Aug 30, 2010

Revision notes

I'm working on a big revision of Claire Morgane Almost Saves The World and my overall goal is to simplify the major plot through-line and tighten the action in the book.  In doing so, I'm eliminating some entire chapters where there are now only a few critical bits of material remaining.  Those critical bits must find their way into other parts of the book, preferably by replacing less-important material.

My goal is to create scenes that serve more than one purpose in the book.  If a scene advances the plot, that's not enough.  It should also reveal character development or add clues to the subplot or contribute to world-building.  Every scene must do more without becoming overly complicated.  Elegant trimming and replacement is more difficult than it looks!

So far in this revision I've used a shrunken manuscript to identify major plot points and subplot points in the book---and also to identify those sections that can be removed.  Next, I went through the entire manuscript using the tracking features in Word, making notes throughout.

When I deleted a scene, I evaluated its current purpose and used the shrunken manuscript to identify a place I might achieve the same purpose elsewhere in the book.  Before eliminating the scene, I added notes to the target chapter.

I'm now to a point where I need to make sure all these details fit where I've moved them.  I don't want to polish a scene and work on transitions into the next, only to discover I have the action in the wrong order.

I'm using large note cards for this stage.  Since I'm revising from a manuscript with lots of notes, not everything needs to be included on these cards.  The cards are my reminder of the big picture:

  • What is the purpose of this chapter?

  • How does each scene work toward that purpose?
For instance, in the first chapter, I need to show what Claire wants most. By keeping that in mind, I'm able to look at every detail of a scene and run it through that filter.  I'm not looking at heavy-handed changes, but the subtle things.  How does her awareness of environmental collapse influence the way she sees the sky and the clouds?  The big note card will be my reference as I'm rewriting specific scenes.

I will also be leaving lots of blank space on the cards so I can add colored sticky notes to each.  The sticky notes will track character development as well as tracking the continuum between clues and revealed material.

Because I'm touching so much in this revision, I need to keep track of the big picture as I move forward.  I know some people are able to do this without all the structural supports, but I need the scaffolding.  When I'm in the details of a scene, I get lost in the mind of my character---the pain and the passion and the immediacy of a specific event.  I absolutely need the reminders so I'm writing to the book and not just the scene.

When I look back at the revisions of this book in the last year, I see clearly how much I've developed as a writer.  A year ago a revision of this size would have scared me.  Now, not so much.  If I can make the book better, I'm in.


  1. Wow! I wish I could finish my first novel so I could try this. It sounds like you have a great system worked out. Best of luck with it.

  2. Ben--Keep writing. You'll get there!

  3. Nice recap and thank you for posting. I wondered how you used the shrunken manuscript concept. Since you, or Mary Pleiss introduced me to it, I've used it in so many different and varied ways! I can't find the originators name at the moment in my e-mail box, but she was brilliant. Donna? is that right?

    I, also, understand the concept of a substantial growth in writing craft knowledge that leads to revision of early pages to raise them to the new level. I used to believe that would go away with time--it hasn't. That's good, if we don't continue to grow in our craft, then we become stagnant, and shortly thereafter bored--or totally, obnoxiously conceited. IMHO. :-)

    Love your title, by the way. Onward. Upward. Climbing slush stacks and knowledge levels!

  4. Meg--I keep using the shrunken manuscript in different ways too. I do the same thing with note cards.

    I think the shrunken manuscript idea originated with Darcy Pattison:

    There's also a fun YouTube video of an author demonstrating her use of it:

    I'm with you about the challenge. I can't imagine a time when I'm not trying to improve. Where's the fun in that?

  5. I love the questions you ask about evaluating scenes and chapters. I always try to ask myself similar questions before going into a chapter and again during the final revisions. I'm like you: I found a lot of places where I could eliminate scenes or chapters and combine the material elsewhere to better drive the narrative.

    Super post, thanks!

  6. Joanna, thanks for this post, and the one on Shrunken Manuscripts! I'm always looking for ways to see the overall structure, since I tend to meander. I enjoy the scenery along the way, and people who like me enjoy it, but editors are like, "Slash and burn and let's get a highway through here. Is anything ever going to HAPPEN?" lol!

    I've used the notecards, too, though I never thought of using big ones--that's my next purchase! I've also used the unshrunken manuscript, but that takes more floor space than we have.

    Again, THANKS! I can see I've found some gold and diamonds here!