On Revision (Gasp! What?)

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* The Novel Wrapped
* On Revision (Gasp! What?)
* Genre Doesn’t Matter
* Audio Lectures
* Of Interest

Quote of the Day

“Write the slow parts fast and the fast parts slow.” Lee Child on pacing

Ooh, study that until you understand!

The Novel Wrapped

Welp, the novel wrapped with 46545 words, 1401 of which were cuts. (Note that’s an average, over 18 writing days, of just over 2500 words per day. I need to increase that average if I’m to have any chance of reaching my annual goal.) I ran a spell check, deleted the cuts, saved the file in PDF and sent it off to my first reader, Russ Jones. Gracias, Russ.

And by the time I got up this morning and out to the Hovel, Russ had already read the PDF story, annotated it, and sent it back to me. So I’ll design a cover etc. and publish it today. Not sure when I’ll start the next one.

But yesterday after the novel wrapped, while the following was fresh in my mind, I came here to write this.

On Revision

I understand that I’m taking a bit of a chance here.

Revision is a topic I very seldom talk about in the Journal (other than to say “Don’t Do It!”) because it’s SO easy to confuse young writers. Especially with the glut of writers and would-be writers out there in all directions saying you should outline, write, REVISE, seek criticism, rewrite, blah blah blah.

So the first question I expect to receive is, “Well, if it’s all right to revise (conscious, critical mind) sometimes, then why isn’t it all right all the time?”

So I surrender. If you want to follow the “outline, write, revise, seek criticism, rewrite, blah blah blah” crowd and construct your stories instead of creating them, knock yourself out. I really don’t care.

Of course, you’ll always wonder what it might have been like to write into the dark, whether it really was as freeing as I’ve tried to tell you, but you’ll never know. But hey, that’s on you, not me.

For those of you who are still reading, first, this will change NOTHING I’ve taught you before: You cannot CREATE anything with your rational, conscious, critical mind. It isn’t a failing on your part. It simply can’t be done.

The rational, conscious, critical mind CONSTRUCTS, it doesn’t create. If you want to build a story or novel block by pre-planned block, go ahead. You can even call it a “creation” if you want, but you know it’s a false construction.

That said, occasionally I do invoke my conscious, critical mind to revise. There, I said it. Now let me explain it. I don’t revise what has happened as the story unfolded but how many times I’ve reported what happened.

By the way, if you’re advanced enough in your skill set, you might find this technique useful yourself. If you aren’t there yet, don’t worry about it. I wasn’t there until around the middle of 2020. You’ll be able to use it someday.

First, though, a quick warning. Be very cautious. When you do what I’m about to explain, you aren’t looking to change story content. And if the content hasn’t already been revealed, you can’t do this anyway, at least not the way I’m about to explain it.

Remember, just like in your life (your story) the characters’ story unfolds as they live it. Your first task as a fiction writer is to be true to your characters, to write down what happens in their world and what they say and do in response.

So when I say you shouldn’t revise content, that’s exactly what I mean. You shouldn’t revise what happens in your characters’ world or what they say or do in their reaction to it.

Now—in almost all of my novels and even in some of my short stories, the final high-action scene—the climax, not the ending or denoument—often unfolds from the vantage point of more than one POV character. As a result, sometimes information is repeated unnecessarily (place emphasis on “unnecessarily”).

I hasten to add, knowing when and how often to repeat information, and knowing what information to repeat, is an advanced skill in and of itself.

But unnecessary repetition will dull the excitement of a scene, and it will kill the story, especially if it crops up in the big climax.

So when I’m writing a story like the one I just finished, in which the events of the climax are reported through the senses of more than one POV character, first, I still cycle back routinely to let the characters touch the story again to make sure they haven’t omitted anything they wanted to include. Of course, I do that with my creative subconscious.

(To learn about cycling, key “cycling” into the Search box in the sidebar at https://hestanbrough.com or search the archives for the term.)

