Friday, July 19, 2019

REVISIONS—A TIERED APPROACH

-by guest, Jane Choate



As some of you may know, I write for Love Inspired Suspense.  I have just sold my sixth book to them and am rejoicing in the sale, along with despairing if I can pull off another book.  Sometimes I feel like a fraud, a little girl playing at being a writer.

Writing for LIS is not for the faint of heart.  The guidelines constantly keep me on my toes, including having the hero and heroine meet immediately, ending every scene and chapter with something that, as my editor says, “doesn’t fall flat,” and weaving the suspense with the faith element and the romance.  It’s a constant balancing act.

I’ve had my proposals rejected and wonder if I’ll ever get it right.  Fortunately, I have a patient and skilled editor, Dina Davis, who doesn’t give up on me even when I make the same mistakes over and over.  (Putting in too much backstory is one of my “frequent-flyer mistakes.)

Rejections mean revisions, and that’s what I’d like to address today.

Revisions.  We love them.  We hate them.  Sometimes we both love and hate them at the same time.  After writing thirty-seven books and hundreds of short stories and articles, I’ve had some experience with revisions.  You’d think I’d get better doing them over the years, but I still struggle--mightily.

So let me share some things I’ve learned along the way.  We’re going to do this in a step/action way.


STEP 1:  Start big.  That’s right.  Don’t start with words and sentences.  Start with the book itself.  We call this story level edits.   (NOTE:  We’re starting big and working our way down because doing the big-picture edits, which may involve deleting scenes or even whole chapters, before moving on to the micro edits, prevents you from having to re-edit something you’ve already revised.)

ACTION:  Ask yourself the hard questions.  Questions like does my premise work?  Does the book make sense?  Will readers relate to the characters?  Does it have a hook?  Is there continuity to the book or is it just a string of isolated incidents stuck together in some kind of random order?   What do you do if you can’t answer “yes” to these questions?  You get to work and keep working until you can answer “yes.”  if after reading through your manuscript, you decide that the main character or characters (MC) aren’t very likeable.  An unlikeable MC is a sure-fire way to keep your manuscript sitting on the shelf or in the computer.  What can you do to make him more relatable?  Give him strengths; give him flaws.  Make him honest and genuine.  By now, you’re probably getting the idea that if your story doesn’t work on these levels, it’s going to need major revisions.



STEP 2:  Downsize.  Nope.  You’re not downsizing your house, but you are downsizing in your revision structure.  Move on to your scenes.  Scenes are the building blocks of chapters.

ACTION:  Once again, start with questions.  Does each scene have a purpose?  If the sole purpose of a scene is to simply showcase your writing talents, delete it, no matter how much you love the scene, how flawlessly it is written, how you have captured the beauty of a setting.   Every scene should accomplish something—either develop character, move the action forward, illuminate relationships between the characters.  Ideally, a scene will accomplish a couple of purposes.




STEP 3: Does the scene have a cliff-hanger ending?  It should.  It need not be a major cliff-hanger fraught with danger and live or die suspense.  It can end with the MC asking herself a question, the answer of which will impact the story journey.  Or it can end with the MC in mortal danger, her very life in question.  Vary the kind of scene endings.  Don’t always have the character in peril … unless you are writing a PERILS OF PAULINE type novel.

ACTION:  At the risk of being repetitious, start with questions.  Are your paragraphs related?    Are they coherent?  Or do you jump from one subject to another without thought to continuity?  Do the paragraphs in a scene build to a climax?  Then look at the sentences that compose the paragraphs.  Do you vary the sentence length in your paragraphs?  Or are all the sentences appoximately the same length?  Do you vary the kinds of sentences?  Do you vary the tone of the sentences?  Like every scene, every paragraph should serve a purpose.  If, in your revisions, you come across a paragraph whose sole purpose it to wax poetic about a sunset without that sunset in some way giving insights into the character or affecting the plot, get rid of it.  We have all seen beautiful sunsets.  We don’t need to be treated to a lyrical description of it, however artfully you describe it.




STEP 4:   Move on to paragraphs.  Just as scenes are the building blocks of chapters, paragraphs are the building blocks of scenes.  Paragraphs should flow from one to the other in a natural sequence.










STEP 5:  Look at your word choice.

ACTION:  Word choice is a subjective thing.  The words you choose are a product of your education, experiences, personal taste, and a myriad of other things.  First, check your word darlings at the door.  Consider doing a search of your manuscript to determine if you have some of these darlings which you use over and over (and over).  When I did that with a recent manuscript, I discovered that I was in love with the word focus.  Every character was focusing on something.  Every plot point used focus to … well … focus in it.  My use of the word was more than redundant; it was downright embarrassing.  Painstakingly, I went through the whole book and rewrote dozens of sentences, limiting my use of the word to only a few times.  What are your pet words?  One author I know (a very successful author) uses "mutter" repeatedly.  Her characters are always muttering their remarks.  In this case, a simple said would work far better. 

