Saturday, January 10, 2009

One Last Request for Writerly Help

Normally I don’t ask for help from readers three times in eight days, but: I have been hired to write an article based on my talk The Art of Detection: One Editor’s Tips for Revising Your Novel. (This will actually be just the second time ever I’ve gotten paid for my own writing—and hey, getting paid for one’s thoughts is pretty cool!) But before I go forth dispensing my wisdom to all and sundry, I wonder: Is it really wisdom? If you’ve read the talk, have you tried any of the techniques? Did any of them seem particularly helpful, or NOT helpful? Anything I should push further? Drop altogether? Are there revision topics you wish I had covered that I didn’t—e.g. actual practical techniques for working through a revision, like, say, “Keep a running outtakes file”? While goodness knows not every technique works for everyone (so I'd expect a wide variance in answers here), your honest constructive feedback is appreciated. Many thanks!


  1. It absolutely helped me when my agent suggested it. The one thing that stands out for me is the Plot Checklist. I plan to use it with every draft of every novel I write.

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  3. Very, very helpful. Thank you for sharing the link. I'm glad that you emphasize on the Show-and-tell concept; it's something I picked up from your Harry Potter talk, and kept in mind while writing my novel, but I'm also glad that you mention when to use it.

    I found out that I'm always afraid to ask myself the question, "Why am I doing this?" Cowardice, or lack of knowledge, I don't know. What I do know is that your four points about truth, emotion, cocept and answers greatly help, because I can now slot my thinking and not have it rolled into one giant ball of confusion.

    However, the bit I found most useful was the last point that you cover- revision and conclusion. It's something that I personally experienced, the fear of chopping off a line, but I now realize that there are differences between emotional reasons and writing reasons.

    The fact that you clear the air about why editors do the job that they do really helps. Especially the points about editing making something better, an editor not thinking that a writer is stupid if his work needs editing, and most importantly, what the editor appreciates- since then an understanding is established between an author and the editor. Oh, and for comfort's sake- that J.K. Rowling has been edited too :)

    You put your finger on the ego bit-it's something a lot of writers (including me) face, I guess, and it's not until I read it in print, that I realized that it's a problem that I face. Thanks for that!

    The only things that I probably wasn't able to appreciate as much are the examples you use from Lisa Yee's book, since I haven't read the book. That however, is not an issue with the article, and I intend to read her book as soon as it is out in Indian stores.

    I think I've mentioned all that I wanted to, but I sure hope I've been of some help :)

  4. it is very helpfu: your outtake file is similar to my own 'keep everything somewhere' motto; once i've cut something i still keep a record of it as you never know when or if you might come back to it later.

  5. This might sound goofy ... but I'm a big fan of using FIND on revisions. After I've done some of the big stuff, I'll go through the draft using the FIND function to track secondary characters. This enables me to jump through the book ONLY following that particular character's thread. I can adjust dialogue, check for consistency, and experience the story as it's told vis a vis that particular character. Obviously, this wouldn't work for a main character, but it is effective when you're polishing a secondary.

  6. I found reading your talk, The Art of Detection, very informative at a crucial time for me. It nailed down some facets of my novel that I needed to address. Specifically: Character, and understanding the elements of my plot. You made me realize that how a reader saw my protagonist in the first two chapters (which sometimes is all an agent or editor will read) might not convey at all his true character as shown in the rest of the chapters (when he is thrust into the middle of his adventure). In the first chapter, my main character is unhappy about having moved clear across the country, away from all his friends. I needed to make sure he didn’t come off as a “whiner”, as you put it, so that the reader (especially an editor or agent) wouldn’t disconnect before finding out that he is, in actuality, a very likable character with a shrewd sense of assessing a situation, a strong resolve and a good sense of humor. I very much appreciated your pointers about Character.

    I found your Plot Checklist invaluable in adding clarity as I revised my novel (for the umpteenth time), especially in identifying and building upon the change my character experiences, the point of the story, and in tracking my subplots.

