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Revising (You Can’t Do It Alone)

School is out for this year’s very short summer–only eight weeks until the first day of school!  The sun is out, though, and the calendar still says June, so no worries.  My goal for this summer is to finish revising my young adult novel, On a Wing and a Dare. As some of you remember, I wrote it last November during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I began revising it in January.

The hardest part of being a good writer is learning to revise well.  You can’t do it alone.  For most students, revision is an easy phase.  They read over their work, pronounce it perfect, and hand it in.  Usually, it’s not perfect.  Usually, it needs another pair of eyes.  Some writers need that extra person to check spelling, or commas, or grammar, or all those things.  Some writers need help with the story line or tying up loose ends.  A good writer takes all that feedback, decides what will enhance the written piece, and adds that to the work.

In On a Wing and a Dare, I recently had a reader complain that people with sick horses wouldn’t wait two weeks to evacuate them.  Instead, they would move immediately.  She proceeded to explain how horses and people could be accomodated in a new town that hadn’t been built yet.  This was valuable information, since my own knowledge fell short in this area.  Now I have to scrunch up the timeline by two weeks.  It will add to the believability of the story and ramp up the tension faster, so it is an important revision.

Sometimes other readers offer too much advice.  I have temporarily abandoned my first novel, Wings, Waves, and Wisteria, because I added so much stuff in response to reader suggestions that the original plot became muddied.  I think I have learned to say, “No, that’s the way I want it.”  That means I can go back and edit out the unnecessary parts.  First, though, I have to finish revising On a Wing and a Dare.

Another reader complained that there are too many unfamiliar names in chapter one of On a Wing and a Dare (there are 7).  I did some research and found that fantasy novels average between 10 and 15 strange character and place names in the first chapter.  Tolkien’s Hobbit has 31!  Fantasy readers know that the important names will crop up again and again until you know them.  I decided to keep the seven intact.

Remember, readers are there to offer advice, not tell you how the work should be.  It is YOUR work, after all.  Take all feedback, consider the ideas with an open mind, and only add in those that will enhance your piece.  Sometimes that means you have to do a lot of rewriting, but if it makes your piece better it’s worth it.  When I finished On a Wing and a Dare, it was 50,000 words and I was quite happy with it.  I am almost done with the first revision and I have added 3,000 words.  It needs another chapter and a half, then I have to fix the timeline issue mentioned above.

The last revising step is to read it critically, looking for the very best words to convey what you want to say.  Don’t say ‘The dog ran’ when you can paint a picture by saying ‘The labrador galloped after the ball.’  In this stage you also look for words you use too often or too close together, tired nonspecific words like cool (It was cool!), and dialogue that is unnecessary or too formal.

So when is it done?  I have an author friend who says it is never done, you just decide to stop revising.  So if I have been revising my novel for six months, I don’t want to hear any complaints when I ask you to revise your essay one more time!

TRY A REVISION:  Here’s the short paragraph that begins On a Wing and a Dare.  In a couple of paragraphs, Daav learns that his mother is running late because she’s injured her back.  How would you change this paragraph?  Don’t worry about making it fit my story, just add details.  Post your efforts in comments.

Daav paced the living room from the window to the hallway and back to the window.  He used his cell phone to check the time.  Had it only been ten minutes since his father and brother had made him promise to wait for his mother then hurried downstairs?

On my Kindle:  the long-awaited third book by Steig Larsson: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

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