March 23, 2010

Closing In: My thoughts on Revision (Lesson 1)

As you probably know, I'm working through How to Revise Your Novel. I thought it might be nice to provide you with a little feedback on each lesson, so you can make an informed decision about taking the course yourself. I'll also share my own personal insights that I glean as I work. Hopefully there will be some gems you can use.

So I'm still on Lesson 1. It's embarrassing, but to be fair, this lesson is supposed to take a long time. (I'm sure I'll wow you with how quickly I make it through the other lessons.) I should finish lesson 1 in about a week.

I've already told you that I've caught a lot of problems in my manuscript while going through this lesson. Honestly, it's unbelievable. You can read about it here. But today is about specifics.

1) I need to work on pacing and voice. A lot of the inner dialogue coming from my main character is slow. The sentences are long and the structure is old-fashioned. I sometimes sound like I'm writing a term paper. (Thanks a lot, public education.)

2) I need a lot more description. And it needs to be specific. The passages with description are like laundry lists. I need to get into my setting and pick the one or two details that go beyond the basics. I once heard that you should make a list of 10 things your character would notice about a place. Then don't use them. Don't be obvious. Pick something else, something unusual, something that effects your character emotionally.

3) I rush through the good parts. I get so excited about getting to those good scenes. When they finally get here, I rush through them. I'm constantly telling myself to slow down and let everything soak in. One thing I need more of is emotion. These dramatic scenes are pivotal. They affect my character. They matter. So what is she feeling during this big moment of change?

4) My characters don't always progress logically. I mean sure, they act in response to stimuli in a completely "normal" and expected way. But I'm talking long term here.

For example, Rachel and Nathan develop a relationship. Rachel may be head-over-heels for Nathan in chapter 8, but in chapter 9 she's "beginning to trust/like/love him". Really? I thought we were past that point.

I also need help with making sure Rachel has learned everything she needs to know before completing task X. And I need to make sure that the people who help her get that information like her enough to help her. (Did that make sense?) Everything has to line up.

So what I need to do is create arcs for stuff like this. A timeline that shows me (and the reader) exactly where everyone is and how they feel about it. You know, logical progression that continues over the course of the book. Simple stuff, but apparently I missed a few places here and there.

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