Tag Archives: revisions

Don’t Revise – Plot the Next Novel!

In my previous post, Know Your Story – 5 Simple Steps, I talked about creating a scene-by-scene outline from your first draft. The purpose of this exercise was to see the story’s structure. Structure included the shape of the plot itself and whether the scenes were structured in a balanced manner with a focus on exposition, action, dialogue, and reflection. I still recommend doing this to familiarize yourself with what you actually wrote as opposed to what you thought you wrote.

This is especially important if you’re writing a series because every book needs to build on the previous one. So, know what you wrote but don’t revise it just yet. PLOT your next book first before you begin revisions.

There is a theory out there not to write the next book in the series before the first one is accepted by a publisher. That’s silly, for so many reasons. Today, we have the option to self-publish. Even if a publisher accepts Book 1, that is not a guarantee that they’ll want Book 2. That depends on sales. But my main reasons for finishing a series, with or without a publisher are: a) I have momentum, a writing style and my characters and I understand each other well. There is no guarantee that I can pick up that vibe in the future; and b) the story is in my head, as is the character’s voice and a series is but one longer story to me. I have to write it; and c) I have publishing options and if a publisher publishes Book 1, and not the rest, I can build on whatever momentum I have and release the rest of the series.

But why plot the next novel before revising the finished one?

The future devils are in yesterday’s details!

I know an author who wrote the first book which was accepted by a publisher. In the throes of edits and final copy, the author set to work on the next book. Now, this author had ideas for the rest of the five book series and it was on that basis that the publisher bought the series. But, she didn’t have them plotted out. She didn’t need to because the concept and her writing were strong enough. The problems began when she created a more detailed outline for the next book. Details, information, actions, clues – all the things that could have foreshadowed and been used in the second book had not been included in the first book. She had written herself into corners or didn’t have the necessary tools for her characters in the second book. Creativity took on a new meaning and it was a challenge, albeit a doable one.

That is why I recommend outlining the next story before you revise the current story. Know the key plot points such as the beginning, the climax and the end. Jot down some ideas of how the protagonist and antagonist will arrive at the climax. What tools will they need? What characteristics will they require? Does the setting need to be described more richly so there aren’t any convenient contrivances? Are the subplots and relationships strong enough to sustain in the next story? Is this story’s world, and the characters rich enough to continue the melodramas and keep tension in the next novel?

When revising a story set in a series, the questions and story problems aren’t confined to the single novel. They affect the entire series and most importantly, the first book sets the stage, so make certain that the stage is set well, with enough detail, information and tools so that you don’t write yourself into a corner.

Always remember that the future devils are set in yesterday’s details!

Conquering First Draft Fear: How to Proceed with the First Round of Revisions

You’ve done it! You’ve written the first draft of your book! A very merry congratulations to you, and you deserve a beer. Maybe even a vacation. At the very least, a trip to the gas station to buy three packets of candy. If you feel proud of yourself, you absolutely should. If you don’t feel very proud of yourself, then congratulations again, that just means you’re a writer.

Any good writing website or book worth its salt will tell you your next step is to revise the sucker. Yes, you must do this step. Yes, everyone else hates it, too. Some books or fellow writer humans will advise you to put the book down for a set period of time to let it “rest,” like a good yeast bread needs a good rise. Unfortunately for your book, it doesn’t keep getting better in that resting period like bread does. No, no. It’s still the piece of crap you left a few weeks ago. So instead of the story rising like bread, think of it this way: YOU’RE doing the rising. You walked away for a few weeks and grew wise enough to rise above the piece of crap you made in order to come to a place where you can look past your subjective love of the story and objectively say, “Ah yes, indeed, this is a piece of crap.”

That might sound a bit dreary, but I know you. *winks* I know you because you’re a writer like me, and although you see what you’ve written as a piece of crap in front of you, you still love it and will do the work necessary to make sure it’s a remarkably great piece of crap instead of just a regular, old piece of crap.

First, may I just confirm what you’ve already been feeling? Yes, it’s hard. It’s going to be difficult at times. But let me reassure you as well: if you’ve already written the first draft, you can certainly complete these revisions. Not only that, you can do it in less then ten years. Maybe even less than five. If you’re lucky and ignore all of your adult responsibilities, a month.

Let me tell you the secret of doing revisions. You’re going to be surprised, because you’ve already learned this lesson when you were writing the first draft.

