Before you revise . . . reflect

I hope you have enjoyed the holiday season and are finding yourself settling into writing once more.

You may have completed the NaNoWriMo challenge in November.  Hopefully you rewarded yourself with a congratulations-to-me, I have written a rough draft of a future page turner.  Perhaps you gave yourself a night out.  Or bought something for yourself that you truly do deserve.  Perhaps you even read a craft book.  Next on my list to read is A Writer’s Story, From Life to Fiction by Marion Dane Bauer. (A recommendation from a member of my critique group.)

I also hope you took a month off after you wrote the rough.  A month away from it lets the waters settle and gives you a fresh brain and perspective.

So before you read through it, here is an excellent exercise to do that I have gone back to time and again.  This exercise will narrow your vision for your story and provide you with concise verbiage to be used in future query letters.

Time to REFLECT

Time to REFLECT

***Note, I am a believer in work smarter, not harder.  So this blog was originally published in April of 2013.  It’s a good process and I still use it and love it! Therefore, I have not edited my original reflections of my first book, which are contained below.  Tempting, but I’ll leave it be.  I think.****

My revision process is certainly NOT mine but a compilation of many who have been there, done that.   There’s no point to reinvent the wheel, right?

This brought me to a blog by Holly Lisle titled: One-Pass Manuscript Revision: From First Draft to Last in One Cycle.  Ya, I won’t even attempt to revise in one pass, but  I will probably turn back to the steps she shares many times.   I appreciate her suggestion to start the revision process by discovering what my story is all about.

Her first five tasks are:

  • “Write down your theme in 15 words or less.”

This was easier than I thought.  You know when you are given a word limit it adds pressure.  But I did it, and I think it’s about right.

Obligation to family versus following your own dream.  Yep – that’s what I came up with.

  • “If you have sub-themes and know what they are, write them down too.”

It turns out I have about six sub-themes that I was able to identify off the top, there are probably more subtle ones that will come to the surface later.

We all have a story – societal positions – feminism (even though my MC is male) – overcoming fears – dealing with the death of a loved one – influence of religion  This feels like I’m missing something, but that’s OK.

  • “Write down what the book is about in twenty-five words or less.”

Twenty-five words isn’t a lot! About my story that has more than 60,000 of them!  (Ya, it’s way too long for my target audience – but it will get there!) This went through a few versions.

Boy aspires for things beyond family tradition, battles fears, fire, and family in pursuit of his own dream.  18 words!

  • “Write down a one-line story arc for the book’s main character.”

It turned into the longest run-on sentence in the history of run-on sentences.  Well, maybe not.  I used to teach fifth grade and I have seen the use of “and” seventeen times in one sentence.  Is running-on a bad habit of mine?  No, I am one of the most concise writers I know.  (ha ha – remember the 60,000 + words I have to chisel!)  And I certainly never drift off topic!  (Hey, when you have two little children, you are used to having three or four conversations at one time.  It just so happens that may brain continues to do this whether I am with my whirlwinds or not!)

Anyway, I procrastinate . . .

MC battles fears, foes, fire, prejudice (couldn’t think of an F words), and family during the Great Chicago Fire and saves a few lives along the way, but ultimately sacrifices his own dreams for the sake of his family.

Then the biggy:

  • “Write down the main characters, and a paragraph of no more than about 250 words describing the story, sort of like the blurb on the back of a paperback.”

THIS WAS HARD! All of these previous steps certainly helped, but it was not pretty.  Started off with black ink, went to orange, then red.  With arrows and line-throughs everywhere! It turned into less than 200 words (oh-ya! 172 actually!) but I don’t think I would want it on the back of my book just yet.  And therefore, I am not putting it out here either.

But what did all of this really do?  It gave me the narrowed focus I need for my read through.  It also brought to my attention plot and character adjustments I want to make.  It was well worth the hour and a half it took to do this.

BTW, What do you reflect on to help you steer your manuscript?

And one more thing – credit where credit is due – the link to Holly Lisle in case you would like to see what else she says.

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