Writing: Revising a story

Before I release a story to proof-readers, I usually revise it two or more times. Here is the process in brief:

  1. During the writing process
  2. Flattening out the folds and creases
  3. Removing the bread crumbs
  4. Washing out the stains

For some reasons I relate the process to a table-cloth.

Phase 1: During the writing process

I sometimes go back into the story to revise parts I am not happy with. This usually involves:

  1. Flow – Parts I wrote, knowing they sucked, but skipped for that moment to create the flow.
  2. Left out – For the same reason I sometimes leave out scenes. I simply can not get the vibe and whatever I try will suck so much I will hte it when I came back to it.

Phase 2: Flattening out the folds and creases

The “creases” are the parts in the story that obviously do not work. The main goal is to increase readability. Here are the actions:

  1. Removing bullshit – These are the parts that have no function in the story. I wrote them with some idea in mind, re-read them later wonder: “what the fuck is it doing here?” and find no answer at all
  2. Moving misplaced bits and pieces – In some cases / most cases the “what the fuck is this doing here?” has an answer and the part that “does not fit” is simply placed in the wrong place. By putting it a bit further down the story, or place it a bit back, things suddenly connect.
  3. Clarification of intent – Some parts are simply unclear. Whatever I tried to convey is lost in translation. You read it, think: “??!!??”, re-read it and start to get it maybe the third time.
  4. Cleaning up dialogs – Dialogs can be really shitty. Like dead fish talking. Or simply non-related blabbers of text. This cleaning up is in the following:
    1. Voice – Who is talking? What kind of person is this? What values/emotions/hidden line of thoughts are exposed?
    2. Sparkliness – Does it sparkle? Do I feel something while reading? Or am I getting bored by the drivel?
    3. Relevance – What are they talking about? Is that relevant for me as the author: riding my pony? Or does it really add something to the story?
  5. Filling up the holes – The story might have some holes. Things I forgot. Things which were unclear or got lost somehow.
    1. Bridging – This is when two connected parts in the story seem unconnected. The bridge connects one to the other, making the transition from A to B logical for the reader
    2. Adding – Adding is similar to bridging, but where the bridge connect A to B, the addition happens completely somewhere else in the story helping the reader understand better why X responds in specific ways when we reach Y
    3. Using the law of 3 – The “law of 3” can be translated as follows: “anything of relevance should be mentioned at least 3 times in 3 different places in the story”. It acts as an introduction to the point where we want to slap the reader in the face and evoke that one specific emotion.
  6. Making it sing – This is not the same as “bubble” (see phase 3). Making it sing is where you re-read and think: “yeah, this is starting to work!” Where you read scenes and feel what you intended to convey.
    1. Emotional – Do you feel the emotions you describe? When your character(s) go through an emotion, do you feel that emotion too? Can you sympathize? Do you feel sad when he/she/it does? Can you feel the anger/excitement in the words? Can you feel it in the dialogs?
    2. Flowing – Does it flow? When you re-read your words, are you dragged with it?
    3. Real – Does it feel real? Or fake? Could this be real people in a real situation? Regardless of the awkwardness or weirdness of the scenes?

What is not really relevant yet is the following:

  1. Spelling errors – Sure you remove them where you find them, but it is not a disaster when you overlook one or two (per page)
  2. Story structure – Sure you want to do as much as possible to get the story structure right, but Phase 3 is really for that kind of shit.

Phase 3: Removing the bread crumbs

Phase 3 is about details: the bread crumbs. It is about getting the story right.

  1. Story structure – What the fuck have you been writing about? Does it still make sense? Does each chapter add up to the previous one? Do things happen in the proper order?
  2. Central themes – What is the story about? Is that clear? Is every chapter coming back on that? Showing it somehow? Elaborating? Steering towards a climax?
  3. Flow – Does it flow? When I read word by word, do these words add up in a logical manner?
  4. Language/words – do your sentences make sense? Do they reflect the emotions and actions? Did you use the right words?
  5. All the points in Pahse 2 – Apart from the items mentioned up until this point, all points in Phase 2 are revisited again. But in more detail: to make it even better.

What should be at the end of this process is a story that could be read by one of your proof-readers.

Phase 4: Removing the stains

The “stains” are the nitty-gritty parts that require a very thorough reading. If done well, the story as a whole should “work”, meaning that it contains all the relevant parts, conveys what you want to convey. In my case there are only two things remaining in this phase:

  1. Flow – Does it flow? When I read word by word, do these words add up in a logical manner? Can it be improved?
  2. Language/words – do your sentences make sense? Do they reflect the emotions and actions? Did you use the right words? Can it be improved?

Conclusion

Revising takes me about as much time as writing the story itself, if not double the time. Where the raw version might take me one day, I can easily add two more days to it to move through all phases of revising and feel that it is “good enough”.

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