Wouldn't stop picking at it

How to revise your writing

Writing deskThere comes a point in your revision process (and it will happen more than once), when you think, “If I have to read this sentence one more time, I am going to die.”

This proclamation may also sometimes be associated with nausea, blurring of vision and a sudden desire to fill your body with toxins. You’re so fed up (and/or hangry) that you’re no longer sure of what you’re trying to say and you begin to suspect that the people you are writing about are profoundly and irretrievably stupid.

Congratulations! You’re a writer!

If you’re stalled in your revision process, this is a refresher to help you reset your goals and concentration. The revision process is about making sure that dialogue, metaphors and adjectives align with character intentions and actions, that the language is varied and that the tone is consistent throughout.

To illustrate some important reminders, I will use an excerpt from one of my own short stories. (Note: The character’s name was arbitrarily changed from Eddie to Mike, so same character, just a different name).

Read this early version of the opening paragraph:

Bending_2012 How is Eddie feeling?
a) Happy
b) Confident
c) Relaxed
d) Other

As the story opens, Eddie is towards the end of the grief period that follows a break-up. He’s no longer miserable, but not quite back to normal. He’s in that state where you feel okay, but you’re trying to keep everything chill so that no shocks dislodge another wave of misery. Also, do we know where Eddie is going? Not a hint!

Okay, so now read one of the subsequent rewrites:Bending_2013

Now how is Eddie feeling? The seeds of his ambivalence have been planted. He is walking a diagonal line. His heart is beating somewhere inside his parka (distance, disconnection). He’s on his way somewhere (checking his watch). A sense of urgency and time has been injected into the paragraph. The momentum of the plot has been introduced. But something still isn’t working—that metaphor about the skyscrapers is clumsy and breaks the flow of Eddie’s path/story.

And this is the current opening paragraph:

Bending_2015

Now Mike (ex-Eddie) is crossing a street and walking in a diagonal line—there’s a transition, but a movement forward, perhaps movement that will require deviation from the usual paths. His heart is still buried, but now there’s a compost fence (renewal). He’s on his way to a studio—we don’t know which kind yet, but it’s a hint. Also, the metaphor has been cleaned up. Instead of the static image of a man walking, we have a sense of where he’s going, how he may be feeling and just how cold it is outside.

The most fascinating aspect of all this is—none of it was intentional. It was only in rereading what I had written that I realized how appropriate all the details became. The buried heartbeat was intentional, but the crossing of the street and the diagonal line were not. Neither was the reassuring curl of warm, exhaled breath.

So how did all of that get in there?

  • Understanding who my character is, past and present
  • Understanding how it feels to be him in that exact moment
  • Projecting a future for him

But mostly, holding all of that in my mind as I wrote and rewrote the passage, checking my sentences against this mental construct of who he is, until the words and the vision matched. This is the type of awareness and process that we work on during the creative writing workshop.

What is your revision process like?

 

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