Apologies Because BABY!!
I apologize for being AWOL for a few weeks. Work has been extra busy and my daughter had a baby. I had to decide: blog? baby? Hmmm. Guess who won? Sweet little Payton Annabelle! But as Arnold Schwarzenegger said in The Terminator, “I’m back!” Of course, if Payton starts smiling…
We’re Still Revising
I want to explain the parts of revision in more depth. Perhaps you’ll recall its three steps: Revise, Edit, Proofread. Today we’ll tear down the walls and expose step 1.
It is confusing that both the process itself and its first step have the same name, but English has many worse conundrums, like why enough, through, plough, dough, and cough all pronounce ough differently, and why we don’t have a pronoun for hisorher. You know what I mean—for those instances in which people say, “An individual should always do their best work.” Drives me crazy. We just have to get over it.
As I explained in June, the entire revision process is like renovating a house. Step 1 in the house reno process means making major structural changes—moving the walls around. In writing then, revision involves assessing content and meaning—checking whether you have said what you meant to say.
First, analyze whether you have achieved your purpose. Why did you write in the first place? Did you want to tell a story, or teach someone to do something, or prove a point, or share information? Have you done what you set out to do, or did you get sidetracked along the way? For example, I set out to write this series of posts on revision, but got sidetracked by a beautiful granddaughter!
Next look at whether you have adequately served your audience, and whether you have served the audience you meant to write for. You targeted a specific audience—adult females, or preteens, or children between the ages of five and eight. Now that you have finished writing, will that same audience still be interested in your topic? Is the language and syntax you used suitable? For example, I had to make sure not to let any of the baby talk I babbled to Payton slip into this post. I hope you’re getting the idea!
If you are writing nonfiction, does your introduction have a strong opening sentence to immediately hook the reader? Is your thesis stated clearly and concisely? Did you preview the points you will make in your argument? Have you provided necessary background so the reader will understand your topic? Have you explained why the reader should care? By the end of your introduction, have you drawn everything together and made the reader want to continue on to the meat of the argument?
Assess the strength of your points and whether you have provided enough supportive detail for them. Have you made your case—that is, will your reader be won over? Where are the weaknesses in your argument? Are your details varied enough? Are your sources credible? Have you foreseen and refuted rebuttal points?
Did you restate (that means, in other words, not the exact same words) your thesis? Have you summed up your main points? Have you made a further observation or point? Have you used key words from your introduction to remind your reader of your original point? Did you add a clincher at the end to seal the deal and leave the reader thinking about your topic or eager to take action?
If you are writing fiction, have you started your story in media res (in the middle of the action)? Beginning with lots of description or backstory turns readers off. It’s better to begin with a gripping action scene and then fill in details. You should have mapped out your plot when you planned your story. If you veered away from your original plan, do all the twists and turns come out in the right places? Where does the story drag? Where is it too predictable? Will a reader figure out the ending too easily? Have you answered the single dramatic question (What does the hero WANT and how will he/she CHANGE in order to get it by the end of the story?)?
Profile your characters. Are they believable, with personalities that run more than skin-deep? Don’t make the hero too perfect or the villain all bad—give them conflicting traits. Is there a character who could be cut without anyone noticing? Do it. Does your hero change over the course of the story? If not, there’s no story. Have you developed your characters through all of these: action, speech, thought, appearance, narration? Make sure dialogue does more than just talk; it should also move the story along, advance conflict, and/or reveal emotion, intent or change. Have you used the best point of view for the narrator and characters?
Conflict is key—does your hero experience both external and internal conflict, and do these interweave throughout the story? Does the conflict build in intensity up to the climax? The external conflict should explode in a climax and the internal conflict should result in an epiphany.
Have you used specific vocabulary to describe setting? Did you recruit setting to do double duty: set the mood, evoke emotion, suggest a larger meaning, reflect theme, or cause complications for characters?
If you are writing poetry, are your line and stanza structures correct (if you’re writing a specific form, such as a sonnet), consistent (if you’ve written four five-line stanzas, it might not make sense to make the last stanza six lines), or coherent (do they make sense for the content you’re writing?)? If your poem rhymes, is your rhyme scheme correct for the form? Is it consistent? Have you chosen the best rhyme scheme for your content? If you’ve written in a certain meter (iambic pentameter), read your poem out loud to see whether there are spots where the syllables don’t fit.
When you read your poem out loud, are there unintended breaks in the rhythm (too fast, too slow, choppy) that are uncomfortable for the reader and interfere with meaning?
Are your metaphors consistent? A sports metaphor among five animal metaphors might not suit your purpose. Have you spread your metaphors among different parts of speech? Metaphors don’t always have to be nouns, following the “a is b” format. Here is metaphor via verbs: “The news that ignited his face snuffed out her smile.”
Analyze the strength and placement of your images. Have you clustered all the best ones in the first stanza and left none for the last? Plan the emotional roller coaster you want your reader to take via your images. Is it a smooth uphill ride and then a drop, or a series of ups and downs? Did you overuse the sense of sight? Add images that rely on sound or touch.
Most poems begin and end in different places, employing a climactic “turn,” at which point the poem shifts direction, releases built-up energy, or changes focus from one emotion to another. Is your turn in the most appropriate spot? Is the turn successful?
For example, in an essay, revision might include:
Refocusing vocabulary and examples so the essay targets high school English teachers, rather than the general public.
Adding a stronger grabber as an opening sentence to the introduction.
Shoring up a weak point by adding key details from a more credible source.
Removing a tangential discussion that distracts from the main points.
Repeating key words from the introduction in the conclusion to remind the reader of your original thesis.
In a story, revision might include:
Cutting descriptive backstory from the story’s opening, allowing the story to open with an action scene, instead.
Changing key dialogue so it better shows character emotion and intent.
Replacing a scene to better ramp up the conflict leading up to the climax.
Adding setting detail to suggest the theme.
In a poem, revision might include,
Standardizing ragged stanza lengths to alternating 4 and 6 line stanzas.
Lengthening lines 2 and 7 to smooth out the rhythm.
Creating new metaphors using different parts of speech; rewriting mixed metaphors.
Adding sound imagery.
Strengthening imagery and wording to bring the poem to a turn in the third stanza; Changing stanza 4 to reflect a different emotion.
Don’t Work Ahead
Don’t do Step 2 or Step 3 revisions until you are completely satisfied with Step 1. You might waste your time fixing something that would end up on the scrap heap. To use my house renovation analogy one more time, if you did Step 3 (sending in the cleaning crew) first, and then decided to tear down walls, you’d have wasted all that time and energy on cleaning. In writing, if you fixed all the incorrect punctuation first and then ended up cutting paragraphs, you’d have wasted time fixing the punctuation in the deleted paragraph.
I hope you have a clearer understanding now of what is involved in Step 1 of the revision process: Revision. Please ask any questions below. I promise I’ll answer, even if I have to type one-handed while I hold Payton.
Next time: Step 2: Editing