I recently attended the 4th Annual SCBWI Prairie Writer’s Day, with an absolutely amazing lineup of speakers. I tried writing up a summary of the day in one post, but just couldn’t do it. So this will come in a series. And out of order. So, for those of you who were there, sorry for the confusion. :)
Jennifer Rofe, an agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, talked about Revision. She showed us examples of submissions that had come to her, the kinds of revisions she asked the author to make, and also the number of revisions editors had requested of the author. One editor asked author Cynthea Liu to cut 20,000 words from her MG novel, PARIS PAN TAKES THE DARE. 20,000 words!! The entire room gasped.
The examples Ms. Rofe gave were really interesting and useful, but they’re just one piece in the puzzle of Revision. There’s no way I could write an entire blog post on that, because it was one of those things where you had to be there...
Then, Gutsywriter asked a great question: is there some sort of Revision Checklist that writers can utilize?
Using this question, I was able to go back through Ms. Rofe’s examples and pick out her more generalized comments (plus a few of my own).
OPENING HOOK. Does your story start in the right place? Is the main plot apparent on page one? Has the backstory been introduced such that it doesn’t slow down the story? Above all, is this interesting?
CHARACTERS. Do they seem real? Are they flawed? Do they know what they want, and is there something opposing this (i.e. constantly keeping them from getting what they want)? Also, are all of them necessary? That is, do they contribute to the story in such a way that there would be a hole without them?
SETTING. Is this vivid? Can the reader close his eyes and picture exactly where the characters are? Is it realistic? If it’s a fantasy/sci-fi setting, has the world been defined and adhered to, without paragraphs of info-dumping?
PACING. Is there anything that slows down or takes the reader out of the story?
THEME. Have you said what you wanted to say without preaching or being message-y?
PLOT. This is huge, but this is generally asking if you have a beginning, middle, and end. Also, does the reader react sufficiently to the story as a whole?
RESOLUTION. Does it fit the story such that the reader will be satisfied? For example, a story about a war building, with anger and anxiety on both sides, ending with peaceful negotiation – it’s a good ending, but can leave the reader feeling let down. Are all subplots resolved? All necessary questions answered?
VOICE. This is also huge, and generally asks about the voice of the story as well as the characters. Is it obvious who is speaking simply by the dialog (and not the tags)? Does the story have its own Voice (I.E. can the reader see an obvious difference in narration between this story and another)?
STRONG WRITING. This encompasses everything from word choice to evoking emotion from the reader – far more than I can put into this simple checklist. But, basically, are all the words you’ve used necessary? Both to the story and to the characters? Has each word been purposefully chosen?
OBJECTIVITY. This is the single most important thing when revising. Distance and objectivity allow you to see your work for what it is, not what you want it to be. If you don’t have this on your own, then find at least one critique partner who can be both honest and constructive.
It’s hard to put together a checklist for revising, simply because the things involved in writing are so huge. One could easily create checklists for each of these main points, but then we could get mired down in the details and not get any actual work done. :)