Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Revisions, Revisions, Revisions: How Much is Too Much?

Yesterday, Alliteratus Bane talked about how revisions don't necessarily make the story better; they merely make it different. He also said that in order for revisions to do any sort of good in terms of improving the story, then they have to be done right.

I agree completely, as I tend to do with my fellow Alliterati (and no, we don't discuss these posts with each other beforehand -- I'm saying this after having read the post yesterday), and would add that I feel the best way to do revisions is systematically. Write the first draft with the first thing that comes into your mind: go ahead it's fun, all you need to do is get words on the page after all (full disclosure: I attempt to do this myself -- it's kind of hard being the research-oriented type I am).

During revisions, I attempt to approach things at different levels. The first is to examine the text for plot holes and inconsistencies. Did I say the character had green eyes on page 25 and blue eyes on page 300? Did I give the character 2 different names? Is a character introduced twice? (Actually happened during a previous read. I'd rewritten the opening chapters of Callarion at Night and Nicolai ended up accidentally getting introduced twice). Can xxx event really happen this way?

Second step is to make sure all my research is reasonably accurate. I say reasonably because you don't have to necessarily have everything be spot on; you need only be consistent. Consistency is key, even when you're wrong about the way something could happen. So long as you're consistent, your readers will forgive pretty much anything.

Third step is to repeat steps one and two a few more times. (I'm convinced you need a few passes minimum for the first two steps.

The fourth and final step is to read for sentence structure, grammar mistakes, and spelling errors. Once you've done that, and repeated these steps as often as needed, then you should theoretically be good to send it to beta readers.

Then you get to do it all over again. Great, right?

So how much revision is too much revision?

Simple answer: When you find yourself changing something just to change it. i.e. rewriting a sentence just because you feel you need to find something to change. Once you find yourself doing that, then it's probably time to send your work out.

These are just my thoughts of course; what do you think?


Joshua McCune said...

Systematic approach -- I definitely need one. In my younger days, I'd write first draft then revise once or twice, but not enough. Now, I revise as I go, but in an obsessive, Lady Macbeth sort of way that I don't think is altogether healthy.

The one benefit is it does allow me to develop the story/world/characters more in my head so that I don't get into some Mobius strip of inconsistencies.... of course, regardless, my story's tend to go their own direction anyway despite my best intentions :)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I tend to do systematic revisions like you've pointed out. I would add that I usually do a Voice revision - a quick once over, after the other revisions are complete - to make sure there is still consistency in Voice throughout (my apologies to Bane for bringing up the dreaded V-word).

Great post! :)

Eric W. Trant said...

Spot on. Over-revision can kill you.

It's addictive, though. When I get stuck, I do two things:

1) I describe something. That's easy. Sit your character in one place, no action, and write out some "they wondered" and "they saw" and "they felt" statements. Huge waste of time, that stuff, but it beats trying to advance the action.

2) Revise. Revise again. You're stuck, so revise some more. Rewrite. Revise that rewrite, delete it, and rewrite and revise again.

What a waste, all that. Onward ho.

We never would have made it to the west coast if the wagon trains had kept stopping, backing up, changing wheels and canvas tarps and oxen and starting over again and again.

Now would we.

- Eric

Susan R. Mills said...

I agree with your systematic approach, only I would add a read through for tension. Is there tension on every page? If not, I put it in or delete the scene. Funny, though, every read through makes me think of another thing to change. I agree; when we start changing things just to change them, it's time to stop.