Ready?

Here it is.

You make yourself do them.

Just like you made yourself sit down and write when you didn’t feel like it, when you didn’t feel inspired to do so. You get yourself in the zone however you did when you were writing. You sit down with your cup of tea. You put on the music that gets you going, and you do it.

Everything else is just details. Should a comma go there? Is her hair dark brown or more of a medium brown? Do I italicize internal dialogue? Is the book long enough? Will people like it? Will I ever make it through all these stupid edits?

All of those fears and questions? Just the details.

Keep yourself focused on the big task in front of you: Just. Do. The. Revisions.

The Stories that Just Don’t Sell

What do you do with your “dog stories”–the ones that just don’t sell?

I have a few of those. There’s the story that was written the day of the deadline, because I really wanted to submit something but I had too many other deadlines due first. There’s the story that was written for a very specific anthology call that feels as though it will be hard to place. And there’s the story that just wasn’t a good fit anywhere.

These three stories ended up meeting different fates.

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Day-of-Deadline story ended up being okay. That’s it. Just “okay.” It’s a passable action-adventure story, but when I reread it, I don’t see anything special about it. The characters aren’t that unique. Their world feels like a generic steampunk-ish setting. When I finish the story, I don’t feel that I have anything to “take away” from it other than “well, that was 15 minutes of entertainment.”

There are enough good stories out there that editors are unlikely to buy a story that’s merely “okay.”

I have this story on hold until I can give it a more unique identity. Maybe that’ll be by developing the setting, which in turn will give the characters new challenges. Maybe that’ll be by making those characters more complex. I might be able to rework the story I have, or I might have to rewrite it almost entirely.

The moral of this story is that this tale needed more time than the 24 hours before deadline to be refined into something memorable. Without a heavy rewrite, this story isn’t good enough to sell.

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Specific-Anthology-Call is a Weird Western with horror and fantasy elements. I wrote it for a horror-themed anthology, but it quite fit the “feel” that the editors wanted for the book. Now I’m stuck with this bizarre story that’s struggling to find a home. I don’t think it has enough classic horror elements for most horror calls, but it’s too scary and gory for kid lit, and there’s no steampunk elements in it.

This story’s got a unique identity…it’s just that the identity is so quirky. I’ve shopped this one around to one Weird Western call since, and I’m waiting to see another before submitting it again. It’s going to take patience to find it a home.

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Finally, there’s a short story I wrote that I liked very much. I didn’t write it for a call–I wrote it because this was a specific kind of tale I wanted to tell. I gave it to some beta readers, all of whom said they found it confusing. They missed the in-text hints that suggested the true reasons behind the characters’ motivations.

I rewrote it, and received the same feedback. I didn’t want to write down to my audience, or explain the obvious, but with feedback like this it was clear to me that my subtle suggestions were too subtle. My readers were missing them, and therefore didn’t understand what was going on.

I rewrote it again, in a clearer form, and when I thought I’d gotten a good balance between “make sure the reader doesn’t have to guess too much” and “beat the reader over the head with the clue-by-four,” I submitted the story. And submitted it. And submitted it.

Over three years, I received five rejections.

After each rejection I reviewed and revised. I got two “this is a serviceable story, it’s just not our kind of story” replies.

Unlike Day-of-Deadline Story, Specific Anthology Call, and my rejected flash fiction, every time I reviewed this story, I felt more faith in it. I believed that this was a good story, not just an okay one. I believed that it was unique and interesting. I felt that there was something to take away from it. I believed in this story–for logical reasons, not just because of ego-driven reasons. I knew I could, and have, written crap; I just didn’t believe this one was crap. And so I kept cleaning it up and sending it out.

Then.

A call for submissions, to a magazine where I felt the story might be a good fit–but the story had to be 1000K shorter than its current state. I wasn’t sure I could make the story clear enough to follow, without cutting out any critical plot points, and also pare 1000 words. I decided to try. I focused on wordy sentences, repetitive descriptions, non-crucial detail. Any word that wasn’t essential had to go.

I got the story under maximum length…barely. I submitted it.

It sold.

There’s an art in knowing which of your stories are fundamentally flawed–the ones where you’re better off chalking them up as learning experiences and starting fresh–and which of your stories are good stories that just need to find a place to fit.