Another consideration in word choice:  are the words your character uses right for her?  If you are writing a coming-of-age novel set in a small town in Tennessee during the Great Depression, your character might not use sophisticated words.  If she does, give her a reason for her choices and the appropriate background to make her using those words make sense.  A cowboy might not use the word ”salacious,” and a city girl might not use the word “over yonder.”  These are, of course, exaggerated examples, but you get the drift.  

What about your word choices in descriptions?  Have you relied on tried-and-true (and boring) cliches?  Or have you found new and fresh ways to describe a graffiti-marred warehouse where drug deals are made?  Have you dug deep for a new way to describe a bucolic setting with fields and cows?  Have you done the hard work necessary to search for not just an okay word, but the absolute best word?  Have you used a precise noun rather than a generic one?  Can you say that “Azelas lined the sidewalk” rather than “Flowers lined the sidewalk?”   Have you employed active, vivid verbs rather than prosaic ones?  Is your six-year-old MC skipping along beside her mother or is she just walking?  Maybe she is hopping over the lines in the sidewalk or jumping from one square to the other.  

These are small but telling changes that will strengthen your writing.

Revisions can turn a ho-hum manuscript into one that shines and sparkles.  They can elevate a second-rate story into a first-rate one?  They can take your story from an almost-sale to a “Yes, I sold my book” one.  And isn’t that what you want?


Bio:

Jane M. Choate dreamed of writing from the time she was a small child, entertaining her friends with outlandish stories, always complete with a happy ending.  Writing for Love Inspired Suspense is a dream come true.  Jane and her own real life hero have been married for 46 years, have 5 children, numerous grandchildren, and a cat who believes she is of royal descent.




INHERITED THREAT - AMAZON


After her estranged mother is killed by a crime syndicate, army ranger Laurel Landry knows she's next … and she needs help from ex-ranger turned bodyguard Mace Ransom.  While Mace is used to doing things his way, their best chance of staying alive is relying on each other.  There enemies aren't backing down … but together Laurel and Mace might be able to stop them for good.  (This is the 5th book in Jane's S&J Security/Protection series.)  INHERITED THREAT is Jane's 37th book.  

41 comments:

  1. You are a new author to me. We need revisions in life whether we are an author or not. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Lucy, what a great response: "We need revisions in life." Yes, we need to constantly reevaluate our attitudes, prejudices, hang-ups and even if something is working or not. And have the courage to let it go. Because the Holy Spirit is like a refiner's fire.
      I've been "letting go" of a number of things this spring and summer, one of them the Family Homestead. Realizing that if we kept the house it wouldn't bring any of them back, and I'm fine with that. I had Them.
      Sometimes those "revisions in life" are a full course change, sometimes just a tweak of attitude. But we all have them.
      Kathy Bailey
      Constantly tweaking in New Hampshire

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  2. Lucy, you are so right in saying that we need revisions in life whether or not we are an author. Sometimes I feel like my whole life is a series of revisions and repentance. (I am answering questions as "Anonymous" as that is the only way I can publish them.)

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  3. Jane, this is helpful, and so systematic.
    I know what you mean about LIS, or LI in general. I haven't sold to them yet because of the subtleties of the format, I always have something a little off, but that's okay. They're not going anywhere and neither am I. Some day I'll get it right.
    I'm "getting it right" for my current publisher and can also relate to "I feel like a fraud, a little girl playing at being a writer." Finished the first edits for my second book yesterday, shipped them off to my editor and cried. My whole life is about to change. But it's good change. The conventional wisdom is that older people stay sharp by learning and trying new things. Well, there's nothing like starting over at the bottom of a whole new profession!
    I like the idea of a tiered approach. I've been kind of freeform all along and could use some structure.
    Otherwise, so glad to get the edits out of the way. The editor didn't ask for any revisions, just pointed out some grammar stuff, until the ending. She asked me to change the ending so that a quartet of secondary characters DIDN'T move away, pointing out that the core of the story was about forming community, and I was fine with that. For the first book, she asked me not to kill off two supporting characters because she's "fallen in love with them." Kind of hard NOT to kill people off on the Oregon Trail, but I managed.
    Working on first-round edits to my Christmas novella, which will take far less time than yesterday's edits did; working on proposal for nonfiction book with one of my daughters; researching my next project; working on PR/guest blogs; and trying to resurrect my day job, which has taken a mild hit this summer.
    It has rained a lot here and my tomatoes are doing well, my cucumbers look like they'll do well, and I have a nice crop of herbs. On the "pretty" side, the hydrangeas are a deep, perfect blue. I am not a brilliant gardener, so can only point to the Lord Of the Harvest.
    It's going to be 101 degrees here tomorrow, I'm marinating some pulled pork for the crockpot and laying in a supply of ice cream.
    Kathy Bailey
    Making it work in New Hampshire

