the manuscript should leave it covered in red marks.

4. Fresh eyes, please. Find readers who are tough but fair and open yourself to constructive criticism that can make your story even stronger.

5. Every chapter, every scene, every sentence. At this point, nothing in your story’s complex system of moving parts goes unanalyzed to be sure everything works together.

6. Sing it, sister. After you’ve done the heavy lifting of revision, read the result out loud. (I’m always amazed at the stuff that pops out when I hear it spoken instead of just seeing it on the page.)

7. Deeper and richer. Layer in the details that deepen characterization and expand the world of your story. (For more on world building, see “Jaye Wells on building a world all your own,” October 6, 2015, at this site.)

8. Get thematic. Readers don’t want to be hit over the head with meaning, but there are ways to subtly infuse themes. Wells suggests making a list of words that echo the story’s mood and thematic symbols and weaving them into your sentences. For more on this, uh, theme, she likes the writings of Alexandra Sokoloff.

9. Don’t panic!!!! One minute we writers are convinced we’re geniuses. The next we decided we’re such doofuses, that, as Wells says, “You might daydream about getting into an accident so you don’t have to finish the book.” Be patient with yourself. Enjoy the crazy carnival ride that is your book.

10. Enough can be enough. “At some point,” Wells says, “you’re going to realize you’ve just spent four hours deleting and reinserting the same comma. This is a signal, friend. It’s time to let go.” Don’t be the writer who wastes “years of revision as an excuse not to start something new.”


And speaking of something new, consider catching tonight’s free NaNoWriMo webinar on developing diverse characters and worlds for your story. Although some emails I’ve received say Wednesday, October 20, or refer to Pacific Standard Time, that’s just wrong. It goes live at 5 PM Pacific Daylight Time, Tuesday, October 20, or see the list for your time zone at http://nanowrimo.org/nano-prep/. For those, for instance in Ankara who don’t want to rise at 3 AM local time Wednesday, the Spreecast will remain online, although without live feed.

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