Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Revision and Seeing the Big Picture- Part II and a Giveaway!

In last week's blog, Rebecca Petruck shared how she created an overall plan for revising her soon to be released book, Steering Toward Normal. In this second post, she discusses what to do when the thinking is done. Rosi Hollenbeck, one of my newer but very faithful blog followers, won last week's critique from Rebecca. Don't despair--Rebecca is offering it again!


Once I had journaled about my characters’ WHYs and the theme, I drew a map of what needed to be added to or changed in the book. I didn’t map the entire book again, I only charted the new or different things that needed to happen. I also did a plot clock of the entire book, just to have it in my head, but once it was done, I didn’t use it much. The map was my constant reference point—written in pencil and with post-it notes for easy updating, moving around and reminders as I went along. (In the photo: purple notes are info that needed to be added somewhere; orange are new/revised scenes; green are additional notes from critique partners.)



I can’t emphasize enough how important this planning period is and how much time and heartache it can save you. If you have three weeks to revise, it may seem crazy to take an entire week to THINK about the revision, but the writing goes so much faster when you do. Especially if you only have three weeks to revise, know what you’re going to do before you do it.

Then, it’s all about making sure the dominoes line up. I wasn’t a slave to the plan—small things changed, were moved around, one whole scene was cut unexpectedly—but generally, I had the big picture.  

In a way, a novel is a logic problem: If - Then. Every scene, chapter, act and novel must have an If - Then. In WIRED FOR STORY, Cron calls it the action-reaction-decision, which I think is brilliance on a stick. If - Then focuses on plot. Acton-reaction-decision focuses on character. To quote Cron, “Stories are about how we, rather than the world around us, change. They grab us only when they allow us to experience how it would feel to navigate the plot. Thus story is an INTERNAL journey, not an external one.”

Character and plot are Siamese twins. We must have plot to navigate so that we can experience how it would feel, but we only care about plot in how it reveals a character’s experience and feelings (her reactions). When I critique, all I’m really asking of the story over and over is WHY? To quote Cron quoting Julian Barnes (nesting doll!): “Books say: she did this BECAUSE. Life says: she did this. Books are where things are explained to you; life is where things aren’t.”

It’s tempting to think you can use an editor’s letter, notes from a critique partner or marked-up pages as a checklist and just get started, but that’s likely to result in a choppy manuscript and kind of misses the point. For one, your reader may comment that a scene doesn’t work, but it’s not really that scene. It’s that the scene three beats before wasn’t set up properly. You can revise the pointed to scene ten times, and probably none of them will be right because of the wonky early scene. Critique notes, even from an editor, are not a to-do list but a series of arrows saying, “Something’s off here; make it better.”

More importantly, every revision is an opportunity to re-imagine your novel. Use notes from your reader to really think about what you want to say with your book, then take the time to say it even more effectively than you already have.

Which brings me back to my thesis that you need a rest period between drafts. As you write, you have to get so close to the moment to write each scene, it can be difficult to see the big picture. The rest stop lets you shift your focus, like with those magic-eye pictures, so you can pull back and see what you’ve got. I have been surprised as heck by some of the stuff I learned about myself and what I was REALLY writing about—and I think that’s an excellent sign. If you can surprise yourself, it’s likely you’ve hit something deep and true that will resonate with readers long after the last page.

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Thanks, Rebecca! I hope that between my break from my manuscript and your suggestions, I'll come up with a new vision for Half-Truths!

Rebecca is again offering another giveaway. You can win either a 10-page critique from her, or a copy of WIRED FOR STORY

Here are the rules:

  • Post this blog on your social media site of choice OR become a new follower of this blog and I'll enter your name once. 
  • Post this blog on two different social media sites OR become a new follower of this blog AND post it on a social media site and I'll enter your name twice.
  • Either way, leave a comment with your email address (if you are new to my blog) with what you did. 
  • Winner will be drawn on Monday morning, August 12 - so get those entries in!
Rebecca Petruck is a Minnesota girl, though she also has lived in Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, England, Connecticut and, currently, North Carolina. A former member of 4-H, she was also a Girl Scout, a cheerleader, and competed in MathCounts. She reads National Geographic cover to cover. She is represented by Kate Testerman of kt literary, and her first novel, STEERING TOWARD NORMAL, will be released by Abrams/Amulet Spring 2014. Please visit her online

14 comments:

Linda Vigen Phillips said...

Thanks for this post, Carol. Rebecca, I am so impressed and in awe of your organizational skills! Can't wait to read your book!

Rosi said...

Such good advice. I am bookmarking these posts so I can easily refer back. Thanks for posting them and thanks for picking me in the last drawing! Of course, don't enter me this week.

booklady said...

Thanks both Carol and Rebecca for this valuable insight. I hope to someday have a novel so in need of revision I have to take a break. That would mean progress. Sandra McQueen

Linda A. said...

Carol and Rebecca,
This post on revision is a jewel. I look forward to studying this time and time again. Thank you! Wishing you both the best with your writing!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks Sandra, Linda and Rosi. Now you see why I am Rebecca's #1 fan!

Write2ignite said...

Fantastic! I just shared on FB!

Bianca's Books said...

I can't wait to read your new book! I'm super excited! Every time I see you post about your book I get jealous! Congrats!

Carol Baldwin said...

Bianca--YOu will be able to get Rebecca's book way before mine is on the shelves!! I Hope you get it when it comes out next year. I'll be posting another blog when it's closer to publication. Thanks for leaving me a note!

Susa Silvermarie said...

I just posted it to Fb, thanks Carol and Rebecca!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks Susa, I'll add your name to the hat!

Kim Van Sickler said...

Awesomesauce! I just tweeted about the giveaway!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Kim. You're in!

Jocelyn Rish said...

More great advice from Rebecca! I especially liked the part that when critique partners point out that something isn't working, it might actually be the setup that came before that isn't working.

sheri levy said...

Carol, Rebecca's information is fabulous. I have been on vacation and just now reading this post. I have been a way from my finished novel and am getting ready to start new revisions. This was great timing. Thanks for posting this.