Monday, March 8, 2010

Whipple Strolls Us Through Her Revision Process

Natalie Whipple of Between Fact & Fiction takes a scenic stroll through her revision process. Excerpts:
Stage 1: Plot Revisions
If I have plot issues -- which I often do -- I like to tackle these first. Mostly because they are usually the Big Problems, the ones that cause cuts and moving and additions and rewriting. Really, why spend time refining prose when a whole section could go? Why spend time bringing out a character's emotional arc when the events could change? And thus their reactions to it? ...

Stage 2: Character Revisions
After I feel like I have a fairly tight plot, I turn my focus to characters. Often when you mess with plot, your characters' reactions might have to change as well. Or maybe you haven't quite represented them properly.

It might be hard to "change" your characters, but I've learned it's not really changing. It's more like "representing" them more accurately. ...

Stage 3: Prose Revisions
After I feel like I have a decent grasp on the plot and characters, I face the dreaded prose editing. The nitty gritty stuff -- the stuff that takes your story from good to great. While plot and character revising can be overwhelming, prose revision can be just plain tedious.
Read the whole thing. The bullet-pointed lists of questions Whipple provides beneath each stage are the post's most valuable bits since they contain killer questions such as "Are all my characters necessary? Are there some that can be combined or cut?" and "Does every scene work overtime? (i.e. You don't write one chapter just to explain a character's back story -- there should be more than one reason for every scene.)" I also find her hierarchy of moving from macro- to micro-edits useful, although it goes against my natural inclination. To me, the world holds few joys greater that polishing a sentence until it gleams brighter than chrome in the noonday sun. But so many of those spiffy interludes have ended up on the dustheap because they didn’t serve the overall story. In the end, everything must converge.

(Picture: CC 2008 by
amysgster; Hat Tip: Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent)


B. Nagel said...

that's pretty backwards of my revision process too. But I do lean toward micro-perfection.

When cleaning the house, I straighten sections of a room at a time. Ever seen a one-quarter clean room?

I also fight Lazy-Edit-Syndrome. I'm working on it, but at one point I was making every single suggested revision. And when more than one person reads the story at a time . . . you soon end up with L.E.S. than you started with.

Loren Eaton said...

L.E.S. is deadly. When I feel that creeping on, I start looking for short projects, something to take my mind off of it just for a little while.

What is this cleaning you speak of? Does it explain why my wife is mad about the state in which I leave the office?

B. Nagel said...

No no no. Cleaning is a completely fictitious activity created for the purpose of the illustration. Like the flux capacitor or daily bathing.

Loren Eaton said...

Phew! That's good. I thought I was missing something there.