The Kindest Cut

This is what three weeks of revising and editing get you. A laundry basket full of shreds. I have another three hundred pages—a draft’s worth—to add, but the shredder cried “Uncle!” and I was forced into a time-out.IMG_1460

Three weeks ago—after taking a day to celebrate writing the final scene of The Novel and to buy a new shredder—I put together a revision plan. Then I printed off a fresh copy of The Novel, clicked my red pen and started reading. Three revisions later, I come back to The Plan to see how I’m doing.

Holy Shit, this is a lot of work.

Here’s the thing. At the end of October, I wrote this here blog post Pitchin’ and Moanin. Filled with determination, I set out not only to  finish my first full draft by the end of the year, but to have it in good enough shape that I could hit the “Send” button with manuscripts attached, confident I was sending something I could be proud of.

I made and didn’t make my goal. The agent received the first 100 pages and a synopsis last week, in the final hours of 2013. I was saved from the hell of the standard query letter by the grace of my pitch. She asked that I simply cut and paste the content of my pitch as my query; she’d remember the rest. Ditto the publisher. Query hell postponed by two.

Two days later, the novel critique group I recently joined provided feedback for Chapters 1 and 2. Incredibly helpful, just, funny, awesome feedback that made me wish I hadn’t hit “Send” quite so soon. But let’s be honest: though the changes are significant on the small scale of two chapters, they aren’t anything that would cause an on-the-fence-agent to say “Oh, now THAT makes me want to represent you!”

My patient, tireless and outrageously supportive spouse is providing much-needed line edits—ferreting out typos that my eyes no longer register—and getting as excited about “what happens next” in the story as I am for him to discover it.

I’m on track to deliver the full manuscript to the publisher by the end of the week (keep in mind, this is an arbitrary deadline, set by me. No one is actually waiting to read The Novel). I took another hard look at the publisher’s submission guidelines over the weekend and fully registered this bullet point: DETAILED synopsis. My tight four-pager ain’t gonna cut it. Thank Pete for Scrivener—the heavy lifting of a chapter outline is done, I just need to make it pretty and comprehensible. And this week, it’s one more read through before I hit “Send” and put this baby to bed for a few weeks.

The Revision Plan? I haven’t followed it to the letter, but it’s what I’ve been doing every day—no holidays, no weekends—for three weeks. And in a few weeks’ time, I’ll take it out and start all over again. When I’ve recovered from killing six thousand of my darlings.

“I’ve found the best way to revise your own work is to pretend that somebody else wrote it and then to rip the living shit out of it.”
― Don Roff

Revision Plan

MACRO: Story Arc, Character Development

  • Conflict Arc: Identify Inciting Incident, Conflict within the GAP, Moments of Increased Risk, Mid-Point, Black Moment, Point of No Return, Crisis, Climax.
  • Within the Crisis & the Climax: Identify Dilemma, Static Moment, Insight Moment, Choice, Reversal
  • Character Arc: edit just one character at a time. Follow him/her in each scene he/she appears. Check micro-details and macro-development & POV issues (consistency within scenes)
  • Scene Endings does each scene end with a resonant line or image and/or is there a call to action? Will it make the reader late for work or keep them up past their bedtime?
  • Internal (emotional struggle) & External (plot) Conflicts: Are they present on every page? Identify scene by scene.
  • Setting: does every scene have one?
  • Dialogue: does each conversation do at least two of these: create setting; develop character; create tension; foreshadow; escalate conflict; move internal conflict; move plot; give information.
  • FLOW & RHYTHM: variation of sentence length
  • DOES THE STORY BEGIN AT THE TRUE BEGINNING & END AT THE TRUE ENDING?

