It Hurts So Good: Revising Your Novel

Cynthia Reeg, children's book authorGuest Post by Cynthia Reeg
Revisions can hurt; but revisions are good. In this guest post, Cynthia discusses the revision of her forthcoming debut novel. From the Grave is due out on October 18, 2016 from Jolly Fish Press.

Cover Reveal for From the Grave

Okay, I know I’m totally dating myself with this musical reference, but for me the revision process can be summed up in this lyrical one-liner from John Mellencamp, “It’s hurts so good!”

After I’ve created my first draft (or subsequent 2nd, 3rd, 4th,… drafts), I allow some down time. After the first draft, this is necessary because I’m too love in with what I’ve written to notice many of its faults. And after the following revisions, I’m probably too weary of what I’ve written to notice what’s truly good. By this time, it most likely seems rather tired. FROM THE GRAVE has been a work in progress over a number of years.

In an effort to be somewhat analytic about my revision process (which is the painful part for me), I draw up a spreadsheet and break down each chapter. I note the characters and emotions, setting, plot elements, theme, time, action. This helps me see if I’m maintaining my theme, keeping things moving, involving characters across the board, and being consistent with the time frame. This is similar to what Darcy discusses in her NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS, which I learned at a workshop she conducted.

Darcy’s workshop also highlighted the importance of pacing. Noting the amount of white space on each page can help give an indication of this. Although there are times when exposition is necessary, I try to be vigilant (especially in writing for middle grade readers) about keeping the story moving with dialogue and action. In my revision process, I study the pacing. I use a middle grade plot points guide to see if I’ve stayed on track for a Three Act structure.
From the Grave by Cynthia Reeg |

With my monsters story, I also made a notebook on Rules, Food, Language, Setting, and Character, writing down specifics from each chapter. This was to help me analyze the monster world I’d created. I love writing fantasy because I can make most anything happen, but I have to stay within the boundaries I’ve created for the story to work. When I’m writing on the fly, my muse may throw out an astounding new creature, event, or setting that I didn’t plan for. I need to document all these for future reference and see if there is a conflict.

After the general shape-up of the manuscript is done, the line edits come next. This part of the revision I truly enjoy. Although when it comes to deleting 10,000 words from a story, this can be extremely painful. Writing a manuscript that is as tight as possible is absolutely essential for middle grade. It’s a challenge to keep the story engaging and the voice strong, while pairing down the word count. At this stage, I’m choosing words carefully, making phrases sing, trying to plug in more dialogue and delete lengthy exposition. I pay particular attention to sensory details. But I also focus on story emotions. I can’t afford to lose the impact of my tale in the edits. Most likely, you’ve heard this before: read your story out loud. Especially at this stage of revisions, the lines beg to be read. You’ll quickly hear jumble that slows the pace. You’ll notice words that don’t quite work. You’ll cringe at flat dialogue.

I just finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s BIG MAGIC: Creative Living Beyond Fear. In it she asks the question, “Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures within?” She stresses that fear is always part of the creative process, but you can’t let it take control. Courage is certainly an important part of the revision process. You have to believe you can make your story stronger. You have to believe you can address all your editor’s challenges. And you have to believe that the finished product is going to make a difference in some young reader’s life.

So fight through the fear—and the pain! Be courageous and steadfast! Take up your pen and REVISE!

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