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    1. Dear Kaybee,

      Thank you for the encouraging words about the post and about life in general. I think one of our main purposes in this life is to lift others. Too many people are ready to tear others down rather than lift them up. I'm fortunate to be interacting with members of Seekerville who do their best to uplift.

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    2. My husband, an engineer, finally got me logged on as Jane. I hope I don't mess it up. Being married to an engineer is wonderful. It is also trying as he describes our viscously hot weather as "radiant heat transfer." Engineers cannot just say "It's hot."

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  4. I'm really verbal today, which means I'm putting something else off. Sigh.

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    1. Kaybee, I know all about putting things off. One day I found myself actually sewing rather than writing. (Understand that I am NOT a good seamstress.) It occurred to me that I really didn't want to write if I resorted to sewing instead!

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  5. Hi folks. This is Jane, aka "Anonymous." I'm posting under this name because I can't figure out how to post under my own name. That's okay. In my earlier books, I had to publish under a different name because of publishers' requirements.

    A little bit about me: I'm older than dirt. I've been writing for almost 40 years, and still no one knows my name. That's okay, too. That's not why I write. I write because I HAVE to. I'm also not technologically-savvy. If I were in any doubt of this, my teenage grandson pointed it out when he was helping me with a new phone. "Grandma," he said, "you're not very smart, are you?" Sadly, I agreed.

    Well, now you know the important stuff. I'm older than dirt and not very smart. Thanks for putting up with me.

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    1. Too funny, Jane! I call myself a Lo-Tech Mama in a High Tech World. Woe is me! :)

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    2. Debby, I'm definitely a Lo-Tech Mama or Lo-Tech Grandmama. If I ever feel a bit smart, my children and grandchildren put me in my place!--Jane

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  6. Jane, I am not super tech savvy, but if you want to email me, I will try to help you. Don't let your grandson discourage you. My daughters have said that once or twice, and I have said, "I am going to give you a few extra hours of housework to do so that I can sit around and play on my phone like you do." After that, they were more than willing to help me with my phone issues--LOL! The email I use for this kind of correspondence is authorcatherine@gmail.com .

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    1. Catherine, thank you for your very kind offer, but I think I'm all right now. Thank you for sharing your experience with your daughters.

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    2. Catherine, I love that idea! LOL

      Jane, you're not alone. My kids roll their eyes at my questions. And of course, I have the honor of at least being better than my poor husband. He takes most of the brunt of the teasing. :)

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    3. Catherine, As you can see I'm definitely not better than my husband. It's tough for a creative type (me) to be married to a logical type (him). But we make do.--Jane

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  7. Jane, I recently wrote a memoir with a man named Hieu. After the eighth draft, he hired a professional editor to do a line-by-line and developmental draft. Since Hieu is a motivational speaker, I arranged the memoir by topic with food for thought and questions at the end of each chapter. The editor said that I needed to arrange the memoir chronologically with the food for thought woven organically into the story. After eight drafts, I had to rewrite the entire manuscript--UGH!!! The changes did make the story the kind of story I feel people would want to read. Thank you for this post. It is encouraging to know that all of the work is worth it!

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    1. Catherine, thank you for this. As I said, revisions in writing continue to stump me. As do revisions in life.

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    2. Catherine, it certainly is hard to do those edits but can be very worth it in the end when you have a good editor who knows what they're doing.

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  8. One of the biggest revisions I need is to let go of physical things--decluttering. I also need to learn to let go of hard feelings. I think the Lord wants both for me and for all of us.

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    1. Actually, the Lord wants so much of me and for me and, though I try, I have yet to get it right.

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  9. Good morning, Jane! Welcome back to Seekerville. It's always a pleasure to have you here. You had me at Step 1, LOL. The big picture is always the most difficult for me. I can handle the bite sized chunks - massage them, rearrange them, cut them - but thinking through the overall picture in a logical sense? Kill me now!! Hmmm, what does that say for my creative genius?

    Enjoy your day, Jane!

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    1. Audra, you are so right. The big picture has to work first before anything else can work. And thank you for the kind words. It's fun being in Seekerville for the day.