MICROGrammar ~ Punctuation ~ Spelling

  • SEARCH & REPLACE:
*TO BE verbs. Replace with active verbs.
*-ING verbs
*Change meaningless action words: look, smile, nod, frown, wink, laugh-all opportunities for an action that can develop character
*"TURN” “REACH” Eliminate and just DO THE ACTION
*“KNEW/KNOW” 
*Eliminate “weed” words: that, still, just, very, so
*“FELT” Replace with emotion or action
*ADVERBS  Replace with active, transitive verbs
*ADJECTIVE Replace with lean (specific) nouns
*Check semicolons, exclamation points, ellipses
  • Find Beta Readers. Steel Yourself for Heartbreak. 
  • WALK AWAY. WALK AWAY. WALK AWAY. Find something new to dream about. Write short stories. Read phenomenal books. Plan Novel Two.

Recognition for my Revision Plan to Wendy Call, Chuckanut Writer’s Conference 2012; Ann Hood, Port Townsend Writer’s Conference 2013; Anna DiStefano and Sabrina York, Emerald City Writer’s Conference 2013

15 thoughts on “The Kindest Cut

  1. Hi Julie
    I was new to blogging last year and I guess I have explored hundreds of different blogs over the year – people who live in Spain, writers, photographers, foodies, book reviewers and some I struggle to define! That’s a lot of reading. And you too have read my blog, in its first year, when I was finding my way. So as a big THANK YOU for your support, I’d like to nominate you for the Dragon’s Loyalty Award.
    Please click below to read more about the award:-
    http://notesonaspanishvalley.com/2014/01/09/gracias-por-leyendo-thanks-for-reading/
    Please accept this message as a gesture of gratitude, so if you don’t want to follow the award’s rules then that’s fine too!
    Many thanks, and Happy Blogging in 2014.
    Sandra

    Like

    1. Ah, Sandra- how wonderful- thank you! I’m thrilled for your blogging success and honored for the recognition! I adore your blogs. Thank you for sharing your writer’s perspective and your joy in discovering your beautiful corner of Spain!

      Like

  2. The list under Search and Replace is awesome. I’m printing it to use when I edit my non-fiction articles and essays.

    Good luck with this phase of your journey Julie. It sounds far from leisurely. But exciting. So exciting.

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    1. Shana, it’s been a good lesson in my “tells”-those annoying idiosyncrasies that show where I’m being lazy… I feel like I’m excavating. Each revision gets at another layer of crap and good things start to shine through…

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    1. I’m getting so excited (and terrified) to begin something new. What a learning process this has been. Even if this novel gets shoved into a deep, dark drawers, I’m a more confident, determined writer for having seen this to its end. Wanna read it? 😉

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  3. I have copied out your plan, which is far more detailed than anything I do at the moment– I need to be more deliberate and precise about my own revisions.

    Congratulations on your progress, but one item raised my eyebrows– a four page synopsis is not detailed enough? Is length specified in the submission guidelines? This varies from publisher to publisher, but many places I used to submit to were very clear that they wanted no more than one or two pages for a synopsis.

    However, don’t let me cast doubt on your process.

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    1. Hey Doug,

      I’ve been collecting articles about writing the synopsis-or synopses as it were, since most recommend you have a one-pager, two- to three-pager and something along the lines of five to eight pages ready to roll on demand. 3000 words seems to be the rule of thumb for something DETAILED (all caps courtesy of the publisher in question. Had a length been specified, of course I would have adhered to it).

      I picked over my four pages yesterday and found a couple of spots that really benefitted from fleshing out. I ended up with a 2400 word synopsis- about 7 double-spaced pages- that includes two short excerpts and a short “book jacket” blurb. I’m feeling pretty good about it- it conveys tone and pacing, the pivotal moments, conflicts, motivation and story arc, but doesn’t get into all the characters.

      We shall see! Cheers! Julie

      Like

      1. Oh heck, Doug- I’m making this up as I go along. But that’s what we’re (supposed to be) good at, right?! Are you self-published?
        Thank you for the good thoughts. Today I send things off. Tomorrow I rest. Sunday I start something new.

        Like

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