Friday, January 20, 2012

Susan Dennard and the Revision Process

Today The Pie welcomes Susan Dennard, author of the 2012 debut Something Strange and Deadly. This week, the WOA girls have promoted this fantastic debut and giving you a chance to read it before you can buy it. Read on to learn more about Susan’s revision process.
 
My revising process is...well, the word "intense" comes to mind.

As I've talked about before, I'm not a particularly good writer. I ramble, backtrack, infodump, and pretty much do everything one shouldn't do to tell a good story.

But you know what? I'm a darn good re-writer and an even better reviser.

The key to my process is having a plan and staying organized. I never dive into revisions without a clear idea of what I need to do next--of what my story needs next in order to reach that goal of book-awesomeness. ;)

You'll notice as I go through the steps of my revising process that I link to various pages. These are the lessons from my "Sooz's Guide to Revisions". I get much more in-depth with each of these steps in that guide, and there are even worksheets for people to follow (in case you wanna give my method a try ;)).

So step 1 is figuring out what the heck I wrote.
To do this, I first print out the entire manuscript, and then I read that entire manuscript in one sitting. As I read, I take copious notes of all the issues (and I also scribble down any solutions that come to mind).

I'm all about the color-coding (as you can see here), and I'm DEFINITELY all about the "Deal With Big Issues First". What's the point in line-editing or tweaking a scene if you decide later on to cut that scene?

Step 2 is getting about getting organized.
 
I break up the entire book by scene, and I write out index cards that summarize each scene. As I make these scene cards, I try to spot areas where the conflict is non-existent or else there is too much happening in one scene.

Once I've got my cards ready, I move to step 3: figuring out what the "perfect" book is.
I know that The Book I Wrote ≠ The Book I Wanted to Write. And it's also quite possible that The Story I Wanted To Tell Originally ≠ The Story I Want To Tell Now.

That's okay. You've got to be organic in your writing/revising. You have to be able to accept that maybe the way you intended a character or plot point isn't actually what the story needs.
So for this step, I sit down and map out the EXACT book I want now--a.k.a. "the Perfect Book". If my story was finished and on shelves, what would I want it to be like?

Step 4 is turning that Perfect Book into a Plan of Attack.
What do I need to change in order to have the Perfect Book? A more 3D villain? A bigger, more intense climax? A new subplot between the heroine and the hero?

I analyze each change by it's category--plot, character, setting, and "other". Then I go through and leave little color-coded post-its on each of my scene cards. This allows me to go through my scenes one-by-one and handle each problem one-by-one. It also allows me to always know what I've done and what still needs to be done.
The hardest and longest step is step 5: writing in all the necessary changes.
With that manuscript I printed in step 1, I go back through and make changes to my story (you can see what I mean here). As I address each issue, I yank the corresponding post-it off my scene card. :) Again, I always know what problems I've fixed and what I still need to address.
Some scenes require more work than others, and some scenes are so unsalvageable, they require a COMPLETE rewrite.

The key here is to stay focused and not let yourself get overwhelmed. Take one scene card at a time, and don't worry about what comes next.

The final step is to type in those written changes and line edit. This is pretty straightforward--you type in all the handwritten changes, and you line edit as you go. (Or you can try to line edit as you go. I often find I need to print the whole thing out again to do a truly decent job of line editing.)
When you're finished, you SHOULD (in theory) have a solidly revised novel. Now, I say "in theory" because it doesn't always happen in such a straightforward manner. I usually writer 2/3 to 3/4 of the book before I start revisions. After I revise that first chunk, I then go back and write the end (or else I revise the whole chunk again if it's total schei╬▓e).

At the end of the day, we all have different methods for revising--different means to the same end: a good book. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. All the same, I hope I've managed to give a few helpful pointers--or at least some entertaining insight into my slightly OCD revisions process. ;)

Happy revising!

SusanDennardAuthorSusan is a reader, writer, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She used to be a marine biologist, but now she writes novels. And not novels about fish either, but novels about kick-butt heroines and swoon-worthy rogues (she really likes swoon-worthy rogues). She lives in Germany with her French husband and Irish setter, and you can learn more about her crazy thoughts and crippling cookie-addiction on twitter, facebook, or Goodreads. Her debut, Something Strange and Deadly, will be available from HarperCollins in July of 2012, and you will never believe how happy this makes her!

To enter for a chance to take part in Something Strange and Deadly’s ARC tour, sign up here.

11 comments:

  1. If the entry form above isn't working, you can go here in the interim.

    http://hddodson.com/books/surprises-are-fun-so-are-contests/

    :) We're working on getting it fixed.

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    1. Yeah, I just directed them to you now. Not sure what was up with the code. Boo.

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  2. Great guest post today. It is really helpful to see and hear about how other writers deal with the rewriting process.

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  3. WOW Sooz- great to get all this insight into your process over the week. I'm so excited about the tour!!!

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  4. The color-coder in me is chomping at the bit to try this out RIGHT NOW, but alas, I'm not far enough in the writing process to deserve it. Glad to see I'm not the only obsessive compulsive one, thanks for the great post!

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  5. I have so many print copies of my ms. And really it is only the last two times that I really started writing a lot in on the print draft. I don't know what I was thinking. I guess I was revising on the computer and then printing when it was "done". Well that didn't work. Mark it up baby. Mark it up!

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  6. Wow, your guide to revisions on your site is awesome. It sounds intense, but my just what I need. :D Once I finish the manuscript I'm working on now, I'm definitely giving this a try. Congrats again, and I can't wait to read Something Strange and Deadly. :D

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  7. This is one thorough post! Thanks so much for the informative feedback. It always helps :)

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  8. Thanks for sharing and what a timely post :D I am about to dive into the revising process and I am a bit scared of it I have to admit...

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  9. Alicia, thank you, THANK YOU for sharing this post with everyone and hosting me for the ARC tour. I appreciate it sooooo much.

    And to everyone else: THANK YOU FOR PARTICIPATING! I'm so glad you found my revising stuff helpful (or daunting...or both ;)), and I can't wait for everyone to get the chance to read SOMETHING STRANGE & DEADLY.

    <3 <3

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  10. Susan your site is amazing and I am slowly devouring it bit-by-bit. Thank you so much for offering so much amazing support.
    I had a question. I am currently on my 4th? revision of my manuscript. I am working through the stages of your revision process. However, there is an edit recommended to me by my agent that I agree with (change the beginning). So I not sure how fruitful it is to read all this knowing a lot needs to be trashed and reworked with a new beginning. Do you recommend I continue? Or should I rewrite the new beginning, try to rework the rest and then complete your revision process?
    Perla

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