Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Novel Revision: Twenty-page Sessions

Guest Post by Jack Smith

You can handle novel revision in many different ways—probably too numerous to mention.  One method: You can rework pages one at a time, trying to get everything right before going on.  A second: You can take the novel section by section, attempting to get everything right.
Or how about this third method?   Once you have a fairly complete draft, just commit yourself to twenty-page sessions of revision. 
Unless you hit real snags, you can do this in about two to three hours.
Here’s the kinds of things to look for/work for:

-Characters that seem rather flat.  What can you do to spice them up a bit?  Maybe some interesting description?   Maybe an interesting remark in a scene?  (If this changes the nature of the scene too much, this will of course require more time and effort.)
-Plot details.  Did you leave something out?  Do you need to take something out that you won’t be dealing with after all?  Do you want to echo something or foreshadow something?
-A descriptive passage to make a setting more interesting.  Or a setting more important? 
-A passage that is confusing or cumbersome to read.
-Bloated sections, whether expository, descriptive, or scenic where you could cut some and achieve more impact.
-A hint at theme or idea, whether in character thought or dialogue.
-Dull writing that needs spiced up to fetch your reader’s interest more.
Okay: All of this sounds like the typical fare.  But what’s daunting is a long laundry list of changes you so often face before you can put your project to rest.
But do it in twenty-page sessions where you can make incremental progress.   If you’re absolutely burned out, do it while you’re watching TV.  Do it while you’re listening to music.  Some days you will simply read over the twenty pages and not expect to accomplish a lot because you just don’t have it in you to get very serious. But you’ve still gone over those twenty pages, and you’ve taken care of the kinds of problems that really jump right out at you (or some of them anyway). Other days you’ll feel more like revising, and you can dig deeper and make more content changes (e.g. rewriting scenes) or structural changes (e.g. relocating a section of the novel) that seem too daunting on certain days.  On the days you don’t feel like tough work, just note what you need to deal with later.
Revision at twenty pages a day is usually doable, and it’s not a huge task to face.   Over time you’ll probably accomplish a lot.  In three months, you will have gone over a 300-page novel six times.  Surely something will come of that.

Write and Revise for Publication , Writer’s Digest, 2013, and Hog to Hog, winner of the George Garrett Fiction Prize, Texas Review Press, 2008.