Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Revision Series - Part 1: First Draft Review, or The Grid

Today is our first stop on the Revision Tour.

When I finished my first draft, it was 63,000 words (not quite long enough for the adult market) and involved a present time-flashback-present time-flashback-etc. format. Some of the feedback I got indicated that flashbacks were weak writing so I decided to go with a chronological timeline.

The concept was overwhelming.

Being a very visual person, I needed to see it laid out. So, I wrote each finite scene on a small piece of paper (I would have used Post-Its if I'd had any) and spread it all out on my coffee table. Each slip of paper only said a few key words, but it was enough to trigger my memory. I wish I'd thought to take pictures at this stage, but I figured it wouldn't be very interesting to anyone else. (It probably isn't - HA!)

Then I started shuffling scenes around. All the present time scenes went to the end, and a few of the flashbacks got rearranged into a more workable order. Some of the considerations that went into the placement of scenes:

1. Does this scene push my Main Character (MC) and the Love Interest (LI) together or drive them apart?

2. What changes or growth does my MC undergo in the course of this scene?

3. Is this scene strictly necessary? Does it move the plot along or stall the action? Am I keeping it just because I find it funny/entertaining?

Once I had everything in the order I wanted, I created a table. I used Word, just because I'm comfortable with it. I made it four columns wide with twice as many rows as I had slips of paper.

The columns were labeled from left to right:
The Story
Suggested Changes/Additions
What We're Achieving
What We Need to Achieve

They should be self-explanatory, but basically I used the squares to suggest changes that I should make in the existing chapters as well as any new scenes/chapters/ideas that I should add. The last two columns kept me focused on the overall character arcs and helped me keep the big picture in mind as I revised.

I sent this grid to one of my betas (we'll call her Big Picture Beta, or BPB) with some questions listed at the bottom. She made notes on the whole chart in red so I could see her thoughts.

By the way, she'd read the whole original draft, so she knew the story inside and out. She'd also read the rather extensive editorial letter I got from one agent and had given me her sixty-seven cents (because she's worth way more than two cents).

It should also be noted that I'd already discussed the upcoming revisions with a few people and hammered out some initial ideas in my mind. This was just the first time I wrote them down.

So there you have it. That was the first step for me. It was scary, because I'm not someone who writes from an outline. I have a basic plot in mind, with a few pit stops along the way, but that's all I know when I start a first draft. It was also scary because I knew I had a ton of work ahead of me, but as they say "Writing is rewriting."

Tomorrow, I'll tell you about doing the actual rewrites and working with two betas along the way.

Everybody clear on how this went down? Anyone else have an easier method?

- Liz


Jamesmcshane said...

An easier method? I'd sell my soul for an easier method. My first draft of Robinson Stone came in at around 75,000 words. Like your draft, not really long enough. I'm working on making it longer, but trying not to drag it out either.

Kristan said...

LOL to what Jamesmcshane said. So no, I don't have an easier method either. I think none of us will until we do this for several more years (i.e., get more practice). And maybe even then we won't find an easier way, we'll just get used to the hard one. :P

MJ Heiser said...

OMG, I can literally HEAR you growing as an author.

Liz Czukas said...

James - if you find one, let me know. And I have complete faith you'll find more to say about RS.

Kristan - I'm afraid you might be right on the hard way.

MJ - what does it sound like?

Andy Brokaw said...

That is a super-cool grid. I'd gotten as far as the note cards but never made a chart. Bet a chart's a lot easier to share with betas!

Side note: I prefer note cards to post-its because I can either lay them out or stack them so that I only see the one I'm dealing with right that second, which helps me not feel overwhelmed.

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