Tag Archives: revision work

Perceval’s Shadow: Revision Work 1

So, here I am, facing the words I’ve written to tell the story of Perceval’s Shadow, the second novel in the Perceval series. I thought I’d start a mini-series of posts about the revision process on this novel to share its progress and maybe a little about my own creative process.

Revision work is all about making decisions. If you’re a terrible decision-maker, maybe creative writing isn’t a good fit for you. The decisions start as soon as the idea comes into a writer’s head — they masquerade as questions that need to be answered. Who is this character? What does she want? Is this story a short story? Novella? Or maybe it’s a screenplay? Where is this character? What’s her backstory? And so on — just a taste of the questions that come up at the beginning of a first draft.

For the first revision, the questions are different. The first question I asked myself was do I read straight through the draft and then start the work, or do I just start the work with chapter 1? My reply to myself, after a few minutes of thought while staring at the manuscript pages, came with a certainty of feeling in the pit of my stomach that spread throughout my body: just start the work.

So, I began by reading through the notes I’d been making over the years (yes, years) with my ideas for how I wanted each chapter, page, and paragraph to go to move the story forward and reveal character. I do that reading in motion, i.e. I walk from one end of my apartment to the other and back. Over and over until I finish going through the notes. Then I sit down at my desk, pull out my favorite purple ink pen, and begin reading chapter 1. This chapter surprised me quite a lot. It’s in good shape and I had few changes or edits. Later I discovered the reason — in the back of the file folder are five other chapter 1’s marked “old” and written all over in different colored inks. I’m certain that chapter 1 will require even more work, but for now, it’s in good shape.

Photo Credit: Vanessa Rudloff

Chapter 2 introduces a new character, a 10-year-old French boy named Pierre. As I began reading, I remembered how Pierre had come into my life, following me around for months before I finally figured out where he belonged, i.e. in this novel. I’d had an incredibly deep feeling for Pierre — I’m very attached to him, very protective. I’m hoping that these feelings will channel into the other characters in the story. Pierre will need their affection and protection. My prose in this chapter needed much more work than the first chapter, and I slowed down to do the work and took my time. And all through it, Pierre’s introduction into the Perceval series pleased me. I liked his feistiness. I went through this chapter twice during two different weekends.

After the second day of working on chapter 2, I turned to chapter 3. The work on this chapter began at a snail’s pace. Immediately, I saw that this chapter would need a great deal of work during this revision, and required a thorough re-think. But I know what I want this chapter to accomplish regarding revealing character and moving the story forward. The trick will be asking the right questions and  putting what I learn on the page.

Revision work is like eating chocolate — it is not to be rushed but savored as a total immersion experience. The first revision for me is not about grammar, syntax or an extensive line edit. It’s about making certain I got the characters right. Revision work is the true work in writing, work to be as creative as in the first draft but in a different way, work to be focused on character. Even when I’m not at my desk, I’m thinking about it.

Experience and Learning, or There’s Always a Lesson to Learn

The first Beta reading of the “Aanora” story has been done and I’ve received the feedback. I have to admit that I was surprised. On the one hand, my set-up for the climax had been extremely successful. On the other hand, a couple things I’d thought I’d made clear — important details — had been missed, leaving my reader confused during the last act of the story. What?

I spent a good deal of time going through the novella with slow and careful attention, looking for where I may have missed something myself. But everything was there. My reader should not have been confused. I made some changes to clarify some details and also some continuity corrections. Then I put the novella away. I sent my Beta reader an email thanking her, and also included a response to some of her comments. Then I moved onto Perceval’s Shadow.

This past week, I was reading the October issue of The Writer and came to an article by Susan Breen about dealing with criticism, “Thin Skin: How to Deal with Criticism as a Writer.” Breen writes about the difficulty of being bombarded with criticism at all stages of a story’s life — Beta readers, editors, agents, publishers, reviewers, friends, well-meaning fans, and the list can go on and on. Each believes, of course, that they’re doing the writer a huge service by offering their criticism. Then Breen goes on to list 9 essential things to remember when dealing with criticism.

