Uncle Iroh on Revision

— April 23, 2012 (11 comments)
When I talked about why I don't hate synopses, some of you were disappointed. I talked about how I got myself to actually write one, but you wanted to know how to write one well, to which my completely useless solution was "Make it sound good."

It's good advice, but not very practical. Drafting is (for me) the hardest part of writing, but revision is where real novels are made. It's something you have to be good at to make it in this business. Unfortunately, it's not something I can give an algorithm for (not yet). But I do have some tips to share with the help of my favorite uncle.

Remember Your Basics
You know all those rules you learned? About commas and semicolons and spelling and grammar? About description and metaphor and not starting a story with the MC waking up? Revision is where you apply them.

Feel the Flow
When you read your story, you see everything you've ever dreamed or imagined. When someone else reads it, they only see what you tell them. As you're revising, you have to empty your mind and think, "Does this actually flow? Or do I just think it does because of all the extra stuff in my head?"

Kill It With Fire
You might not be able to predict when your reader will be bored, but you can tell when you are. If some part of the story (query, synopsis, etc.) is boring to you, it will bore someone else. Insert some voice, connect us with the character through emotions or goals, or just kill the whole thing. You'd be surprised what doesn't have to be there.

Credit: Dark Kenjie
Work Your Belly Off
Revision is hard, and like all hard things, it takes practice. You have to develop a feel for how a new reader will interpret things, an eye for where things slow down, an ear for voice. You can practice by getting critiques and fixing your own stuff, but you can only do that for so long before you run out of material.

If you really want to practice hard, the trick is to critique other people's stuff. You don't even have to network to do it. Just hit up Miss Snark's First Victim or Evil Editor or Critters.org. Work those critting muscles like a fat fire-bender stuck in prison!

Yeah, I know I just said to work your belly off, but you need to relax too. Partly because you need a break from the story to even hope to read it like a new reader, but also because writing is hard, and you need to take care of yourself. A man (or woman) needs his rest.

What are your tips for revision?

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  1. The hard part (one of many) is knowing the difference between being bored by your own writing because it's actually boring, and being bored by your own writing because you've read the same scene 300 times, and you've been staring at a back-lit LCD monitor for 9 hours straight.

    Or is that just me?

  2. Thanks for the shout out. *modest blink*

  3. Adventures in YA/Children's Publishing is another blog where critique opportunities are available. They do 1st Five Pages at least once a month.

    As for revisions, the main thing I can say is be open to feedback. And when you do get feedback, don't turn right around and attack it. Bear in mind the reader is seeing things through fresh eyes unclouded by designs of the story since they haven't taken the story into themselves before. Then give the feedback time to breathe. Maybe a day...maybe three days. Then do a side by side of what the notes reference and you miight find the feedback is more helpful than you know.

    Also, even though I mention the feedback can be pretty helpful, remember that you are the author. In the end, you have to stand next to your work. Ensure you can stand beside it proudly, knowing you stuck to your guns on things that mattered. Being flexible doesn't mean turning YOUR story into someone elses.

  4. Great tips.

    the trick is to critique other people's stuff.

    I didn't find that out till recently. But I remember a musician saying that you can learn the most from going to open mike nights and seeing what not to do.

    And Matt, it's not you at all.

    Now to go find out who this Uncle Iroh is...

  5. Hahaha! LOVE this! And I totally agree-- Drafting is the hardest; revision is where real novels are made.

  6. Founds my way here from Nancy Thompson. And I write Asian Steampunk! In fact, my A-Z has been nothing but steampunk.

    So glad I found your blog. I feel like I'm home!

  7. You could've titled this post "Uncle Iroh On (insert anything, anything at all!)" and I would've read it. I laughed at "work your belly off" (also, slightly OT, but the episode where I sat up, wide-eyed, and realized that there is sexy at any age).

    My best tip is to step back for a considerable amount of time. A month or more. The material seems fresher, and a lot of errors jump out at me.

  8. Love this!!!
    I love the way you put my two favorite shows together. Avatar and Pokemon!! The tips are great so I'm going to use them for my English exam which is in a few weeks!!

    Thank you!! :D

  9. Shouted out to this at YAC today: http://yaconfidential.blogspot.com/2012/12/best-posts-of-2013-tell-us-your-faves.html