Saturday, June 16, 2012

Some Thoughts on Revision

I've always prided myself in having high-quality prose. In my head, I knew that good books aren't written; they're rewritten. But still, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?

Thus, I've felt that I didn't need revision quite as much as other people. I thought I could create good books without too much editing. I mean, I do use revision quite a bit, but in the case of my Will Vullerman stories, I've done little to no revision and they turned out pretty well.

Was I wrong? Absolutely.

I received a critique of The Thirteenth Call the other day that was pretty critical of the story. To the critiquer's credit, he told me what was wrong with the story with fantastic politeness and respect and really did a great job. Still, it hurt a little bit. Wasn't the story "good enough"? If that story wasn't good, what was?

I think, in a way, that critique was a bit of a knock on the head from God. Learn from my experience, fellow writer: don't get so puffed up in the head that you don't see mistakes when you make them! I was feeling pretty good about myself up until then. But I'm not supposed to feel good about myself; I'm supposed to feel grateful to God that He has used me to write such stories. I need to hold my stories to a higher standard, and cut off Pride's head while I'm at it.

Now that I've had some time to mull it over, I realized my mistake: I thought that The Thirteenth Call was good enough not to revise, in addition to that silly thing called Pride.

Here's my advice: always look for places to better the story. Don't settle for "good enough". And most of all, don't think that great prose makes a great story. That was the downfall of The Thirteenth Call. What I needed to revise was my plot and character, not my prose.

Revision means looking critically at EVERYTHING in the novel, not just the prose. The pacing of the story was good, the prose was good, the dialogue was good; but that blinded me to the fact that a few of the characters were shallow and one-dimensional, and that there was very little emotional difficulty in the story.

Now that I'm finished with The Immortal Man (finished it yesterday at 8.5k), I plan to set my Will Vullerman stories on the shelf for a while, and then pull them out to revise later on. I'm planning on some pretty heavy-duty rewriting for The Thirteenth Call especially.

Take it from me, writer. Your story always needs revision, no matter how good you think it is after you finish it. Send it to people and they'll identify your flaws for you. But send it to more than one person, and don't rely on critique from your family. (I've found that their critiques often amount to, "It was good.")

And as a side note, wait 'til the story's done to revise. Otherwise, you'll get distracted.

You'll find that revision will make your story shine. It'll turn out so much better if you look at everything with a critical eye and try to find places to improve.

And a great story that's been polished is what's going to get your name out there, not a decent story with little revision.


Eruantien Nenharma said...

Very good points, Jake! I know what you mean about feeling a little hurt after getting back a good, honest critique--I had a lot of that from someone who offered to edit a novel of mine. : P

Hannah Joy said...

Man, my family are my biggest critiquers....

But yeah, I know what you mean. I get hurt and thus stop writing for months on end because I'm like, "Well, if that wasn't good enough, nothing is." Silly, I know. I think pride is a thing a lot of us struggle with.

Ninja Tim said...

True, true. I hate revising what I've written, but you're right, you can't avoid it if you want quality stuff in the end.

Unfortunately, Pride can rear his ugly head at the other end of the spectrum too. For those of us who are perfectionists by nature, when we start to revise, we might never finish because our Pride never allows us to sit back and go "You know what, I've done my best... and it's good enough."

Leilani Sunblade said...

I know exactly how you feel there, Jake. I have the exact same problem. In many cases, I feel like my stories don't need revision. Ironically, these are the ones that usually get revised, since I'll want to enter them in contests and such or at least post them online, and so I have to transfer them from notebooks to Word Docs. And that infallibly means I end up doing some revision in them.

I will note that your comment about family critiques isn't always true. My mom and dad are pretty tough on my writing when they need to be.

Anonymous said...

Oooh... good post. : ) Criticism is something I've been thinking about a lot lately. I LOVE it when people critique my book - I always ask more questions if they just say, "It was good." But sometimes I can't help what they've critiqued. Like when this one guy said that my guy main character in my novel was too girly. True, he was supposed to be a wimp, but... I've put that novel down and won't pick it back up again to revise until I convince myself that I can write from a guy's perspective. (I don't know when that will be, but I won't write until then.)

I'm always looking for something to fix in my novels. Heehee... except with my OYAN novel and the one I'm doing for Camp NaNo, I really don't have time to revise. That will come later. : )

Great post!

PS: Excerpts from my Camp NaNo novel will be on my blog soon if anyone wants to read them!