As I read the article, I realized that I knew everything that Breen was saying, and I’d been very good about doing everything she suggested, i.e. listen, write down notes, wait (give it time to ferment), use the criticism to make it better, look at the big picture, consider the source of the criticism (how trustworthy?), never take it personally (even though it can feel that way), pay attention to the positive things, the praise (it can get lost among the negative stuff), and remember that real writers are the ones who are criticized, not those who never commit anything to paper. I also realized that I had not done a very good job of accepting the criticism I received from my Beta reader.

I had chosen this particular reader for the first reading because I knew that she knew the sci fi universe in which I had set the story. I had asked her to watch for anything that could be out of place, and she pointed out several things that were very good catches. She also reads widely. I trusted her to be honest with me and she was. Where I fell down in this process was to give her comments time before I responded to them. Then I needed to go back to her and ask some questions about those things that she had missed. For example, what had she thought when she’d read that section? Why had she thought in that direction and not some other direction? I realized that I was the one who needed the clarification from her, not that she needed clarification from me to explain those things she had missed. There was a reason she’d missed them, even though I had set them up earlier. Clearly, I had not done a good enough job of setting them up so that they wouldn’t be missed.

I’ve been writing for decades now, and I continue to write a lot in a lot of different genres. My experience over the years has given me knowledge and skill. However, it doesn’t matter how many years or how much experience or how much skill, there’s always something to learn — or re-learn — in writing. So if someone says to me that they’ve been writing so long, it all comes really easily to them and they really don’t have anything more to learn, I don’t believe them.

Life and living is learning. As part of life, writing is the same thing.

Remaining True to Characters

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo at the Sistine chapel, Vatican city, Rome, Italy

What writer hasn’t grappled with the sense of playing God while writing characters? It is a seductive feeling.  Power.  Control.  Bossing characters around so that they do and say what I want. Wow. Certainly can’t do that with people in real life. But guess what? It doesn’t work anymore with fictional characters than it does in real life. That is, if you want your characters to truly be themselves. I’ve experienced characters staging protests and coups when I’ve forgotten my true place as the writer and tried to play God, and so now that I’m doing lots of revision work, it’s time to remind myself just what remaining true to characters really means.

Observe

People Watching

The first thing is to step back and watch. As I read my writing, or anyone else’s, that’s what I’m doing mentally. I wouldn’t try to interfere with someone else’s characters, and so I will not interfere with my own. And actually, that possessive “my” is relative — at some point, characters become their own people with their own personalities, thoughts, and feelings, motivations, behavior, and speech, and when that happens, that’s when a writer knows he or she has succeeded in creating characters who are as real as people in the real world. Part of getting to that point is believing they are real people.

While doing revision work, it’s important to set aside all my own ideas and preconceptions about each character, and just watch them as I read. Who are they? What do they want in the context of the story? What will they do to get it? What is their worst fear? What is their primary emotional flaw? Watch the characters in their behavior and speech to learn the answers to these questions. I’m usually not surprised by the primary characters but sometimes a secondary character will shock or surprise me, and then that opens up possibilities for the story that I had not seen before.

listen

iStockphoto

How a person talks reveals an awful lot about their character, education, and background. Pay attention to the rhythm of the speech, to the use of language, to the choice of words. Pay attention to how characters talk to each other.

When I was working on Vasia Bartyakov in Perceval’s Secret, I knew that he was Russian, and that his English would reflect the influence of his native tongue. But what really came through to me from him with his English was a sense of his natural exuberance. He’s old enough to have some idea of the way the world works, but still young enough to believe in optimism and the inherent goodness of human beings. He loves life. He loves music. Every word out of his mouth and the way he said it reflected that. I learned all that by stepping back and listening to him, and stopped myself from putting words in his mouth that I believed would move the story forward or reveal character. What I learned from Vasia is that characters love to reveal themselves through their speech if you shut up and listen.

witness

Write what you see and hear. Describe it as closely as you can to what you saw and heard from your characters. I call this “witnessing.” This is where the give and take between the writer and her characters really comes into play, and it’s important that the writer remain true to her characters, i.e. be worthy of their trust and belief in her by being faithful to what she’s seen and heard.

