Thursday, March 29, 2012

Revising the Manuscript Under the Bed: Part Two -- The Revision Prep

In part one of this topic, I posed the question of choosing to revise that “manuscript under the bed.”  Assuming the decision is made to breathe new life into a perhaps too familiar story, it’s time to come up with a revision plan.  We could dive right in, but we might get lost in the maze.  No, it might be better to do some “revision prep,” the reconnaissance phase of checking out the current state of affairs in order to give us something to work with for assessing the macro level changes to come.

 As I left off in part one, making over a story seems a bit like calling in a new movie production crew to remake a movie.  After a long wait, the cast of what I call the “Guardian” project, my paranormal regency, has been reassembled.  Of course, at first the characters throw a bit of blame around as to why the production derailed in the first place.  This is probably the nerves talking.  And they’re right to be nervous!  The Mega Revision Crew, known in the business as the MRC, has arrived on the set.  They are the accountant-like auditors reputed to successfully turn around even the messiest productions.  Rumor has it they have military backgrounds.

 What does this mean for the cast?  The MRC is demanding their lenient director to make a case for the merit of each scene and character.  This prompts the actors to chatter nervously amongst themselves, wondering if their scenes will make the final cut. 

The director, that’s me, will have to listen to both sides, conceding to some cuts and yet sticking to my vision.  I know a lot will need to be done to start fresh. Some things are the discovery steps that may have been overlooked in this story’s last revision and, hopefully, they are things that will also work in the fine tuning of my other “productions.”  Maybe next time the MRC won’t need to step in.

 So the question is, what is the first step in revision prep?  Does attitude count?  I think so!  I can’t grumble over much about the presence of the MRC.  I have to take a look at what they uncover.  And the attitude for this type of overhaul must be revision first, editing later.  More on the difference here at Edits vs. Revisions: One on One Death Match.

 Part of the revision is assessing the scope of the changes (reconnaissance data in step 2, but I’m getting ahead of myself).  So, in a way, getting in the mindset of a revision means doing nothing to the manuscript (no edits) until I (and the MRC) take a look at the structural things first.  I'll work from the top down, tackling the macro things first.  

 And since I don’t really have to do anything, it’s a nice and easy way to check off #1 as done.  (My rule for any list is to make the first item incredibly easy!)  I think I’ll put it in a form of a statement to say out loud. 

1.  I will not touch a word.  I will look first. 

Of course I’ve already skipped what is probably a more obvious step one and that is to print out your manuscript.  I get the point that this is the only way to “see” some errors that are invisible on the screen.  However, the MRC suggests this is premature and there are a couple of other things to “look” at first without needing that full hard copy -- yet. 

 Next is a big step that’s a bit of “busy work” to get reacquainted with my story in its current state.  This is the reconnaissance survey, the preliminary investigation.

2.  I will do a scene by scene outline for the entire manuscript.

 I took this idea from the article Assessing the Scope of the Changes and I thought the second part made sense to do first.  The article gives an example, but basically, as described: 

 Each scene should be described in a single line or two, including the scene number, time/date stamp, and brief description of what happens.

 When I’m done, I will print this!  This will give me something very concrete to work with.  The article gives three things to analyze: 1) Missing pieces, 2) Pacing issues, and 3) Chronology issues. 

I can also think of a fourth; which is repetitive issues.  I know one of the areas I’m looking to fix is my methods of relaying information for a character’s benefit without being redundant to the reader.  Also, the possibilities for condensing back story and the use of flashbacks will likely be shown much clearer in a bare bones outline.

 This analysis will take some time, but it will be a much more manageable document to consider organizing.  More great tips for the pre-game and beyond are found here:  Game on: Staying Organized During Revisions.  There are several more links at the bottom of the article.

 One more step in my revision prep.  I didn’t complete the outline analysis before doing this next step, although it might help.

 3.  I will state the main characters’ goals.

 Maybe this had already been done or maybe not.  I thought I had done this, but when the MRC demanded this data, I tossed around some papers but couldn’t produce the document.  So, they told me to do it again.  Must I?  It’s not an easy thing to clarify. 

How?  I appreciated this next article, Goals in fiction, on every level for letting me know I’m not the only one to overcomplicate the goal.  In the post, Jordon McCollum states:

What does your character get in the end? Is the story about the character’s journey to get that? There’s your goal. (And if your story isn’t about your character’s goal, take another look at your story.)”

 Where are they at in the end?  Of course, in the end the heroine gets the hero, and vice versa, but specifically, they have also attained an internal personal goal, a desire for something to change, that was locked in place before they even met each other.  In the end, I know the heroine has found love and security, which is a broad goal.  But I recall at one point my heroine thinking if only she was “ordinary” she could have what she wanted.

 And this, her acknowledged longing for what she wants most, is pretty close to her internal goal.  She wants to be ordinary.  It seems simple, but this is the driving force for her actions that result in her running away from her extraordinary life for a taste of what she wants. 

 Finally, I can see the value of the clearly defined character goal.  Broad goals can, and did, get me through the first draft, but eventually, the goal must be clear enough to direct the actions of the character and add that dimension of caring deeply about what the character wants.  .

 This goal should be shown early.  In my outline, there are places this goal is first shown that should be moved up.  Already I can see a new beginning that acts as a lynchpin for the scenes to follow to make their character arc stronger.

 There is much more to do in reconnaissance mode and I feel this is a good start for revision prep.  I won’t declare a part three at this point, but I think doing this much will go a long ways to alert the characters they’re in for a remake!

2 comments:

  1. This was delightful! And so informative. :)

    I'm chuckling about the characters throwing blame around for the project getting derailed. LOL And the MRC sound SCARY. Eeek.

    I'm working on some revisions right now, and I like to do that macro stuff first, too. It makes more sense to get the structure stabilized before doing the detail stuff. On my longer books, I make an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of my scene-by-scene outline. It helps me see what's missing, and what is repetitive. It's amazing how much clearer things are when I can see it in a chart form. :)

    This was a fun post. It made me smile a lot, and it had a lot of great info. Hope your revisions are going well. :)

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  2. Hi Donna! Yes, the MRC are meant to be scary. Should I be worried about multiple personality issues? LOL! I can see the benefit of handing over the duty of "bad cop" to someone or several someones in revisions!

    I like your Excel spreadshed method for keeping track of the scene-by-scene outline. I've tried several methods of an outline in progress, but never kept it up.

    I'm glad you liked this post and I'm fired up to involve myself in these revisions. I'm also trying to ignore the nagging voice that says "it's a bad time to do this." (Eeek. Another personality? LOL!) End of the semester final projects, final exams, May session of two classes done in 2 1/2 weeks...sigh. But I try to tell myself if I have time to play my video games after the homework, then I have time to do this pre-revision instead. At least a part of it. :)

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