Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What's at Stake?

Over the weekend, a good friend from college visited us with his cousin. I haven't seen this friend in a year and a half; he moved to Michigan 2 years ago for grad school and has only made it down to visit twice. We first met in Japanese 1101, where I sat behind him; we then discovered that we lived about a quarter-mile apart on the same road, and we took the same bus to campus every day. He bailed on that professor for the second semester of JPNS, but we met again in the third semester; later that year, I got a job at Borders, where he'd been working for some time, and we worked together there until graduation, marriage, and moving into adulthood.

He's also a writer, and he was the first friend I had with whom I felt comfortable talking about my writing. At the time we met, he'd already finished 2 novels and was slogging through ideas for his third (which is now in re-writes).

This time that we meet, we're on equal footing: two finished novels, slogging through revisions. There's a sense of camaraderie in that, and also a sense of shared desperation.

How is it that writing a novel "isn't that bad," but the prospect of a massive revision--oh God, it's crushing? As Lola calls it, Revision Hell.

I'm planning on diving into Revision Hell today. I'm feeling quite overwhelmed, as there's a lot that I need to do, and I'm not quite sure where to start.

In this month's issue of The Writer magazine, there's a short article called "What's at stake?" in which the author recounts a meeting with an agent who just couldn't understand what was at stake in her novel. He explained patiently--pulling down books he'd agented to prove his point--that on each page and in each paragraph, the reader must be aware of what's at stake for every character.

'Every character?' I repeated. 'Not just the protagonist?' 

'Every character,' he said. 

So she wrote "what's at stake?" on a post-it note and planted it in full view on her computer monitor.

I'm thinking this is good advice, and I have my yellow post-it all ready to go...

Any tips for a revisions n00b? 


Unknown said...

I think that's one awesome post-it. I wouldn't say I'm in Revision Hell, but my overdramatic self would like to think so. I never thought that I'd overthink everything but that's exactly what's been happening, tons of over thinking and not enough just doing. So back to the drawing board. I can do this... I think I can, I think I can!

Good Luck in Hell :)

Aubrie said...

I revise little by little. the prospect of doing the whole novel all at once is scary! I have a list of all the things I want to change, and I conquer one a day.

Good luck!

Crystal Cook said...

You're awesome, you can do this. Just remember how excited you are about this story :) I don't have any advice for you, you got this!

Old Kitty said...

I have everything crossed that you will soon be in completely finished and revised paradise and heaven!!

Good luck and the post it notes with "what's at stake for each character" is a brilliant idea - thank you!

Take care

Crystal Cook said...

Okay I lied, go to Maggie Stiefvater's blog. Google her livejournal one, she has a blogger one too, but it doesn't have topics you can look up, she just did a massive week long series of revision posts that were AWESOME!! You'd have to look it up, I think they're under "How I write".

Good luck!!

Sarah Ahiers said...

here's what keeps me wading through the revisions when it would be much easier to quit.
I just tell myself that even if i just revise one page a day, it'll take me less than a year to revise the whole novel.
That seems to work well for me.

Anne Gallagher said...

It's not as hard as you think it is. You're just looking at it from the larger perspective. Like Sarah says, one page at a time. Two pages a day, 8 pages a week? Time off for good behaviour? Some pages will be easier than others. Some chapters will be easier than others. don't put the cart before the horse. I know you can do this.

Liza said...

Thanks for the good advice, and good luck with the revisions.

j.m. neeb said...

I don't have any particular revision advice -- Sorry about that... I'm still working on first drafts! -- but just wanted to say that the "what's at stake" for every character is quite genius. That's really a good way of looking at a WIP.

I might have to put a little sticky note/reminder up on my computer screen as well! :)

Tiffany Neal said...

Ugh. Revisions.

Tackling the whole novel at once is super overwhelming, but that advice seems like some great stuff.

I was just short of finishing my 2nd ms and decided to stop and go back to the beginning to see where in the world I was going. In the process, I somehow started revising and chopped off 6K.

It seems like doing it in small doses is the best way to go. Or else you might go insane.

DEZMOND said...


Patti said...