In the revision stage, it’s just as important to remain true to the characters, to insure that even if dialogue needs to be cleaned up for whatever reason, the writer preserves the original intent and meaning of that dialogue. What I most often run into with dialogue is that I need to relax it, make it more like the spoken speech that it is rather than only speech that is read. People rarely speak in complete, grammatically correct sentences. I want my writing to be the best it can be in order to be an accurate and trustworthy witness to the lives of my characters.

conclusion

Characters may be watching the writer as closely as the writer watches them to determine if the writer can be trusted with their story. They give themselves over to writers, and at the same time, writers need to respect them and the process that the writer and characters are both part of. The next time you’re tempted to play God with your characters, just think of how much you may hate being bossed around, controlled and manipulated, and treat your characters the way you want to be treated yourself.

Revision: How to get started?

After the wonderful news earlier this week that Perceval’s Secret had won the Silver Medal in the “Thriller/Mystery/Horror” category in Connections eMagazine’s Readers Choice Awards 2018 (thank you, Melanie Smith!), I spent some time publicizing the news, and I continue to tell the world (of course!). It’s the first time Perceval’s Secret has won anything — indeed, the first time I’ve won anything! Another effect of this award: my work on the first revision of the Perceval Shadow first draft has become urgent. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, actually, and working through various issues and scenes in my head. But now it’s time to pull out the manuscript and get cracking.

How do I start the first revision?

First of all, as daunting as it might be, it’s not nearly as scary as the blank page all writers encounter when starting a first draft. When the first draft is done, there’s material to work with, to sculpt, to massage, to add to, and to smooth. I have pulled out the manuscript and my working file, what are the next steps?

Steps for First Revision Work  

Read through: It’s been a while since I’ve lived inside this novel, so my first step is to read through the draft. I had printed out a hard copy before. Now, I’ll curl up with it and my purple pen to read it, write notes on the page or on my handy legal pad, and dream about the scenes and characters.

First Chapter: This chapter will almost always need a lot of work (along with the last two chapters of the book). Writing the first chapter can be a nightmare, challenge, or pure joy, depending upon how it goes. What I’ve learned about my own writing is that the first chapter is the most problematic and scares me even more than the ending. I’ve learned that it’s best to pay close attention to what I’ve written, but to not do too much work with revision until after I’ve been through the rest of the book. There will be threads in later chapters that need or have some connection to the first chapter, and I need to know what they are.

What is the purpose of the first revision? Good question. I approach the revision work as steps toward the summit of completion. Each step has a purpose. What each step’s purpose is can be completely up to the writer. For example, one step could be for scene work. Another step could be for narrative structure and character development. Another step could be for line editing. Another step could be for checking for inconsistencies, e.g. a character’s eyes are blue at the beginning and inexplicably brown in the middle of the story. It is helpful to decide at the beginning of revision work what the purpose of each revision will be, and then focus only on that revision’s specified purpose as the work progresses.

The purpose of the first revision of Perceval’s Shadow is scene work. I need to take care of fleshing out scenes including crucial details, looking at character motivation in each scene, and resolving problems within scenes. I expect this will be slow work, and anyway, it shouldn’t be rushed. Because this novel is part of a series, I also need to make notes about what happens in each chapter and how it might relate to action in subsequent books in the series.

How long does a revision take? Forgive me while I have a good laugh at my own question. I’m not a very patient person, and of course, I want the revision to go really fast so I can get on with the next revision. But then I look up at the neon pink sticky note above my desk on which I’ve written “Pay attention.” This is from Zen Buddhism — the goal of staying in the present moment and paying attention in that moment. It’s amazing what can be observed by being still and paying attention. The same holds true for revision work. In order to pay attention to the words, how they build into the structure of your story and the development of your characters, it’s necessary to go slow and proceed with care.

And now, chapter one, page 1….

Who among my readers here are doing revision work right now on a large piece of writing? Do you have your own steps? What is the most frustrating thing about revision work?

Mid-Year Writing Update

Last week I was working hard on revisions and used all my weekend time for that kind of writing rather than writing blog posts. This week it’s time to take stock. How’s the writing going this year? Any significant accomplishments?

