Monday, July 25, 2011

Revisions: raising your story on multiple levels

So you've written a first draft. You've sent it off to your critique partners, and you're getting comments back. You thought it worked pretty well first time around but people are saying maybe it would be better if you did this, if you did that...

I am in this position right now.

The good news is, the things I thought were good... were pretty good. On the other hand, the fact that there are things I can still do to improve the story is, to my mind, the better news. Revisions give me an opportunity to see things I hadn't seen before, and make the story that much better.

Writing a first draft is an exploration, as much as it is the telling of a story. You may do it deliberately, with an outline (I certainly do), but still you explore the world and the characters as you write, and new things develop as you watch how the whole thing plays out. You're also exploring the story itself - which parts of it resonate, what themes it has, what its focus is, and which aspects of it are most important.

Critique suggestions come in different types. Some are easy to implement, while others are more difficult. Any story works on multiple levels, and revision can be needed on any one or several (all) of these levels. I find text-level revisions (improvement to prose, flow, etc.) easiest to implement. "This sounded awkward, so please rephrase..." Next easiest are plot-level revisions. "I saw that one coming, so if you want him to accomplish X, you'll have to have him do it another way." The hardest ones are the ones that relate to questions of focus. "You put so much attention on A that you seemed to be taking it away from B, and B was what I really cared about."

I have a tendency to plan fixes at the same time that I'm reading my critiques, and to want to jump into my revisions as quickly as I can, but I have to make sure that I'm addressing the focus and thematic questions first. Those are the ones which, though they are most difficult to address, create the largest change in what happens overall. A change in focus can also lead to changes in plot, in text, even in character.

It's like trying to fit large stones, pebbles and sand into a bucket. If I put the large stones in first, I may have to discard some of my pebbles and sand, but if I don't put them in first, they'll never fit at all.

I'll be thinking about this as I head into my revisions of "The Liars."