Wednesday, September 1, 2010

On Revising


Since I have spent long, delicious hours revising lately I felt it timely to post on the subject. But, rather than me just telling you about my countless word-related epiphanies how about this?

I'll show you.

The excerpts I'm sharing come from the second book in my MG sci-fi trilogy. My lovely agent has yet to read this one. She's read the first book and gave me her invaluable feedback.

Quick history of this book:
- It was the second novel I've ever written. It was pre-blogging...pre SCBWI conferencing...pre-online researching...pre just about everything that makes a writer a good writer. I'm simply giving you my excuses...to make myself feel better.

- It was only read by friends and family. No BETA's - no industry professionals.

- After devouring the FIRST book in the series...each in one night...my mother and sister practically ripped my Staples printed and bound copies out of my hand...And my own mother said after finishing book 2, "Honey, I wanted to put this book down." Ouch X infinity.

- I went back in and tried to revise this 71,000 word middle grade novel. Oh no, that's not a typo, people. And you know what I did? I added 5,000 words. Holy hell.

...You know I like time jumps, so jump ahead with me. I learned Mt. Everest amounts of technique and style since summer of 2008. Wrote 3 more novels -- each much better out of the gate than poor, over-stuffed book 2.

So, may I present, one example (and commentary in red) of my revision journey as of late...

Opening Paragraph of ORIGINAL DRAFT
*I advise grabbing a tissue or some sort of device to dry your tears...of laughter. Don't worry, I can take it. And I've already laughed myself silly. *

Sebbie waited for the bus alone. He watched his breath cloud and dissipate, and he wished it was still cool to bundle up in winter. Gloves, scarves and proper winter coats lined with fabrics designed to keep him warm had all been packed away since the end of fifth grade. West Chester Middle School started in sixth grade as did his complete immersion in all things cool. He discovered skateboarding, snowboarding and the skate shop in town. His skull covered Volcom hoodie just wasn’t cutting it against this Pennsylvania winter morning. Thick blonde hair escaped his Element wool cap by nearly two or three inches; he hadn’t had a real haircut since last August. He looked like your typical blonde-haired, blue-eyed skateboard punk.


MY OBSERVATIONS AND THOUGHTS:
I am not inside this character's head. Clearly. I mean, what 6th grade boy uses the word proper?!? And I have him "thinking" that word in the third sentence. Also, he wouldn't describe himself! At least not in such a lame...adult-language way. This whole paragraph SCREAMS author's voice. Can you hear it? I know I can. And I hate it.

Authentic character voice is buried under layers and layers of AUTHOR voice. So I excavated...

Opening Paragraph of SHINY NEWLY-REVISED DRAFT:
Sebbie waited for the bus alone. He watched his breath cloud and disappear and wished it was still okay to bundle up in winter. Gloves, scarves and what his mother called, ‘proper winter attire’ had all been packed away since the end of fifth grade. Nobody cool at West Chester Middle wore that junk. His skull covered Volcom hoodie just wasn’t cutting it against this winter Pennsylvania morning. His hair escaped his Element wool cap by nearly two or three inches; he hadn’t had a real haircut since last August. He knew he looked like a typical blonde-haired, blue-eyed skateboard punk, and he liked it that way.

MY OBSERVATIONS AND THOUGHTS:
I feel like Sebbie is present in the revised paragraph...present in every sentence...the way it should be if this chapter is from his point of view.

Can you feel him now?

Some Final Thoughts:
In my revision travels throughout this manuscript I blew my own mind with how many times I either head-jumped or suddenly changed POV. Like a ton. I also kept hearing my adult voice on the page...not the character's voice. Something else I apparently "hearted" was back story. Mama-mia did I slather it on, thick as cream cheese.

In this, my first serious-I-sort-of-know-what-I'm-doing revision, I slashed this sucker bloody and raw...16,000 words removed.

I wish it were pounds. Oh how I wish it were pounds.

(Depending on the response to this, you know, if anyone out there finds it to be remotely helpful, I have loads more where it came from. And I would share again. I'm brave.)