|Hemingway at his typewriter writing/revising.|
You’re probably wondering -- twelve step program to what? Getting sober? Losing weight? Finding the love of your life? Winning the lottery? Writing a best seller?
You’re getting closer. I’m a writer, a publisher author and attracted to all things literary. Recently, I had the yen to teach again so I signed up at the local library and attracted a healthy group of writers who typically wanted to hear all I knew about the topic of revision.
This down and dirty dozen refers to the twelve steps I’ve found useful over the years when faced with a manusript that needs revision and editing.
Not very exciting, you’re thinking. Well, let me begin with a story. When the Paris Review asked Ernest Hemingway what compelled him to rewrite the ending of A Farewell to Arms thirty nine times, he said, “Getting the words right.”
|Hemingway's first novel|
Here’s the interview in part between George Plimpton and Hemingway:
Plimpton: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times.
Plimpton: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.
I am in awe of that compulsion to get the words right. Revision and editing. The two go together but are different in my mind.
Revision implies making big changes in writing, focusing on the elements of your story, and the technique I most like to use is the “thread technique,” which an historical romance writer taught me years ago. She said that revision isn’t just rereading and tinkering with the words on the page because when you do that, you tend to get lost in your own story. Instead if you trace only one element through your story, your focus will be cleaner.
For example, when I was trying to sell Wild Point Island, my editor Donna asked me to make revisions in the relationship between the two sisters in the novel. She said that Ella always forgave Lily, and I was destroying a good source of conflict. She wanted me to ramp up the conflict and the tension and suggested that Ella not forgive Lily.
Using the “thread technique,” I isolated every scene between Ella and Lily, examined it, and made the revisions. Where Ella would have found some reason to make excuses for Lily, this time she didn’t. Instead she struggled to understand why her sister was sabotaging her efforts to save their father. But each time her sister acted against her, she found it more difficult to understand. Finally, she agreed to have her sister “sequestered” so she couldn’t do any more harm. Her decision to take action is a result of a slow build up of frustration.
This “thread technique” would have been equally useful if I had wanted to isolate the point of view in each scene or the setting or the conflict between the hero and heroine or the development of the love relationship.
Editing, to me, is what you do after the revision process is completed. Theoretically. When you edit, you focus on the language, the grammar, the spelling, the word choice, the sentence structure, the overuse of certain words, the passive voice, pronoun ambiguity -- anything in your writing which makes your meaning obtuse or confusing to your reader.
My rule of thumb to writers is that if you’re working in a critique group or if you have beta readers who give you feedback on your work and they share that something you’ve written has caused confusion, REWRITE IT.
If a reader has to stop and reread a passage, he will be taken out of your story and that is not a good thing!
Stay tuned next month when I will actually begin with Step #1 of Down and Dirty Dozen . . . BEGIN YOUR STORY IN THE RIGHT PLACE: THE “INCITING INCIDENT”
My paranormal romance, Wild Point Island, is now available in mass market paperbook and e book at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com. 4.8 stars
“This was a very compelling and suspenseful story with a hot forbidden romance mixed in. It was such a creative story - definitely not your everyday boring and predictable romance novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end. Can't wait for the movie to be made! “
“The concept of the lost colony of Roanoke is interestingly transported into an alternate reality making Wild Point Island an intriguing read. Mystery, magic and secrets are layered into every scene as family betrayals weave through every chapter.”