Monday, July 09, 2018

Revising while your novel is a requested full

I'm just back from a reading binge of 26+  novels/memoirs/proposals.
I didn't read all of them start to finish. My practice is to read until I have to say no.
Often that's within about 100 pages.

But for a couple novels I knew I was going to say no, but I still read the whole thing cause I wanted to find out what happened. That's VERY good since it means I was interested even though there were problems with the book.

Both these novels had undergone revisions while they were pending in my reading pile. (Probably more than a few, since you can't keep an author from tinkering unless you tape their hands to something, and even then they try to type with their noses or toeses).

What happened with both the books was the revisions changed key pieces of information about characters and the time line. That change had NOT been integrated into the manuscript as a whole. So, someone who majored in math in chapter 206, was introduced as someone who majored in physics on page 2.

When you're revising, and familiar with the manuscript, you don't see that.
When I'm reading, and page 2 was six hours ago, I do.

This is not the kind of meticulous writing I look for.
Enough of it, and I'm much more likely to stop reading.

So, how to fix it?
Well, don't stop revising. I often find that my 101st revision is where the really good stuff finally gets on the page.

When you finish a revision you need to let the manuscript lie fallow for a week,  then go back and read it all the way through again.

And you probably need to read it aloud to catch the homonyms and wrong words. My favorites are hoard/horde, and stubble/stumble. (In fact, I caught your/you're in the title of this blog post ONLY after I let it sit overnight.)

In other words, if you revise, you need to make sure you've improved the ms, not created problems for yourself.


Kitty said...

I keep a private blog -- for my eyes only -- where I can post stories in order to catch mistakes. Sometimes reading a story online helps me to see the mistakes I seem to miss on a printed copy.

Kitty said...

Good to have you back, Janet!

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Welcome back, Janet.

26+ in 7 days! Wow. Hopefully that took care of the requested pile. (wait! do I hear laughter?)

I've read on other blogs about the practice of keeping a story bible/sheet to keep those types of details in one place.

JeffO said...

I did this to my beta readers with my WiP and felt terrible about it. Will not do it to agents!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I made character sheets listing name, backstory, idiocies, quirks likes and dislikes etc..
Ran a bunch of copies.
This way I could keep track as I go along during the writing, and better yet, refer to them as I edit.
Well, I wrote (most of) the book, let it sit a while and am back with a vengeance to edit what I've written and to actually finish.

Found a few, math on page 2 and physics on page 200, and I wouldn't have found them if I were editing sections at a time.
About those clever character sheets, I can't find the ones I filled out and don't even know where the blanks are. Did I save them on my computer, yup. Can I find the file....? I hate Mondays. It is Monday, right?

All I can say is, welcome back Janet.

AJ Blythe said...

Just today I had a call from a very confused crit partner. I'd managed to change the name of a character 3 times in the first half of the book thanks to chunky edits.

Kitty, I'm the opposite. I have to print my ms because I pick up more on print than I do on the screen.

Theresa said...

Fascinating insight into the process. This is what I meant about the results--- numbers and general impressions rather than names.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

You have just codified my revision obsession. I feel like I teeter between extremes of querying too soon or never getting book exactly right. Yeah, tape my hands, nose, and feet to something but not until I finish this one last revision - ok, 2 more at most.

Amy Johnson said...

I've caught your/you're oopses in my work, um, a number of times. I usually follow the discovery with a firm talking-to to myself. If it can happen to the Queen...well, maybe I don't feel quite so bad.

Sam Mills said...

*Sigh* When embarking on a major revision I save a numbered copy of the draft and drag it away to a drafts folder. That way, if I get halfway through the revision and realize I was completely off my rocker when I conceived it, I can revert back without accidentally leaving a bunch of threads straggling.

I definitely didn't learn that one the hard way.

Casey Karp said...

I alternate drafts: draft 1 on computer, 2 on paper (with ink, not pencil!), 3 on computer, and so on. I catch all kinds of stuff that way. Stuff I can't believe I committed.

And I alternate projects as well. That gives me plenty of fallow time between drafts.

As for revising something on submission, nope. (Barring an R&R, naturally.) What I send out is the best I could do at that point in time. Better to give it a chance to fly while I stitch the next one together. If I start revising it mid-air, it's just gonna slam into somebody's window.

RosannaM said...

I cringe at this. Consistency is so important and yet so easy to screw up. Someone can go to sleep on a Tuesday and wake up on a Friday. And they hadn't been in a coma! And once I used Find and Replace to change someone's name. Easy, peasy, I thought.

Imagine my horror when I found a bunch of Steveatoes and Steveorrows and Stevahawks. (okay not that last one, but still).

And don't even get me started about props. My characters play games with me, putting their keys on the table, then pulling them out of a pocket...sometimes it's like herding cats. Or juggling scalpels.

Morgan Hazelwood said...

I admit, I'm a bit relieved that agents don't think that we'll stop revising when we send it off.

I mean, of course we've polished and revised as much as possible, and then we query.

THEN. We think of something we missed, or we get the first couple form rejections back and start looking at that first chapter again and it snowballs out of control...

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Holy smokes ,26!! Though in my defense, your practice to read until you have to say no is why I guessed so high this week ;)

I recently changed POV, tense, and all three main character's names when revising a novella.

