Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Lessons Learned along Revision Road

Every road has a pothole or two; none is ever completely smooth. How boring the journey would be without challenges along the way!

The revision road is no different.

In the revisions letter from Wild Rose Press, the editor identified three main areas in my manuscript needing improvement:

• Point of View (POV) changes
• Insufficient motivation
• Writing too passive

These, then, were the challenges facing me as I began my journey along revision road. I am resting awhile, before starting on a different route of the same road (the revisions for my mainstream manuscript) and can now look fondly back on those once daunting challenges.

What did I learn from them?

Point of View: I’m not comfortable in 3rd person POV. I prefer 1st person. That preference was clear as, at times, I changed POV too rapidly within the same scene. This wasn’t as bad as expected. What did surprise me, however, was the subtlety of some of the POV slips.

Lesson Learned: When in the heroine’s POV, avoid the hero’s thoughts. How can the heroine know what the hero is thinking? Check pronoun and noun usage to ensure that the POV stays consistent and does not signal a change where no change of POV was intended.

Insufficient Motivation: What drives your characters to act the way they do? Has something happened in their past? Is it a personality trait? Or is it an external challenge? What deep feelings drive them? Without adequate reason for a character to act in a certain way, the story becomes unrealistic. My characters had their motivations for acting in certain ways; I never showed those motivations in a way that created logical intention or realistic actions.

Lesson Learned: Keep motivations simple. Rather have fewer, well-developed, motivations then half-thought-out complex motivations. In addition, keep motivations consistent with the character’s personality and actions.

Passive Writing: This was a pothole so large I nearly never crawled out of it! By far the hardest part of the revision road was learning to recognise when I used passive writing, which slows down pace and adds wordiness. One consolation is that, with each dredge through the manuscript, it’s easier to recognise the patterns which snarl and snare the active voice.

Lesson Learned: If you think you’ve cut down enough words, look again. And again. There will always be somewhere else in the text where you can say in one excellent word what you said in three ordinary words. Get rid of the writing flab (including unnecessary adjectives, adverbs and all forms of the passive verb “to be”). Keep writing tight. Remember active writing is writing with attitude.

Perhaps my journey for this manuscript has ended. Perhaps I am merely in a rest camp and more obstacles await if I must begin another round of revisions. There is no certain outcome at the end of this road but, even if I haven’t done enough to bring this manuscript up to publishable standards, what I have learned from these revisions can only help me improve the next one and the next.

There are, though, two certainties I take with me: I feel more like a “real writer” now, than I ever have before. And no journey, no challenges, are ever wasted.

10 comments:

Anita said...

I'm a culprit of the passive voice. I'm getting rid of mine, because I live in 2010, but there have been periods of history in which the passive voice was acceptable. I think modern editors know to look for it, and they mark it out of habit, when (personally), I think the passive voice can be very cool.

Also, I'm not a head bouncer (changing from one character's head to another), but some authors are doing so quite successfully. Again, it's one of those things editors look for and mark, when a lot of readers have no problem with it, and many actually enjoy it.

I'm using third person omniscient and I love it. I only tell the "feelings" of one character.

Yvonne Osborne said...

Sometimes it feels like my manuscript will never be finished. So many potholes to fall into and to crawl back out of. It's no wonder my knees hurt!

Cold As Heaven said...

I learned from your leranings, Judy >:)

Cold As Heaven

Judy Croome said...

ANITA: you're correct. Passive voice can also be cool! (I didn't want to make the post too long, but there are times when using the passive voice is correct,for example, a character refuses to accept responsibility, or one does not know who took the action).

YVONNE: good luck with your revisions; do you think knee pads would help with those potholes??? :)

COLD AS HEAVEN: I'm glad my suffering served some purpose! :)

Claire Robyns said...

Thanks for this post, Judy, so that your learnings can become our learnings. Passive voice is such a sneaky killer that creeps in so easily.

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Wow! Thanks for sharing this. It makes me feel less alone in my own revisions. I have a difficult time with passive language, which makes my characters passive in return. It's frustrating. I think taken apart, these problems aren't huge, but lump them all together and it's a huge undertaking. It makes me wonder if down the road my writing will improve enough that revisions don't take so much time!

septembermom said...

I love how you excavate through to find the treasures within your writing and personal perspective. Judy, I learn so much from you! Thanks!

Jenny Schwartz said...

Motivation and conflict (or the lack thereof) are huge issues for me, too. So now I dig my characters a nice big hole and challenge them to climb out--amazing how strong and inventive they can be :)

Helen Ginger said...

A really good thing to keep in mind - no journey, no challenges are ever wasted. I may type that up and pin it on my office bulletin board.

Straight From Hel

Anita said...

Just had to say that I love your new photo! Man, I really need to change mine...look nothing like it anymore.