Posts Tagged ‘revision process’

5 Steps for adding a new character to your (completed) novel

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

When my agent told me that I needed to add a new character to my novel – the one I’ve been working on for years and have revised countless times and considered this close to submission-ready – I wanted to make like my butterscotch tabby, Sunny, and curl up under a blanket and shut down.

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But then I remembered that I’d done it before. When I was working with my editor on FLYAWAY, she also suggested that I add a new character – a “decoy boy” to distract readers from the inevitability of the main character, Stevie, getting together with the major love interest, Alan. My character The Professor was born, and he actually became the character who generated the most comments and questions from students in my school visits.

So in my quest to add a new character to my current WIP, I went back to the process I had used before and came up with these five steps:

1. Clarify the new character’s role in your novel. Will this character serve as a decoy, as The Professor did in FLYAWAY, or will they fill another role? Other possible roles might include ally or mentor to the main character or proxy for the antagonist. Being clear on the new character’s role in your novel will help you determine how much weight to give him in terms of page time and backstory.

2. Determine the relative importance of the character. Is your new character a walk-on in one scene, or will she play a major role throughout the book? The new character my agent suggested that I add in this revision only appears in a few scenes and has little direct impact on the plot. Because of his relatively minor importance, I was careful not to flesh him out so fully that he drew undue reader attention.

3. Decide which other characters the new character will connect with. How tightly is this character woven into the weave of the story? Does he interact mostly with the main character, or will he connect to one or more minor characters as well? Will he live in one plot line or be part of several subplots? In order to weave my new character more closely into my story, I gave one of my main character’s friends a secret crush on him.

4. Create a name and a backstory relative to the character’s weight in the plot. This step is tricky. We writers love to create characters. I could have easily written a 10-page biography of my new character in which I explored his childhood and how it has impacted his current hopes, dreams, and fears. But since my character has relatively little importance compared to my major and supporting characters, I fleshed out only the essential elements of his backstory. I made notes on his name and age, his status in the school hierarchy, his interest in music, and why he’s attracted to my main character. That’s all the information I really needed. And because his relative importance to the plot is so minimal, I decided that my main character wouldn’t refer to him by name; she calls him Knit Hat Boy.

5. Choose the scenes in which the character will appear. Now that you’ve determined your character’s role in your novel, decided on her relative importance, and created an appropriate name and backstory, it’s time to “shoehorn” her into your already completed book. To complete this step, I read through my manuscript, and using Comments in Track Changes, noted the location of each scene where my new character would appear. Some of these were scenes I’d written previously that I planned to revise to include him; others were scenes I needed to add.

With your backstory notes and Comments in front of you, the final step, of course, is to write your new character into the novel. Easy? No. Worth it? In my case, yes. Thanks to my agent’s advice, I now have a new character who adds one more subtle layer of depth to my story.

Have you ever had to write a new character into an already completed manuscript? How did it go for you? What were the challenges you encountered?

Revise Yourself!

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

Every time I revise for an agent or editor, I learn something about myself as a writer. Whether it’s a tendency toward overstatement or a habit of going too light on action and description in my dialogue scenes, a professional’s comments always help me hone my ability to convey my stories on the page.

My latest revision was no different. In challenging me to add more “side streets and alleys” to my novel and to delve deeper into my characters’ emotions, my agent drew my attention to the fact that I tend to write very tight and spare. I put out what some people call “skeletal drafts” – the bare bones of a story which I later need to flesh out. The problem is, I have trouble putting enough flesh on those bones. In some ways a tight manuscript can be good, but it can also leave readers feeling rushed through the plot and cheated of fully connecting with the characters.

In pondering my agent’s challenge, I realized that my propensity toward “fast and tight” relates not only to my writing, but to the way I live my life. I’m one of those people who is always in a hurry. Perhaps because my childhood experience of cancer left me with an awareness of my mortality, time feels like it’s at a premium, and as a result I tend to rush through both tasks and interactions in my urgency to move on to the next thing. Even in my teaching, I tend to value flow over depth. I’m afraid that if I go on too long, people will get bored. If you want proof, take a look at my posts on this blog, few of which are over 400 words. Up till now, my motto has been “Get to the point.”

My agent has made my see that in my writing – and in my life – I can afford to slow down and take the time to explore each moment, each interaction, to it’s fullest. I don’t have to worry that my readers will get bored if I elaborate on a characters thoughts and feelings, and in the course of a day, I can risk a few moments of downtime or a lull in a conversation.

And maybe someday, I’ll even take the ultimate risk and write a 500-word blog post.

What have you learned in revisions that you can apply to your life?

Revision strategy: the composite revision letter

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

I just finished a major revision of my latest novel (whew!), and now that I’m done, I want to share one of my revision strategies with you. I’ve never tried this technique before, but I found it helpful in organizing my thoughts and creating a revision plan.

Any writer who has gotten a revision letter from an editor or agent knows that responding to one requires a level of digging into your manuscript, rethinking assumptions, and killing your darlings that you would never reach on your own. In short, it’s torture. Strange to say, though, one of the things I miss most about having an agent and an editor is getting that dreaded revision letter because in spite of the challenge it always offered, I enjoyed being pushed beyond my perceived limits.

