Friday, June 4, 2021

How to Revise Your Story and See it With Fresh Eyes

This week’s blog post comes to us from guest blogger, Alyssa Colton. Thanks so much for sharing. Take it away, Alyssa!

Many writers and editors use the terms “revise” and “edit” interchangeably, but I think it’s important to make a distinction between the two terms, even though there is certainly some overlap. First, check out the word revise. It literally means “to see again.” 

How do you see a piece of writing “again”? We tend to think of revising as “fixing it up,” but it might be more helpful to think of it as getting in the muck and playing around. “Revision means making a mess, not straightening up,” advises Heather Sellers, author of Chapter After Chapter. She thinks of revision as simply “making new versions.”

Many writers and editors use the terms “revise” and “edit” interchangeably, but I think it’s important to make a distinction between the two terms, even though there is certainly some overlap.

Revision Tip #1: Take Some Time

Take some time. This time-honored technique works because if you’ve been working on a draft closely for some time, taking some time away from it can give you a different perspective. Resist the urge to just get it done and out there. Put it away and do something else for at least a week. In On Writing, Stephen King recommends taking at least six weeks: “Your mind and imagination--two things which are the same, but not really the same--have to recycle themselves, at least in regards to this particular work.”

Revision Tip #2: Start Over

Start over. What? I have to completely rewrite it? No, not necessarily. After you’ve taken some time away from your work, DON’T go read it. Instead, think about or journal about what you are trying to do. Think about the major questions, like what your character wants and how she or he goes about getting there. What’s the conflict? What’s the resolution? What are you trying to say? And then start over. If you go and read your work, you might get too caught up in the words on the page. Instead, start a new scene, or perhaps use a different point of view, or just start your first chapter in a different place and see what happens. It’s important here that you don’t just go and edit what’s already there--this is just tinkering. You need to REVISE. At the very least, even if you decide not to keep the new bits, it’s likely to give you some insight into what you’ve already written.

Revision Tip #3: Map It Out

Map it out. This is kind of a reverse-outline. Go through and briefly summarize all the scenes. It can be really helpful to do this visually, with index cards or post-it notes on a large board that you can easily move scenes around. I’ve also found using a spreadsheet helpful when trying to figure out how to structure a novel that takes place in two different timelines. If you’ve already done this in the pre-writing stage, now is a good time to take another look at it and see if there are any changes you might make.

Revision Tip #4: Imagine Your Story

Imagine your story or novel as a play or a movie. What would you change? What would you keep? This can help particularly with plotting, if that’s something you struggle with.

Revision Tip #5: Read Other Writers

Read other writers in your genre. This can also give you ideas of how to change your novel if something isn’t quite working. Take several examples and study them. How do they begin? How are they structured? What are some commonalities? What might you “borrow” from another writer for your own work? A way of employing point of view, a structural device, a way of handling exposition? By honing your skills in “reading like a writer,” you can learn from the masters. Just play, and see where it takes you.

Top Revision Tips for Writers: RECAP

As a quick recap, the five main revision tips to re-see your story are:
  1. Take some time. 
  2. Start over. 
  3. Map it out with a plot
  4. Imagine your story. 
  5. Read other writers in your genre.

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Keep on keepin' on...


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