Tuesday, October 18, 2011

In Between The Lines

Bryan Berg - House of Cards
These days the word "revisions" feels like a misnomer to me. That or maybe I am just doing it all wrong.

Yes, I am revising and shaping up my chapters but I am also adding to them, writing more and more in between the lines. (And I thought I was done with all the heavy writing in my first draft.)

The margins are all to blame. They stand there innocently enough, wanting to help. I cross out a few words here, a sentence there and rewrite in the wide open spaces. The trouble starts when I notice how a change of a few words can invoke a different tone for my character. Another side of them is revealed and it makes me want to go exploring. Streams of words follow, dialogues, new scenes, even whole chapters emerge. In the moment, it's all wonderful until I look back and realize that I am now somewhere else in my novel, in uncharted territory. Wonderful then turns into disconcerting.

These new words impact not only the current scene they enter but all the choices my main character makes from beginning to end. They challenge everything that stands in the first draft and take me to task for a better house of words. "Revision" is too simple a word for all the elaborate play they make inside my head. Truthfully I can't ignore it. I know it's what's needed but dang, if you could only see the view from where I stand.

Where have your revisions taken you? Did you find your way back to your story or did you find something else, for better or for worse, in between the lines?


  1. I start revisions by picking at words here and there, as if the whole thing were set in stone. Then gradually, as changing a word here or there doesn't do the trick, I get more elaborate until I'm rewriting entire scenes and reworking characters.

    It's still a Work In Progress so anything can happen. I read once that you should keep versions of all your drafts, which is very good advice. You can always return from your gallivanting and try a new route from a previous draft.

    I've known of authors who have rewritten their novel dozens of times, just to get the right combination of character, voice, plot etc.

    And I have a problem with my margins too! All that lovely whitespace looks so much nicer with pen scribbled all over it. Then it looks edited! But it's a pain to type up afterward! :)

  2. Thank you Jessica, I'm happy to hear that I'm in good company. I also learned real quick the importance of keeping all my drafts thanks to those pesky margins. Sometimes I wonder if it's worth it to invest in a program like Scrivener to keep things a bit more organized. Thanks again - keep on writing! :-)

  3. Revisions are like dropping a rock in a pond. The ripple effects go throughout the book. But it comes out stronger. This is when I really hone the themes--or discover them.


  4. LOVE the rock in the pond analogy - thanks Debbie!

  5. Nancy,
    Good post. I tend to refrain from major revisions when writing my first draft. The second draft is when I might make major changes. I ended up lopping off the first four chapters of my first novel because I couldn't get the voice of the main character the way I wanted it. He was 10 years old in the first draft and in my final draft, I skipped ahead to when he was 14 and I wrote a new scene that foreshadowed the first dramatic plot point. Revisions can be a never-ending process. At some point, you have to just say, "I'm done."

  6. Thanks for the kudos Chris and for sharing some of your experiences. I'm still in the thick of it so we'll see where this round of revisions take me. I'm progressing through my work so I'll take that as a good sign and keep going. Best :-)

  7. A first draft is an ugly thing, but it is in later drafts that you will really find your story. I think of the first draft as just the bones of a book, and in the later drafts you add the muscles, the organs, the fat, the skin -- all the things that make it live and breathe and attractive to look at. And Debbie is right, you will most likely discover your theme as you go back over your drafts and start playing with it. Follow those ideas, Nancy, as long as they seem productive, because you may very well discover the heart of your story. :)

  8. I love the way you think Maryanne! Very cool!! :-)