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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Revising, Rewriting, and the Importance of Critique Partners

Most people never get from, "I've always wanted to write a book." to "I've written a book, so now what do I do?" If you've made the leap, congratulations! You've officially taken the one step many aspiring authors never do: You've finished writing an entire novel.

That's a big deal.

Stop for a moment and appreciate the incredible thing you've just done.

Finished appreciating?


Now the real work begins.

Contrary to popular belief, writing involves more than just finishing a manuscript, especially if you plan to do anything with it. If this doesn't apply to you, your job here is done and you may now move on to finishing your next novel.

But if you are one of those aspiring authors... the hard part is just beginning for you. Now that you've finished that manuscript, it's time to tear it apart and put it back together. Revising and rewriting is an exhaustive, multi-faceted process. It's also a necessary one.

I've never met anyone who wrote a perfect novel in one draft. Heck, I don't think I know anyone who has done it in two drafts. Most of us spend weeks and months revising and rewriting our manuscripts, and then we do it again.

During this process, you're looking at everything from voice to characterization to pace to style to information flow to accuracy of facts and everything in between. Does it flow? Does it make sense? Is it engaging? Are the little details correct? Is anything missing? Is there too much superfluous information? Where are the plot holes?

Revising and rewriting isn't an optional process for an aspiring author. It is vital. Let me repeat that: Revising and rewriting is not optional. It is vital.

Why should a publisher invest in your story if you aren't willing to do so? An editor? A reader? They have plenty of other options to choose from. Unless yours stands out, it will get lost in the slush pile, or in the thousands upon thousands of choices currently available to readers.

No one wants that!

You want your story to have the best chance possible, and that requires ungodly amounts of work.

The revision process is your chance to make your novel shine.

Learn the rules and then use them. Learn what's been done to death in your genre, and then delete it in your manuscript. Figure out what readers are looking for, and give it to them. No matter how much you tell yourself these things don't matter, you're wrong. Accept that now and you'll save yourself a ton of frustration later on down the road.

So where do you start?

Hand your manuscript over to people you trust and ask them to give you an honest opinion. What do they love? What do they hate? What stands out to them as needing work? What would they change? Keep? Incinerate with dragon flame?

Do yourself a favor now and refuse to believe anyone who tells you, at this stage, that the novel is the best thing they ever read. They're probably wrong. And don't hand your Spy Thriller over to grandma who has never read a Spy Thriller in her life and expect her to give you the best advice.

Rely on fellow writers, on editors, on English teachers, on readers... you know more of these people than you think you do! And if you don't, now is the time to meet them. These are the people who will tell you what you need to hear, even if it's not what you want to hear. Learn to appreciate these kindred spirits now because you need constructive criticism, not smoke blown up your arse. These people will be far gentler than will many agents, editors, publishers, and readers.

Equally as important: learn when to heed the advice of these people, and when to stick to your guns. You know this story better than anyone, and not everything your critique partners tell you is going to help. Knowing when to revise and when to leave it alone is going to save you a lot of grief later. If you're unsure, ask for another opinion. And then another. (And be prepared to return the favor with their work. Quid pro quo is the key here.)

Once you have this information, go through your manuscript again. Look at the things your partners pointed out. Can you make these elements stronger? Is it in the best interest of the story to change these things? If the answer is yes, do so. If it isn't, move on.

Make sure the details you include are accurate. You have creative license, but that will only take you so far. People who read spy thrillers tend to know a little about the world of espionage, just as people who work in hospitals know a little something about working in a hospital. Don't insult these readers by making everything up as you go along. Make sure the facts fit, or that you have a damn good (and valid!) reason for changing them when they don't.

On a similar note... make sure the writing fits the time period. If your novel is set in Ancient Greece, don't insult readers by including slang or phrases popular today. They will call you out for it.

Focus on characterization. If readers don't connect with your characters, chances are they aren't going to read your work. Make your characters raw. Make them crazy. Make them intense... Whatever floats your boat. Just make them realistic! That doesn't mean your character has to fit into our world, but they do have to fit the world you've created for them. If John has lived in a dungeon his entire life, readers aren't going to believe he knows quantum mechanics (or proper dinner etiquette) unless you give a darn good reason for why he does.

Spend time tweaking the plot. If it's been done a thousand times, create a new angle. Search out and destroy plot holes. Don't leave questions unanswered without good reason. Ensure the plot moves from point A to B to C logically. If you've gone from A to Z, there's probably something important you need to revisit. Do so now, or others will call you out on it. Editors. Agents. Readers. It's a lot easier (and less upsetting) to address these issues now than it will be when you're book is already on shelves!

From there... find someone in your life who has an excellent grasp of the mechanics of writing and hand your manuscript over to them. Ask them to help weed out those grammatical or mechanical mistakes. Don't beat yourself up if there are a lot of them. Learn how to fix them, and then do so.

And remember those rules! You're going to need them as you move forward, so your life will be a lot easier if you learn to identify and understand the rules and where you need work. The last thing you want to do is go through a manuscript making suggested changes you don't understand.

Take notes. Lots of notes! Buy grammar books and read them. Search out grammar tips. Follow people like Grammar Girl on social media. Ask questions. Lots of questions! And if you still don't understand, ask again. Take a writing course. Take an English course.

Strengthening your grasp of grammar isn't a take it or leave it suggestion. This is crucial. Agents and publishers will reject your manuscript in droves if you send them something that appears to have been written by a third grader. Even if you self-publish, readers will pass on your story if it's not up to snuff. You don't want something you've worked this hard on to fail simply because you refused to learn the difference between your/you're or past and present tense.

Search out words and phrases you overuse, and delete them. Invest in a thesaurus for this. It will be an invaluable resource to you.

And then search out and delete passive phrases. This includes phrases like "it was", "she was", "he was", "going to be", "could have", "were", "was".

Do the same with the five thousand times you used italics for emphasis. Less is more!

When you're finished with all of this... read through the manuscript again. Make any additional changes you feel needs to be made. And then send it on to your pre-readers or beta team. Like your critique partners, make sure these people are in the know... They should be folks who read (and/or write) that genre.

Forge relationships with these people just like you do your critique partners because they are going to be some of your greatest allies as you move forward. When an agent requests your manuscript and wants it STAT, these are the people who are going to stay up half the night reading it again just to ease your mind before you send it over. When you find great beta readers... keep them! Make sure they know how important they are to you. Bake them cookies. Buy them wine. Name your firstborn after them. Whatever it takes to keep these brilliant people reading for you. Trust me, they are that invaluable.

When they send the story back to you with their notes, read through your manuscript again, and then make appropriate changes. Get used to making these changes (and taking this criticism) now, because you will be revising and rewriting and editing again when you find an agent (if you opt to seek representation), and again when you find a publisher.

Most importantly: Don't bog yourself down in this process to the point where you're unable to move forward. Do your absolute best, but don't beat yourself up if you accidentally overlook a misplaced comma or two. Agents and editors aren't going to reject you just because you overlooked a single adjective.


FALLThe Ragnarök Prophesies: Book Two is now available at: Amazon Barnes and Noble | KOBO. FADE - The Ragnarök Prophesies: Book Two is available at: Amazon US | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | Barnes and Noble | Kobo | Books-a-Million.

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