So, Now I Get to Revise
The phone rings.
“Hello…hello,” a voice dripping with money and excitement says on the end. “Nora?”
“Who’s calling please?”
“Dan Deep Pockets from Wonderful Pictures. Say, I just read your manuscript. What a story! Such talent! We won’t have to change a thing. Stick with me baby, and we’re going to make millions.”
And the screen fades to black.
That was no first draft. Not even if her pen name was J.K Rowling or Stephen King.
When they typed THE END, at best, they had a boringly turgid list of events with all manner of plot holes. At the worst? That smelly brown stuff…yuck.
So…how did it turn into that wonderful story Dan Deep Pockets couldn’t put down?
Did Nora stare at the first draft, open to page one, and start fixing things she found wrong? And, did she go all the way through to the end…and had it nailed?
Instead, if she went on the same writing journey I did, she had no idea where to go next. I mean, she read craft books on story structure, characterization, dialog, and the like. But when she got to THE END, she suspected it wasn’t ready. And, had she gone on a critique site like Scribophile, she would have learned how short of perfection she had fallen.
But, she tried to fix it. With a hope and a prayer she vowed to make that story read on paper like it read in her head. And she began fixing things. But, the further she got in, the greater confusion. In the end she knew her edits changed things but made nothing better, and, if anything, made it worse.
Why did she fail?
Because she had no plan.
In penance, she tinkered with her story for several years until she hit on an approach that works for her.
And I adopted her approach.
The first thing?
I let my story sit, gathering dust for a month.
Because I want the most precious gift any writer ever received — a fresh set of eyes and a second chance. And, by waiting at least a month, I begin to forget. And, soon, I no longer remembered exactly which scenes I had, or the exact order. Wonderful.
And, somewhere in there I went to Wallmart, bought a new ink cartridge and a ream of paper, and printed it out, 10 point Arial, 1.5 line spacing.
Why print it out?
Even with a growing body of evidence suggesting that reading hardcopy vs ecopy uses different parts of the brain, I won’t get into the debate over possible effects of reliance on ecopy and people’s brains. But the writer in me needs different ways to look at my story, to break free of the mold, avoid the trap of having such familiarity with the work I can recall things two revisions ago, and fail to comprehend the page as it is. In another approach, if we read it aloud we use a separate part of the brain, and a text-to-speech app triggers another, though a 40,000 word story would take longer than I’m willing to devote.
Finally, last Friday, I found a quiet corner, took my red pen, and, with help from my friends, went through my story, cover to cover. Along the way I fixed the odd word, corrected spelling, circled things I liked and didn’t, and wrote and wrote and wrote between the lines, in the margins, and on the back of the prior page, trying to capture all those thoughts floating by on story improvements, while avoiding story deprovements.
On Saturday, I used Scrivener’s notes feature and typed up my notes, putting them in the ecopy, save a few. I did cheat, a little, and typed in word choices and scribblings. What point was served by making the note, hoping to puzzle out the meaning later?
Did that mean I had a plan?
On Sunday, I exported the notes to Excel, and sorted them into four piles — story structure problems, plot line issues, scene structure redos, and characterization notes. And, before I left for the evening, I went through each note and assigned them to scenes.