That’s why I decided to write my own revision letter. I had queried a number of agents with the previous draft of my novel, and several asked to see a full manuscript. Of those who read the full, three or four sent me detailed feedback about my story, letting me know what they enjoyed about it as well as what didn’t work for them.

Instead of just filing these responses away, I decided to combine them to create a revision letter to guide me toward my next draft. I cut and pasted sections from each agent’s email, making sure to include not only their suggestions for improvement but also their words of encouragement. The result was a cohesive letter detailing what worked in my manuscript and providing concrete steps for making my story stronger. I printed the letter and used it as my guide throughout the revision process, responding to the comments through making hard decisions about my work, the way I would if I were doing a rewrite for my agent or editor.

One of the agents who gave me feedback said she would be willing to look at my novel again if I addressed the issues she brought up, so I’ll definitely send the new version to her. And even though I received rejections from the other agents who read my full manuscript, their suggestions have helped me strengthen my work. I found working from my composite revision letter rewarding, and I hope other writers will find the technique useful, too.

Do you have a favorite revision jumpstarter that you’d like to share?

 

Fearless Revision

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Tomorrow is the new moon, which means I will launch into a major revision of my novel. I know that sounds a little woo-woo, but I believe in the cycles of the earth, and the new moon is a time for planting seeds and therefore the perfect time to start a major project. Anyway. I’ve spent the last month gearing up for this revision, which means doing things like:

1. Re-reading the manuscript. This sounds like a no-brainer, but I find it very useful to read my manuscript with a “child’s mind” – in other words, trying to read it as if I’ve never seen it before.

2. Taking copious notes. I open a Revision Notes file and start jotting ideas for changes I want to make.

3. Reworking character sketches. Now’s the time to deepen my characterizations, so I do lots of writing about the characters inside and outside of the events of the novel.

4. Doing additional research. If there are still factual questions in my mind, or if I feel like I need more background on an element in the novel, I do more research. For this novel, my research included watching the four-plus hour movie “Cleopatra.”

5. Creating a new timeline. This is super important. I try to find ways to tighten up my timeline for tension.

6. Making notes on the manuscript. In addition to jotting ideas in my revision file, I use Track Changes to make comments on the actual manuscript. I’m not rewriting yet, just inserting comments like, “Would she be angry here?” or “Move this scene to Chapter 5.” Kind of like a road map that I can refer to as I revise.

Now that I’m ready, it’s time to be fearless. This revision isn’t going to be about making little tweaks to the plot or characters. It’s going to be a paradigm shift based on the “aha”s I’ve had all month as I’ve re-read and thought about my story. Basically, I’ve realized that my current draft is actually the backstory of the novel I really need to write. So it’s time to rip it all apart and start over.

I’ve come to believe that unless I do a revision like this, where I truly go back to the drawing board in some way, I’m not pushing myself to write the best novel I can. It’s so easy to gloss over things that aren’t completely working and think that agents and editors won’t notice the glitches, but they do. They always do. So I’m going to put on my Warrior Woman outfit, gird my loins, and leap into the fray.

Wish me luck.

 

Writing Resolutions for 2014

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions. I know from my experience as a Pilates instructor that promises to lose 10 pounds by January 31st or to, more vaguely, “get in shape” are all too easily derailed. This year, though, I came up with these writing resolutions, some specific, some global, that I hope will help make 2014 a productive and creative year.

1. I will stay positive, hopeful, and optimistic about my future work getting published. The fact that my agent, the fabulous Chris Richman of Upstart Crow Literary, left the business this spring made 2013 a tough year for me. But I’m determined to keep forging ahead and hoping for great things in the future.

2. I will continue to identify myself as an author. Since I haven’t published a book since 2011, I sometimes feel like I no longer belong in the “Published Authors’ Club.” But then I remind myself that I now have 8 published works out there, not including magazine stories and articles and website content. I think that earns me a lifetime membership!

3. l will remain open to alternative ways of bringing my work to readers. There’s no denying it: the publishing world is changing. What does that mean for me? I’m not sure, but I’m going to stay open to the new models that are being created.

4. I will be open to trying different genres of writing. For the past few years I’ve focused exclusively on writing YA novels. I want to continue with that, but I’ve also recently finished the first draft of a romance novella. Who knows what other kinds of works might surface this year?

5. I will be open to trying new writing processes. My modified NaNoWriMo experiment this November opened my eyes to the fact that maybe slow and methodical isn’t the only way to write. I plan to try lots of different writing methods and techniques in the coming year.

6. I will revise Novel #3 and resubmit to at least 12 agents. See Resolution #1 above.

7. I will revise my romance novella with the potential goal of self-publishing it as an e-book. See Resolutions #3 and #4 above.

8. I will read through my first draft of Novel #4 and decide whether it’s worth revising. This is the novel I completed at top speed during November. I think it’s a mess, but now that I’ve put it aside for a month, I’m willing to take a look and see if there are any gems hidden in the swamp.

9. I will be on the lookout for ideas for novel #5. I always like to stay a step ahead of myself. That way, if a prospective agent asks me, “What are you planning to write next?” I’ll have an answer.

10. I will remain joyfully committed to my writing practice. ‘Nuff said.

What are your writing resolutions for 2014?