I try to take it one chapter at a time. If I look at the whole book I get overwhelmed. Great advice about looking at each character.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

I love that. A sticky note with what's at stake for every page! Here's how I approach revisions-- laundry done, house cleaned, no appointments, don't answer the phone-- because I have no discipline to stick with it! And if that doesn't work, I get up at 2 a.m. when there are no interruptions!

Lola Sharp said...

Welcome to the RH! Get your waders on.

Yeah. So, I use the ol' How do you eat an elephant method. (one bite at a time) I take my bites chapter by chapter, or scene by scene.
My first pass is on the computer, reading through it, making small tweaks, edits, catching little typos and most of all--adding in notes in red. (just like we do our crittering) I also keep a notepad and real pen next to me, and I make big story revision notes (I add the ch. and page to my paper notes) like--"This scene needs...(to die ;).
Then when I am done going through the entire thing, I write in my notepad any further changes, research etc. I want to do.

I do any research, and write (usually in my paper notebook) any scene changes out and play around with the big changes I need to make. (taking notes on where that may alter other chapters!)

Then, I open a new doc. (name it something like 'Saving Me: revision 1'--I do this so that I always have my original first draft, and it's first pass notes.) and I start it from there, copy and pasting what I am keeping from the first chapter (and so forth), and making the changes/rewrites, chapter by chapter into the new doc.

After I get through that, I usually print it out on paper-twice. I give one to husband (with a red pen) and one to myself. And when we are both done catching mistakes and making notes, I compare his to mine...and if the changes are minor edit issues, I just make the changes in that revision doc. (and then it would go out to betas/CP's)

If they are major, I will open a 3rd draft doc. and make the rewrites. Another round of polishing, and then out to betas and CPs.

I hope that helps.

It's a time consuming slog-fest. But it must be done, if you want to query a pristine MS that you feel proud of.

Sell no wine before its time, and all that.


Cruella Collett said...

That sounds like a very good advice - thanks for sharing!

As for revisions - call me crazy, but I kind of like it. It's when I get to tie things back together. It's when I get to make right againt everything that went wrong somewhere between idea stage to written word. Of course my edits have always been of the smaller kinds, since I don't have any novels completed (yet). I might feel entirely different about this once I get there. But for now I actually look forward to Revision Hell.

Good luck :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'll remember that, as it will help with writing the first draft as well.

Summer Ross said...

The "whats at stake" post it is really good advice for revisions. There are always two things I go by when I'm revising a story: Does whats written progress the story or character in any way? If the answer is no- its cut, if the answer is yes, then I keep it. After that I challenge myself to include better descriptions or better dialogue, because with out those the story stays flat. Hope this helps and good luck!


This made brilliant reading. Loved every word from start to finish.


Shelley Sly said...

Wow, that "what's at stake" advice is so wise. I'd heard of the importance of knowing what's at stake for your MC in the main conflict, but not for every character on every page. Sounds hard... but so worth it if we want a well-written novel. Thanks for the advice!

Kimberly Franklin said...

Post it written and posted! :)

Unknown said...

This is one of those little pieces of the puzzle that clicks into place in my head the second I read it. Thanks for sharing this, Summer!

The Words Crafter said...

I have a real bad tendency to want to revise as I write! I'm learning to let go and just get it raw. I don't even want to think about what's ahead, good luck!

Jemi Fraser said...

Revision Hell can be a scary place. I sometimes have to let the ideas filter around in my brain for a while before I start so that it's not so overwhelming. Good luck!

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Missed Periods said...

A member of my writers' group told me the same about my main character thing during our last meeting, but I didn't think about every character. That makes sense, though- damnit!

Anonymous said...

Hey, I'm a revision n00b too. But I've found it helpful to figure out not only what's at stake for a character (which can lead to slightly nebulous statements, at times... ONLY THE FATE OF HUMANKIND IS AT STAKE OBVS!), but what each character wants out of a given scene. They'll always go in wanting something, and either get it, or don't.

The wants can be unconscious, of course. The characters don't need to know what they are. But you do.

Right. I should say something snarky now, yes?

Hm... meh. I'll save it for another time.

Good luck on revisions!