Monday, July 1, 2013

Revision Notes, by Tracy Edward Wymer

I’m in the middle of a major revision on my middle grade novel. This would explain my short-term memory loss, constant misplacement of car keys, and truncated conversations with friends I normally enjoy talking to. In short, my mind is Elsewhere. 

I've always compared revising a novel to taking a car engine apart, piece by piece, and spreading the pieces over the garage floor, then cleaning and fixing every piece and putting the engine back together again. Presto! Like magic!  

Yeah, right. Revising a novel takes maximum effort, focus, and persistence. And a lot of coffee!

Since I'm going through this process now, I thought I’d share a few revision notes, with examples, that have helped me develop my story, in hopes of it reaching its full potential. Most of these notes, or suggestions, came from my agent, but some of you might have beta readers who would point out similar instances to you. I always find that concrete examples help tremendously (the teacher inside of me speaks!), and I hope that you can take something useful away from them. 

Keep in mind, this story is still a work-in-progress. 

Revision Notes

1. More! - Like my recent shortened conversations with friends (because of the revision), search your manuscript for truncated scenes. I tend to bottle up my main character’s emotions (gee, I wonder who the main character gets that from) and stop short of finishing conversations between characters. This leaves the scene unfinished, with an abrupt ending.   

Scene Synopsis: Eddie, the main character, has been shot with a pellet gun, and has a pellet lodged in his back. He was shot by his nemesis, Mouton, an overgrown bully with Tourette Syndrome. Gabriela, the new girl in town, who is also from Brazil, is helping Eddie.

Original Scene: 
At Gabriela’s house, under the bathroom light, she uses tweezers to pull out the pellet in my back. She places an ice pack over the tiny hole. It’s not a hole that goes all the way through me, just a hole that goes through one layer of skin. 
“You are luck,” Gabriela says. “This could have been worse.”
“You mean lucky.”
Gabriela rolls her eyes. She presses harder on the ice pack.    
“Ouch!” 
“I knew you would be injured during this mission,” she says. “Night air is bad air.” 
“Where did you hear that phrase? Let me guess, The Phantom Tollbooth?” 
She smiles, holding the ice pack on my wound. Let me say that again. The prettiest girl in school is holding an ice pack on MY WOUND.  
I am lucky. 
I have my bike. 
I have my girl. 
Now I can find my Golden Eagle.



In this revised scene, I did not add-on to the end of it, but implemented more dialogue prior to the ending. I liked the ending that I had originally written, so I left it alone. 

Revised Scene:
At Gabriela’s house, under the bathroom light, she uses tweezers to pull out the pellet in my back. She places an ice pack over the tiny hole. It’s not a hole that goes all the way through me, just a hole that goes through one layer of skin. 
“You are luck,” Gabriela says. “This could have been much worse.”
“You mean lucky.”
Gabriela rolls her eyes. She presses harder on the ice pack.    
“Ouch!” 
“I knew you would be injured during this mission,” she says. “Night air is bad air.” 
“Where did you hear that phrase? Let me guess, The Phantom Tollbooth?” 
“That is right. I am learning more unusual English phrases from Milo and his dog than I am learning at school.”
“Have you made it to the part in the book when—”
“Eddie! Do not ruin the story for me!”
She adjusts the ice pack on my wound. 
“You should see Mouton’s room,” I say. “It’s covered in all these paintings that look real. I can’t believe he can paint like that.” 
“I am not surprised.” 
“What? How can you not be surprised?” 
“Everyone has a special talent,” she says. “Mouton cannot control what he says, but he can control what he puts on a canvas.”
“Wow. When you say it like that, it sort of makes sense.” 
“Maybe he can help you with your project.”  
“Yeah, maybe.”
She smiles, holding the ice pack on my wound. Let me say that again. The prettiest girl in school is holding an ice pack on MY WOUND.  
I am lucky. 
I have my bike. 
I have my girl. 
Now I can find my Golden Eagle. 

2. Cut Telling! Show this! (Show, don't Tell) - Middle grade readers need the story to roll quickly, so pacing is always on my mind when writing. Because of this, I have a habit of fast-forwarding through mini-scenes that, if written in full, can reveal a lot of about characters. 

Scene Synopsis: Eddie is walking with Miss Dorothy, an elderly woman, back to her house. Eddie has grown up birdwatching on Miss Dorothy’s land. 

