Revising Through A Single Lens

I’ve been reading Donald Maass’s excellent, excellent book Writing the Breakout Novel (which is, unfortunately, not available on the Kindle so I actually had to do the archaic order and wait for a hardcopy thing) and it’s at a perfect time for me since I’m beginning the second pass at the current project.

Move outside yourself - view of an abandoned diner

Work in different places when revising. Move around a lot. Keep your mind agile and ready to incorporate new things.

As I’ve read, I’ve collected ideas to apply to rewrite. I’m making the heroine’s past considerably more complex, shoving the hero a bit more ruthlessly out of his depth, making some bad guys more ambiguous morally, killing my very favorite character, letting a villainess be much, much bitchier (and funnier), and raising the stakes repeatedly. I’ve wrestled with the first 33 pages so far, and they are SO MUCH better now, even though there’s a ton of comments that will need to be addressed, particularly moments of B-grade writing that need to get elevated to A-level.

I find it handy to do this sort of pass. Last time, when revising Phat Fairy, I used a list from Holly Lisle and went through scene by scene, checking for criteria like what got accomplished, were there any loose ends, what characters appeared, was there a sensory moment, was there character development for at least one character. I did something similar with The Moon’s Accomplice, which was the first novel that I completed. There is much to be said for making your revision process efficient and mechanical. While moments of inspiration are useful, it’s the elbow grease put into the scenes at this point that pays off.

At the same time, I think it would be easy to get overly concerned with this and make it a barrier for writers who have a hard time finishing. And so I develop my criteria that each scene will be judged by, my checklist of necessaries, and then I go through, scene by scene. More post-its may get scattered in the wake of that pass for knotty bits, hard little problems like “Why is Zappo showing up now?” or “Exactly how do we find out Crystal’s father’s past?” that I want to think about, and those will get taken care of in a tertiary pass. My strategy with revision is to pick one set of criteria each pass and stick to it, without adding more to do by reading other pieces on approaches to revision and continuing to change your strategy, putting yourself in the position of going back to earlier work.

Pick a single lens for each pass you make through the manuscript and stick with it. One set of criteria or even single thing that you’re looking at. This will be more labor-intensive (perhaps dauntingly so) but more effective than performing the writerly equivalent of multi-tasking.

I know this is very counter to the write a draft and get it out philosophy, but that’s how I work. What about other people, which camp do you fall in? What’s the most important thing to you when doing a revision?

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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