Tuesday, August 3, 2010


I think one thing to consider when you get to rewriting is that nearly everyone has big holes in their manuscript. No use getting depressed about this unfortunate aspect of writing. No matter how long you’ve been writing, no matter how much you think things out, there will be problems that you didn’t see, couldn’t see, until you’ve finished the whole manuscript and gone over it a couple of times. Usually, along with a lot of small problems, they’ll be at least one big thing that feels wrong. Pay attention to that. It probably feels wrong for a reason.

I love Robert Olen Butler’s great book about the writing process FROM WHERE I DREAM. I love his idea of entering a dream state and trying to experience the manuscript moment by moment. Great stuff. One of the areas I disagree with him is revision. He thinks you can and should enter the dream state to revise. I don’t. I think you have to be more analytical in revision (once you have a real draft down which will probably take several runs at the manuscript).

In revision, you need to keep getting to that place in you, the dream zone place, to revise at the scene level…but you also need to step back and analyze how the various aspects of story are working in your manuscript. For big picture, especially, you need to be analytical. You are creating a story. You have characters doing things for certain reasons. You didn’t know that when you were writing. You had glimpses here and there but you didn’t know in the same way you do once you can see the WHOLE story. Now, you need to revise in a way that manipulates your characters and what happens so that it all enhances your story. Also, stories are bigger than just what happens—they’re about something—and that may become clear in this revision in such a way you can enhance that, too.

Revision is the time to be brutal. You need to cut/add and do whatever is necessary to make everything fit.

Or so I think today.

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Anne M Leone said...

Interesting post! I'm in the midst of revising my manuscript, and a lot of what you say rings true for me.

I've found that the actions I've given my character previously are usually there for a reason. But I need to figure out the reason and clarify it in the text and make sure it fits with everything around it.

Otherwise, I try to be as analytical and brutal as possible when revising. I find it's a totally different skill from drafting, where I let myself think more intuitively.

Brian Yansky said...

I think it is a different skill and it requires a different way of looking at the manuscript. At least some part of revision is like you said: trying to figure out the why of acts by characters and story twists etc... Thanks for the comment.