Original: 
I walk with Miss Dorothy from her house, giving her my arm to lean on. She tells me about the times Dad brought me here. She remembers when I said my first word: bird. Dad once told me it was a sound between nerd and turd, so he and Mom guessed it had to be bird  

Revised:
I walk with Miss Dorothy toward her house, giving her my arm to lean on.
“I used to love seeing you here with your dad,” she says. “He was a good man.”
“Miss Dorothy?” 
“What is it, Eddie?” 
“Was my dad…” 
I hesitate, scared of what she might tell me.  
“Go on, Eddie, spit it out.” 
“Was my dad an honest person?” I finally ask her. 
She stops walking and looks up at six bobwhite quail perched on a telephone wire.
“Put it this way, Eddie. Your father was his own person. He was true to himself. The way I see it, that’s as honest as one can be.”
I nod, letting her know that I get what she’s saying.
She smiles, grabbing onto my arm, and we walk to her house.  

3. Too Vague! Be Specific! - Be wary of vague language and unclear moments in your narrative. Make every word and moment (in this case, memory) specific. This will help with character development, and make your characters feel more dimensional.



Original:
I want to yell something back at Mouton, like Dad did once to a birder who was in his way. 

Revised:

I want to yell something back at Mouton, like Dad did once when he told another birder who wouldn’t get out of his way to “move it or lose ’em,” in reference to the guy’s teeth. But if I say something like that, Mouton will totally sabotage my locker.  

19 comments:

  1. Great examples, Tracy!! I'm in the middle of a revision now, too. (And, Mouton--cool name!!)

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    1. Good luck, Paul. May the force be with you. I have a distant relative named Mouton. Unique name, that's for sure.

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  2. Any manuscript that contains a nod to The Phantom Tollbooth is a story for me!

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    1. I love literary allusion. And, of course, the Phantom Tollbooth.

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  3. Revision. Ah, the true work. In a sense, writing the first draft is brainstorming, and revision (true revision) is the blood and guts of the final product. I am glad to see the improvements in your work. Keep at it!

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    1. Blood and guts. Conjures images of slaughtering a story, which I guess accurately describes revising.

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  4. These are some great examples! Thanks, Tracy.

    Personally, I find notes (comments) included in the text (with examples) so much more useful than broad feedback letters, but I have definitely made use of both before.

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    1. Thanks, Matthew. They can both be useful. I like when readers point out specific moments that are unclear or that need improving.

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  5. Excellent examples. Good luck with the revision!

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  6. I have to say, Tracy, I'm kind of envious of your tight writing, even after revisions are well under way. That said, since selling my debut novel, I promised myself not to look at it until I get my first edit notes back, so I can have that fresh eye, as much as I did the best I could.

    You'd kind of hope that working on a book for a decade it would be reasonably tight, so I hope the revisions won't be too onerous, if I have to do another rewrite I will, but I'm praying it won't come to that.

    Like you, I understand the need for brisk pacing, but I have the opposite problem, I'm often too detailed, versus not detailed enough, even taking "Show, don't tell" out of it, I just love being detailed. Sometimes that details turns "unnecessary." But I'd personally rather avoid unfair vagueness for the reader above all else, even above brisk pacing.

    It's hard to give enough without being vague or reading indecisive to the reader, though I have to wonder at times if this is more a problem for my adult beta-readers than the kids I hope to attract. Just saying...(LOL)

    To end this musing on a positive note, I try to view this part of the process with as much empathy and gratitude that I can give, but some days are harder than others, that's all.

    I'll say a prayer in your honor.

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    1. Thanks for sharing, Taurean. Best of luck with your revision. I'll take the prayer. :-)

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  7. This is really helpful, Tracy. I'm revising right now and I know my own MG needs a lot of work. Your examples really bring home how much stronger each scene is with revision.

    I love that you added more about The Phantom Tollbooth (coolest book ever) in the first scene. It really was needed, but I didn't see that until I read your second version.

    An agent recently told me I don't have enough reaction from my main character. So I'm going through my own ms and trying to see where it's needed. In that scene of yours, I would have had Eddie react somehow when Gabriela says, "Eddie! Do not ruin the story for me!"

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    1. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts, Joanne. Best of luck with your story and your "reactions." I, too, am guilty of my MC falling asleep at the wheel during conversations.

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  8. This was a fun read. I just got back from my MFA residency and we do a ton of critiquing there, so 1. In the first example, I'm wondering how he knows the size of the wound if it's on his back...mirror, maybe? 2. In the second example, I think you should end with "nod." I think she knows why he's nodding. 3. From third example, if some guy yelled at another guy "Move it or lose 'em," I'd think he was referring to testicles, but maybe that's just me.
    I think you're a WONDERFUL writer and can't wait for this story to find a home!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Anita. And thanks for the suggestions. Appreciate it.

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  9. I'm steeped in revision myself. Thanks for these tips. They help a ton!

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Thanks for adding to the mayhem!