    I do think a section on actual practical techniques for working through a revision would be quite helpful to include in your article. You seem to be a very organized person, so perhaps some of your organizational tips – including your practice of keeping track of subplots (especially those that may continue on through future books), maintaining consistency of characters’ physical characteristics and traits, etc., would be very beneficial.

    Like a previous commentator, I also use the Find feature often in MS Word when revising – I find it particularly useful in multiple revisions. I especially like it when I think I may be overusing a specific word, to find all the places it is used and change if need be.

    I look forward to reading your article. Thanks for your time in putting so much invaluable information in your blog!

  7. I read your talk a while ago and thought it useful. The reading the first time like a reader is hugely important as writers tend to read like writers and see the mistakes, rather than the overall picture.

    Two points spring to mind:
    One is the mantra that Isabel Swift(vp of Harlequin and Nora Roberts former editor uses) Focus on the doughnut and not the hole. IN other words, the main thing is the story and not the plot problem. She is an instinctive editor. For example, once Nora Roberts started a romance in the dog's piont of view. She was not asked to change because the story worked.
    Second, a tip that an agent once told me and I use every time I revise -- print the manuscript off and read with a pencil in one hand and a cup of coffee/beverage of choice in the other. Things read differnetly off the computer.

  8. I love this talk, I find it very helpful. I try to remember TRUCKS for each revision I do. The check list is especially helpful! That alone helped me figure out where to end my novel.

  9. I think that I've skimmed through most of your talks as you post them, and I always recommend them to aspiring authors.

    I'm no author (nor do I aspire to be one), so I can't speak to the utility of your tips on writing books. But I do appreciate, and have learned from, the concepts that you've tried to get across in your talks. Storytelling is no different that making a convincing and persuasive argument.

    In any event, I digress.
    You are being paid to write an article about your editorial tips and your take on writing. You are an editor at a fine publishing house. You have published and edited terrific books. You have much wisdom to impart. The 22-year-old Cheryl would quiver and tremor in awe at your editorialness (as would any aspiring writer). It is thoughtful of you to generously solicit your readers' opinions, but I don't think that it matters that much.

    Go forth, be confident, speak authoritatively and you will do wonderfully.

  10. I have found it to be extremely helpful. I'm currently working through it with a mg novel manuscript. The format is well organized and clear. I'm such a checklist girl. I don't know of another editor with such a giving spirit as you by providing this kind of truly helpful information to the masses.

  11. I also had the benefit of hearing your talk at the SCBWI conference in Michigan. I love how you wrote up the talk, because there is so much helpful information in it. My only suggestion is to maybe pick another book in another genre, such as fantasy, mystery, or adventure, to show the TRUCK principles since it is sometimes harder to get the character development weaved into a plot directed story such as these.

    The Plot Checklist was very helpful. If you have any other helpful suggestions not included in your talk, I'm sure we all could benefit from them.

    I really hope you'll consider expanding your talks into a book. They are very insightful and there are no books that really delve into such topics as character development, plot, etc. specifically for children's writers.


  12. I use your talks a lot when revising, and I recommend them far and wide. The line edit information is very important, but I have to admit that the suggestions you have on bringing the greater story under control and working together are extremely helpful. There is a lot out there on line edity things. But there is not so much on the top-level structure, or even the chapter structure. You can write beautiful prose, dead-on dialogue, and have great humor or pathos or whatever, but if your structure doesn't hold together, you still don't have a book. So that's the part I keep coming back to. (Or maybe I'm just singularly brain-dead in that area and am slower than most to learn it...)

  13. I stop in very briefly to say this: Thank you so much for suggesting "Graceling." I am two thirds of the way through and I can barely stop reading except I'm too on edge to be able to concentrate.

    Thanks again. And back to reading now.

  14. yeah truly a great site.I really enjoyed my visit.