After I’ve gotten through my drafting stage I get to my first revision (which most likely is the third or fourth time I’ve worked through the manuscript). It’s still messy but the main elements of the story are there: the characters are fleshed out, and the structure seems pretty sound. I may still move chapters or sections around a little, but I have a sense at this point that I might actually finish this novel. I have a pretty good idea of what the larger concern or concerns is or are in the story.
So at this point I get to think about other things. One of the things I think about is language. I tighten language every time I work on the manuscript, but once I get to the revision stages I can focus more on that since the larger structural issues aren’t so pressing. I turn to Mr. Mark Twain for inspiration here: “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between the lightening bug and the lightening.” It’s true. One wrong word can take all the raw force out of a sentence. I never want to take language for granted. I always want to struggle to write better sentences. And it is a struggle.
How many times do I revise? Sometimes three or four and sometimes more. A lot. There are always parts, sections, that I have to rewrite many, many times. The beginning chapter or chapters I might go over fifteen or twenty times. It’s ridiculous. I know it is, but I can’t help myself. I need to do that to get them to be the best I can make them.
Another thing I work on in revision is making sure each scene is important. I don’t want any throwaway scenes. I want each to be important. Passionate interaction between characters, passionate action, passionate language, I want the scene to have a purpose—whether it’s to advance the story or deepen the character—in the larger story.
Dialogue is action. Dialogue is showing. I love dialogue and I work hard to make it carry some scenes. People talking are always interesting to me as long as they don’t talk about the weather. Characters should be talking, however indirectly, about something important.
I try to be there in each scene, experiencing the scene with the characters and with the story. Back to passion. I’ve got to feel what the characters are experiencing. I’ve got to make the reader feel and understand why they feel that way. I also have to feel what’s happening beneath the action and how it’s essential to the story.