I do not recommend this.

The names, I did a find + replace before I did a readthrough. The POV and tense change I did by having the old and new documents open side by side and retyping the entire thing (well not the entire thing, I was also cutting it down from 45k words to 33k). Then I read it again. Then I sent it to the reader who had the time for it.

I do not recommend this.

I still feel like I owe that reader BIG. (and the novella is number 70 in the Tor dot com queue)

Barbara Etlin said...

Find and Replace is evil. In my first novel I decided to change an oil freighter to a grain freighter. Later I found a reference to 17th century Dutch grain paintings.

Gigi said...

It also helps, when you change something factual (name, major, etc.) to do a document search. When I change something like that, I make a note to myself to search for and read over every instance of "major" or "physics" or whatever. It helps.

Emilya Naymark said...

Ha, yes, good old search and replace. Changed a character’s name from Rob to Ed and ended up with a manuscript full of pEdlems 😁. Note to self: make the search and replace case sensitive.

Steve Stubbs said...

Congrats to the three winners. Comments were closed when I got around to reading the blog, but I got the # MSS exactly right:

"You read as many as you read. Not one more. Not one less."

Having read what agents say on line and having read lots of unpublished MSS, I'd wager most MSS are rejected not because the author lacks talent but because the MS needs so much copy editing that it would take longer to fix it than it took to write it in the first place. If the MS is just completely buried in spelling errors, grammar errors, punctuation errors, passive voice, tell and not show, cliches (especially surrounded by quotation marks to call attention to the fact they are cliches), lost performative, phony sounding dialogue, characters who suddenly appear out of nowhere, etc., that may explain the Mystery of Rejection. That is good news because none of that is at all subjective and the author should be able to fix all of it.

I am not tough enough to be an agent (and really admire everyone who is in any kind of sales) but if I were, that would be good news for me as well. I think I could spot a hopeless MS after reading 2-3 pages. One agent said on line if he saw one comma out of place or missing, it was time to zap the crap and move on. That would make it possible t0 burn through a stack of fulls in no time.

Were it really subjective, that would be bad news for authors.

Karen McCoy said...

How does this blog manage to discuss the very topic I need, exactly when I need it? It's like super shark sense, or something.

I have two fulls out, but a rejection from a partial indicated structural flaws with the beginning. Now, I'm not only worried for my fulls, but for the agents that I've already queried (probably NORMANS, but not rejected yet) because the book has flaws.

But this entry has completely calmed my perfectionist tendencies. Because I can keep revising, once I let it sit fallow (because I'm definitely guilty of making a novel worse once my perfectionist has her way with it) I will keep querying, widely.

Plus, I have other novels I'm working on--and even if this book doesn't get an agent, another one might.

Craig F said...

Post-it notes and post-it notes on post-it notes. Search and replace on Word; along with several other things it does, like my continuing war with it's comma protocol, scares the snot out of me.

So I use post-it notes to try to stay consistent in my writing. Now I just need to be consistent in my use of post-it notes. The damn things are everywhere and I can never hold the thought that sent me in search of a specific one until I find it.

Elissa M said...

My current beta reader is catching my revision oopsies. She's a librarian and middle school reading teacher--a combination that makes it hard to slip anything under her radar.

I'm going to do my best to avoid tinkering with the "finished" manuscript by working on a new novel after I start querying. We'll see if that works.

Adele said...

My best-ever continuity mistake was when my heroine struggled home through a fierce November snowstorm, and then the following morning headed out into the rose garden - with flowers in bloom - for a walk in the sunshine. My writer's group is still giggling. Memo to self: re-read the previous scenes before you start writing their sequels.

Lately I've been seeing writers confuse palate and palette. Sigh.

Jennifer Mugrage said...

"Version hell" !

I have a scientist for a beta reader. That helped a lot.

C.M. Monson said...

This is so true. I can't stop tinkering with my manuscripts. Even when I believe I am finished, some harebrained idea pops into my head and I end up running with it which inevitably messes up the flow of the scene or entire pace of the story.

BrendaLynn said...

Yikes I think I’ll have another read through.

John Davis Frain said...

Oh, these global replace stories are cracking me up. Neil Gaiman tells one for when his story was getting Americanized from the British version.

I'm guessing this mistake was caught before the book went to press, but the story is funny regardless.

Gaiman, answering a question:
... I kept the word "flat" for where Richard lived, in my US version. It's not a universally common US word, but it's comprehensible. The US editors unilaterally decided to change the word to "apartment" and did a universal find-and-replace, and in the bound galleys that were sent to reviewers there were people who believed the Earth was apartment.

Makes me want to join the Apartment Earth Society, just to attend the meetings and witness the general confusion.

John Davis Frain said...

Also, I'm trying to read through my entire WIP in two days to check for consistency issues, pausing only briefly to indicate major notes. I need to get to page 200 today because tomorrow won't afford me as much time.

I have no idea how you swallowed 26 mss in 7 days. OTOH, I've read sharks don't sleep, so maybe I do have an idea.


Lennon Faris said...

So true. I once wrote a story that was 200K+ words (word count another, although probably related, problem). In it the main character met the love interest three times, all for the first time.

My short-term memory has merrily kept sledding down the hill since then. But I have learned to let the mss sit.