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  10. I've been giving a lot of thought to the power of words. Words have such power that diplomats and politicians have speech writers; actors and actresses have publicists who try to keep their clients appearing well-read and intelligent (we don't need to go in to the effectiveness of their efforts right now); even a pastor or minister may need to have someone tweak their words upon occasion.

    As writers, especially as Christian writers, we have the responsibility of not just telling a good story but of using our words to bring others to the Lord and to lift His children up in whatever way we can.

    Do you remember the childhood chant of "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me?" Even as a small child, I knew that wasn't true. Words can build up; they can also tear down. Too frequently in our world, individuals use words to tear others down, to humiliate them, to wound them. I am ashamed to say that I have indulged in this practice.

    I am trying to do better, but, in this, as in all things, I remain a work in progress.

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    1. Jane, that's so true. I used to think the same thing about words being more powerful than that old saying.

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    2. I believe it is Ben Franklin who said "The pen is mightier than the sword." When we use words, we are using a sword, either for good or for bad. It's our choice which that will be.--Jane

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  11. So much great information, Jane. I've not written anything I loved well enough to revise it yet--not a manuscript anyway. But I'm hoping I'll be able to use this post when I get past the first draft of my current WIP. Thanks so much for sharing this!

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    1. Dear Glynis,

      Thank you for the kind words. Keep writing. Someday you will write something that you think, "This needs some tweaks."

      Good luck with your writing.

      Jane

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    2. Glynis, good for you for plowing through the first draft!

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  12. Jane, welcome! These are great suggestions! I really appreciate how you broke it down and gave examples. Thanks so much for being with us today!

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    1. Dear Missy,

      Thank you and everyone else for having me. I hope the suggestions will help with your writing.

      Best,

      Jane

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  13. Helpful checklist. Will definitely revisit this post when I slog through my current WIP's first draft. Thank you so much!

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    1. Samantha, thank you for dropping in. I'm glad you found this helpful. I know what you mean when you say "slog." That's how I feel, too, in doing the first draft.

      Best,

      Jane

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    1. Amanda, thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you liked this. Now, if only I could follow my own advice …

      Jane

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  15. Congrats on the new book deal, Jane. I hear you on the wondering if I can do this again. Sometimes it seems so easy, and other times, well those times are when I'm glad I'm a teacher. :)

    I made a huge mistake writing the current book - I started with no clear direction in mind except a premise I loved. As a result I have about 125,000 words in a zillion different files - all for a 55,000 LIS. It's taking major work to find the story (both in my assorted files and in my head). I think I'm finally there, but I will never write a book this way again. I mention this because your 5 points are all really useful in drafting the story too. Thanks for joining us today.

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    1. Dear Cate, Wow! 125,000 words--that's amazing. Maybe you can get two books out of them. Seriously, I save my words that don't get used in a WIP. You never know if they'll prove useful somewhere else. Sometimes a story does get "lost." In that case, I go back to my original premise and my core story. Hope this helps.--Jane

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  16. Wonderful post, Jane! So glad you could be with us on Seekerville today. Great editing advice. I like starting big and working down to the small issues. When I'm pushed for time, I'll do broad edits, catching the big mistakes first, working on 50 to 100 pages a day depending on my time frame. Then I home in on problem spots to clean up smaller areas. Seems to be somewhat like your technique...or maybe not, but it works for me.

    Will you be at RWA? If so, I'll look forward to seeing you there!

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  17. Hi Jane:

    For years I've taken a teared approach to revisions only to discover now that they were the wrong tiers! That correction should have been the first and biggest revision of all. ;0

    I have a question about chapter length and whether LIS would allow this:

    James Patterson teaches that each scene should be its own chapter and that each chapter should alter the trajectory of the plotline or else it was not needed. He also says not to worry about 'cliff-hangers', conflict, etc. per se but rather make the reader 'anxious' to learn what happens next by the end of each chapter. David Baldacci also seems to be doing this.

    I am going to revise some of my WIPs with this shorter chapter technique. I don't see any LIS writers doing this. Do you think the Love Inspired line would allow such short chapters?

    Vince

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    1. Vince, I replied to this but it doesn't seem to have been published, so I'll try again. I know that chapters are shortening, and I approve of the trend. The chapters I write today are much shorter than those I wrote at the beginning of my writing career, or even ten years ago. I don't know, though, about LIS going the one scene/one chapter route. LIS is still pretty traditional.--Jane

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  18. Thank you, everyone, for hosting me. I learn so much from your comments. You are wise and gracious and lovely.--Jane

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  19. I appreciate the run down. it's so easy to focus on grammar rather than the big picture first. I'll be sharing these tips with the newbies in my critique group. Thanks so much.

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