William Kowalski wrote in “Self-Help for Budding Novelists” in the February 2012 The Writer:
We don’t possess all the skills needed to write the novel we have inside us until just after we’ve finished it. Why? Because each book is a world unto itself, with its own rules and quirks, and until you’ve written the last word of the last draft, you won’t have complete mastery of it. By then, of course, your skills are redundant.
Reading Kowalski’s article this week inspired me in my own revision work. I’ve learned a lot over the years about revision and the way I do it best, and indeed, it’s true that each piece or book is its own world. My work on Perceval’s Secret focused on clarity and heightening suspense, and it wasn’t the first revision by a long shot. My work on the second novel in the series, Perceval’s Shadow, demands its own approach. Why?
I am working with only the first draft, the only version in existence at the moment, instead of multiple revisions. I expect it could take me longer to produce a second draft. Here are my steps for the Perceval’s Shadow revision process:
- Rewrite prep: I plunged into the novel’s working file where I’ve accumulated notes, ideas, and interesting articles relevant to this book. I read through everything. To my surprised delight, I’d left this file in excellent shape in 2007 when I’d finished the first draft and put it away to ferment. I had written summaries of characters, a master list of characters for the series, a calendar of action, characters by chapter, a detailed outline and lots and lots of handwritten notes. This step is done.
- Assessment Read-Through: I’ve just begun this step. I simply read through the first draft from beginning to end, marking my thoughts and questions on the manuscript. I also note grammar issues, word choice issues, issues with logic, clarity, use of adverbs and the verb to be. I check my facts and research. I underline verbs that need re-thinking. In a broader sense, I note character development and continuity, dramatic momentum, narrative structure, and oddball dialogue. Finally, I set specific goals for the second draft.
- The Revision: Paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter, I’ll work my way through the novel, improving the prose, heightening suspense, clarifying action and motivations, and adding any details that will enrich the story and characters. I’ll use all my notes plus the assessment read-through comments to guide me. I’d originally thought this would take 6 months, but now I’m thinking it could take longer. This novel has 22 chapters and a solid, straight-forward structure.
- Have I achieved my goals? This step occurs, actually, at the same time as Step 3. When I finish a chapter, I read it aloud several times over 3-4 days. With each reading, I hear the rhythm of the words and the flow which affects the pace for reading. I double-check if vocabulary is character-appropriate, if dialogue sounds natural and moves the story forward. I also want to use more metaphor or simile in this novel wherever suitable.
So, this is the plan going forward. I’ve already made notes about the changes I made in the first novel that will impact the action in the second, as well as noting a couple changes in action in the second. I’ll be making notes as I revise for plot points or details that affect the third novel’s story.
It sounds so simple. As much as I love revision work, however, it’s still the hardest work in writing a novel. The first draft is fun, the second is probably the hardest for revision, and subsequent drafts are really more like polishing rather than major revision work. At least, this is how the first novel went!
I have my expectations, too, that I will need to keep in check. It doesn’t really serve the novel to set one’s expectations too high and unrealistic. So, my only expectation: Trust in the process and the imagination….