Non-writing Employment: The first three months of this year, I was working hard on the search for a fulltime job after losing the job in December that I’d landed in April 2017. In March, I accepted a fulltime position with a state health licensing board as their office administrative support. It’s a small office (only three of us) and the work doesn’t follow me home which is wonderful. It’s also far less stressful than the previous job had been. The schedule is not very conducive to writing at the computer during the week but I do an awful lot of writing in my head. Being happier and more relaxed at this job has given me more energy to pour into my writing on the weekends. I may still need to sell some possessions for my financial health which is fine — cleaning out the clutter is always good!

Perceval Novels:
Perceval’s Secret remains on sale (only $2.99!) at Amazon and B&N.com. After running a “Free” promotion last spring and seeing where people went to get their copy of the novel, I removed it from Kobo International. The reviews continue to be good to excellent!  I’d love to hear from readers through reviews at Amazon and B&N, or at Goodreads.

I continue to research and plan promotions for 2018.  I participated in a BookBub promotion also last spring that increased my number of followers there. BookBub also provided a list of those followers from that promotion who are particularly interested in thriller fiction.

As for the other novels in the series, I’m now starting to work on the revision of the first draft of Perceval’s Shadow, the second novel in the series. This is the year of revision work!  I’m sure that as I work on the revision, I’ll also be writing notes for the other three novels in the series. It always amazes me how my opening one door in my imagination can also open other doors to other projects.

Marketing: As I mentioned above, I ran a “Free” promotion for Perceval’s Secret this past spring.  I learned that most people gravitate to Amazon despite the book also being free at B&N and Kobo. I wrote about the results of this promotion and my response to it here.

I’ve been happy that people at my new job have been interested in my writing. I know of one person who bought Perceval’s Secret and read it. She talked with me about her response to it and I loved hearing from her! I still need to utilize the marketing tools at GoodReads, LinkedIn and Publishers Marketplace.  I continue to promote the novel on Twitter and Facebook.  I’ve been writing more posts at the Perceval Novels Facebook page, too.  Please go and like it, and visit often for updates on the novels.

New Novel Project: This project remains on the back burner this year. I still plan to transform my original screenplay, Over the Rainbow, into a novel. I love the story, the main character, and the potential of it, so I hope to be able to work on it soon.

Debt from Publishing Perceval’s Secret as an e-book: I finally finished paying off the credit card debt that I incurred when I published Perceval’s Secret. I still have substantial debt, but it’s not from publishing. I don’t know when I’ll publish the novel as a paperback. It’s still one of those things that I want to do but don’t have yet the money to do.

Short Stories: Lots of success to report here! I finished the revisions of Light the Way.  It is now ready to submit. I spent some time researching possible markets for it, and now I just need to pick one and start the submission process. I also finished the revisions of The Negligee. I’ve decided that this short story falls within the horror genre and I need to research markets for it. I finished the first draft of Aanora and two revisions. Right now, it’s in the hands of a beta reader. I expect that I’ll be doing at least two more revisions before it will be ready for publication.  I’ll be very happy to start getting more of my fiction out in the world.

Blogs: I’ve been participating in a blogfest called #We are the World Blogfest at the Eyes on Life blog (as Gina Hunter) for the past year or so, finding positive stories about humanity and sharing them on the blog. That’s all I’ve been writing at that blog and I’ve lost readership there. So, I will probably end my participation and return to my former commentary format with “The Successful Patient” posts as well as the current events and society commentary. I’ve been struggling with time — having the time to work on my fiction — and blog writing has taken more of a back seat to the fiction writing this year. I still continue to write posts here at Anatomy of Perceval on Saturdays.

Essays/Paid Gigs: I’m only now beginning to figure out if I have the time to do some of these personal essays for ClassicalMPR or other online sites. So far this year, I haven’t had the time.

Journal Writing: I’d hoped to establish a regular habit of journal writing every Sunday, but have failed miserably at this.

The Successful Patient Memoir:
Nothing has changed on this project — still on the back burner.

Reading: My daily conmute during the work week gives me lots of time for reading and I’ve been enjoying that aspect of being back to fulltime employment. I shall exceed my 2018 Reading Challenge at GoodReads. Reading is such an essential part of being a writer, and I’ve enjoyed some wonderful and provocative books so far this year. You can check out my reviews of them on GoodReads, and give me a holler while you’re there!

I’m really looking forward to submitting the two short stories and the Aanora novella, and spending the rest of the year on Perceval’s Shadow!