This post isn’t about William the Conqueror, pigeons in the medieval period, or even castles. It is about the actual writing of the novel. After giving the novel a rest for a month or so, I went back and reread it. My conclusion: it needs work. Figuring out exactly what kind of “work” it needs, however, is complicated. To sort it out, I started looking at some of the key ingredients of the novel: characters, setting, plot, conflict, and dramatic arc.
Characters: Does it need different characterization of the main characters? Are they consistent? Do they grow and learn? Am I digging deep enough into who they are to keep readers? Are the characters interesting, fresh, and engaging? Is it clear and consistent regarding what each character want (more on this under conflict)? Interestingly, I felt of all my characters, the main protagonist was the weakest. Time to build him up.
Setting: Have I adequately grounded the story in time and place? Do the settings provide the correct ambience or mood for the scene? How can I make the settings more active?
Plot: Do I have good cause-and-effect sequences? Do I have the protagonist change significantly during the story? Does the plotting need to be redone to build tension and interest? Are additional plot twists needed?
Conflict: I feel this is what drives the story forward. Is there escalating action, conflict and tension? Are there sufficient try-fail sequences? Are the conflicts related directly to what each character wants?
Dramatic Arc: Again, here I’m looking at try-fail cycles, escalating action, conflict and resolution, and how it is all timed throughout the novel.
In search of “how-tos” regarding novel revisions, I found 17 million hits to my Google query of “how to revise a novel.” Seventeen MILLION. On Amazon, there are 390 books listed for “revising novel.” I guess a lot of people are providing and seeking advice. It made me feel both lonely and overwhelmed. I quickly skipped over the ones that emphasized “easy.” Revising a novel is neither easy nor quick and I felt that the ones that emphasize an “easy” approach were not doing writers justice. When I remove the word “easy” from the Google search, I’m down to “only” 8 million hits. An example of two that had rather opposing views are listed below:
The first article is “25 Steps To Edit the Unmerciful Suck Out Of Your Story” (http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/09/10/25-steps-to-edit-the-unmerciful-suck-out-of-your-story/). In this article, with some humor and expletives, the author, Chuck Wendig, lists the details of letting the manuscript rest, re-reading, having others read it, using your notes and the notes from the alpha readers to rethink and re-outline the story. Then move forward with editing the manuscript, working on all of the issues, looping back, making several passes through it, whatever it takes. He ends by saying “Do it all again if you have to.”
The second article is “One-Pass Manuscript Revision: From First Draft to Last in One Cycle” (http://hollylisle.com/one-pass-manuscript-revision-from-first-draft-to-last-in-one-cycle/) by Holly Lisle. She starts with the premise that “If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, how are you ever going to find time to fix it later.” I rather scowled at those words. For me, it is not the “time” to do it right, it is that if I allow my internal editor to take over my writing, I would never finish (I have an exceptionally belligerent internal editor). In this article, the author discusses her steps, which include using a written version of your manuscript. She emphasizes starting with the basics – write down your themes and what your book is about (the elevator version), and take a look at a one-line summary of the story arc for the main character. When you are ready, start your one-time “slog” through the manuscript, scene by scene. Rip it apart, then put it back together. When done, you are finished, she says. Time to send it out the door and start a new book.
Both methods (and there are as many methods as there are authors, maybe even more, since some authors may use different revising processes for different books) have merits and both revert back to the very basics of writing a novel. I’ll report back on how my arduous revision process proceeds, and which process I was closer to using.