Sunday, January 22, 2012

Revision Techniques: Anything to Share?

I'll be speaking this Saturday at SCBWI National on Revision, giving a yet-again-revised version of my talk "Twenty-Five* Revision Techniques *(Subject to Revision)," which also appears in Second Sight. (If you're signed up for the session and you also have Second Sight, yes, it involves more than what you can read in the book, and will thus still be worth your time.) I feel pretty good about the talk, but I'm curious:

  •  Those of you who have read Second Sight or heard me give this speech: Which techniques did you actually try? Which were useful to you? Which were duds? (This will help me to know which to keep and which to cut this round.)
  • Anyone: What's your process? What strategies or techniques are most useful to you in revising these days? Any you'd like to share? (Fair warning:  If an idea sounds good to me, I may use it. But I will credit you, I promise.)
Thank you very much for the feedback, on both fronts. 


  1. I've been doing a lot of revision to deepen emotion and character relationships. Here's some exercises I've been doing. (excerpted from my blog post here

    1. Write out each character’s motivation going in.

    2. Ask whether any of these developments in the scene make the character think of previous events, future events, or other characters.

    3. Jot down the POV character's emotional state from paragraph to paragraph.
    This has been both entertaining and enlightening. I started off eloquently, with notes like “confused”, “worried”, “uneasy.” Halfway through the book, notes have disintegrated into “Gahhh!”, “ZOMG”, “Run!!!!.”
    But I’ve found this exercise useful for pinpointing places where the emotion didn't quite make it onto the page. It also maps out dramatic tension. My most exciting scenes have emotions that change every paragraph. Sometimes however, I will only mark one emotion for an entire page -- and surprise, surprise, those are usually the scenes that test readers have told me were emotionally flat.

  2. I used Second Sight to do my big revision before I started submitting my MS, and now I'm working with my agent on another big revision.

    Taking time off from the project has played a big role in this second revision, and really given me time to think about where the strengths and weaknesses lie.

    Compressing and Expanding the story summary for pitching really helped me to hone my focus.

    I love statistics and other such nerdy things, so the word frequency tool was wonderful, and helped me to see where I could strengthen the writing.

    Taking notes on the good and bad stuff this second time around (jumping off from the editorial notes and creating my own editing map/ notes) has been hugely helpful for a major revision strategy. Mostly just to keep me feeling purposeful and not lost in the size of the task.

    Setting deadlines and working big to small were and continue to be necessities. Specifically, I set a terminus goal for the revision process, then I break it up by week what I need to accomplish to hit that goal, and then at the beginning of each week I break down what I want to work on by day, and even by 25 minute pomodoro sessions. (If you haven't checked out the Pomodoro Technique, it's a fun tool to stay on-task).

    I loved cutting adverbs, feel/felt, and non-said dialogue tags.

    I'd like to add another technique that worked for me. I broke down my story by chapter and created a list for each one that looks like the following:
    1. Summary: What is the action of the chapter?
    2. Character: How is character advanced or revealed?
    3. Plot: How is the plot advanced?
    (It needs to do one or the other, if not both--this helps me to see if the chapter is pulling its weight)
    4. Revision: How can the chapter be strengthened generally? To better advance plot? To better advance character? Or to portray more compelling action?

    Hope any of this is helpful feedback for you!

  3. First off - just want to say that Second Sight has as a whole been such a help! Thank you for writing it.

    The letter to a friend, story in one sentence, and flap copy have all been exceptionally useful; the plot checklist, mini-map, and first ten things the characters do were also critical in the first revision.

    Word count was fun but (for me, at least this go-round) not so useful. I also tried the book map, but abandoned it. I suspect that on the next revision it'll be more helpful - I think the fact that it didn't work for me initially is a symptom of the roughness of my first draft.

  4. I have revised 2 manuscripts with SECOND SIGHT as a reference. Here are my thoughts/tips.

    #1. thanks for the disclaimer. Early in my writing journey, I heard an author describe "The Process." I was newbie enough to follow it, and her process messed me up.

    #2. Taking time off has been critical for me. And filling my brain with other stuff helps. Politics, for instance, can blast the cobwebs out :)

    #4... I think you should just tell people to do the TRUCKs from Art of Detection chapter. I've made myself a TRUCKs template, and it's been immeasurably helpful. Plus, it covers several of the 25 techniques.

    #12/13. I make a map--using the spreadsheet plotting as a guide. This tip is actually the first thing I do after the sabbatical from the book. I am such a plotter that the "technical" aspects of the book have to settle down before I can comfortably switch my brain to the emotional aspects.

    #22. These are great ideas. It sounds like a lot of work, but they really pay off. For instance, color-highlighting dialogue gives me good insight into blend and quantity of my characters' contributions to conversations.

    #23. Read the book aloud! Print it off on hardcopy, if you can. And read it in one sitting, if you can. It will take several hours, so block off a day on your weekend, fill the room with snacks and drinks, and sit there reading aloud until you make it all the way through.

    Lastly, here is a little tip I made on my own. For some of my characters (especially the minor ones), I pick out two or three character traits about them and assign them a "mascot". As I'm revising, if a character's actions don't feel quite right/organic, I look at the mascot and re-focus my thoughts. For instance, a character who responds to conflict by withdrawing might have a turtle as its mascot.

    Hope my feedback helps.

  5. Printing out hard copy and reading aloud is one of my favorite and most beneficial revision strategies. Thanks for sharing and thanks for asking.

    1. I agree with Angelina.
      In addition to plot spreadsheets and deep-dive character stalking (yes, I stalk my characters through the book individually), I learn so much about word usage, pace, and flow from reading out loud to my kids to my kids. I also find typos like repeated phrases repeated phrases.

  6. *Random strategies*

    (forgive my English, it's not my first language)

    - I list all of the final revelations, then, for each one, at least 3 clues (big or small, direct or indirect) I've already put to anticipate it. If there are less than 3, I find new clues to insert.

    - I go through scenes many, many times, visualizing them as if they were a film. In this way, you can actually SEE rhythm and balance, and spot lame parts much more easily.

    - I make a list of characters and I make sure there is a well-shaped, individual narrative arc for every single one. Same with storylines. If the arc doesn't bend properly, I act accordingly (you have no idea how many improvements this kind of approach leads to, and how many mistakes you find).

    - I check my internal references. If a metaphor refers to something already present in some other part of the ms, or a character refers to another character even if we never see them together, if little details here and there form some sort of invisible net, it feels like there's a hidden, deep structure underneath plot and characters. Or, at least, that the author knows what she's talking about.

    - I love my story and enjoy myself a lot spending time with it.

    P.S. Thank you for Second Sight, it made me even more excited about the craft of writing.
    And, obviously, thank you for all the splendid books you help get prepared for the world :)

  7. I'm in the middle of a revision and I'm finding SECOND SIGHT (and my notes from your plot talk) very useful! I've marked up the book and loaded it with sticky notes. I'm finding the tips about balance (e.g., atemporal, immediate, and internal narration) especially useful.

    I like the word frequency tip, too. For those of us who are more visual thinkers, is a nice way to look at word frequency. You can see which "junk" words you overuse.

    One of my overused words is "just." I search the document for "just" and see if I can rewrite passages that use it. I also search for "there was" "it was" etc and "purge my wases," which usually indicate an expletive phrase or passive voice. "Who," "which," and "that" are also searchable words that can signal sloppy or wordy writing.