But then I read through it again—critically, this time—comparing the various POV characters’ accounts. NOT TO CHANGE any part of any of those accounts, but to be absolutely sure the accounts mesh without stepping on each others’ toes. To make sure any repetition is warranted and not excessive, and to make sure the climax is as squeaky clean as I can help make it in my role as an outsider.

Okay, the floor is open for questions or comments. Please visit https://hestanbrough.com/on-revision-gasp-what/ and use the Comment form so everyone can benefit.

If you email me with a question or comment, that’s fine, but if I believe my response would benefit other writers, I’ll use it in a comment myself, or in another post.

Genre Doesn’t Matter

I was telling someone a few days ago, a writer asked me once whether I could edit a novel in a specific genre. My response was a dry, “If it’s written in the English language, you’re in luck.” (I no longer copyedit for others.)

I’ve spent several decades trying to convince writers that poetry techniques are useful in fiction (and vice versa), and that how various craft techniques (suspense, pacing, POV, narrative voice, punctuation, and so on) are applied is equally important across ALL genres.

Likewise learning, absorbing new knowledge across all fields of interest is important regardless of what genre(s) you write. I once had a woman tell me she would never even read Heinlein’s Rules “because I don’t write science fiction.”

Another woman who writes two 60,000 word novels per year refused to try the five senses exercise. “I know enough,” she said. “I don’t want to learn anything else.”

Wow.

Now we can’t help being ignorant of one thing or another. Nobody knows everything. But intentional ignorance, especially on the part of a writer of fiction, borders on stupidity.

As a writer of fiction, you should glean new knowledge, new information, from every source available to you. I don’t mean information about writing, I mean information in general, information that will expand your horizons.

One of my favorite sources of information is the free Interesting Engineering newsletter.

The other is the free (and politically unbiased) newsletter 1440 Daily Digest. You can sign up for that at DailyDigest@email.join1440.com. We’re far too limited as it is. Don’t limit yourself further.

Audio Lectures

I haven’t mentioned these for quite awhile, but even as the DVD video lectures go away, I still have audio lectures, and I can deliver them almost instantly via email. They are very low cost at ony $5 per session, and they range from 2 or 3 sessions on up to 9 or 10.

To see what I offer in audio lectures, visit https://harveystanbrough.com/lecture-series/.

And while I’m at it, see my books on writing at https://stonethreadpublishing.com/writing-books/. If you order from me directly, there’s a discount involved.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Writing Classes” at https://deanwesleysmith.com/writing-classes/. This kickstarter ends at 7 p.m. today or tomorrow.

See “Using ChatGPT as a Blog Research and Writing Tool” at https://killzoneblog.com/2023/01/using-open-ai-chatgpt-as-a-blog-research-and-writing-tool.html.

See “OpenAI Used Kenyan Workers on Less Than $2 Per Hour to Make ChatGPT Less Toxic” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/openai-used-kenyan-workers-on-less-than-2-per-hour-to-make-chatgpt-less-toxic/.

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1340 words

Writing of Wes Crowley: Deputy US Marshal (WCG8SF3)

Day 1…… 2815 words. Total words to date…… 2815
Day 2…… 2034 words. Total words to date…… 4849
Day 3…… 2650 words. Total words to date…… 7499
Day 4…… 2209 words. Total words to date…… 9708
Day 5…… 4214 words. Total words to date…… 13922
Day 6…… 2299 words. Total words to date…… 16221
Day 7…… 2136 words. Total words to date…… 18357
Day 8…… 1688 words. Total words to date…… 20045
Day 9…… 2712 words. Total words to date…… 22757
Day 10… 3052 words. Total words to date…… 25809
Day 11… 4502 words. Total words to date…… 30311
Day 12… 1098 words. Total words to date…… 31409
Day 13… 2743 words. Total words to date…… 34152
Day 14… 2785 words. Total words to date…… 36937
Day 15… 3372 words. Total words to date…… 40309
Day 16… 1297 words. Total words to date…… 41606
Day 17… 2885 words. Total words to date…… 44506
Day 18… 2039 words. Total words to date…… 46545 (Done)

Total fiction words for January……… 36822
Total fiction words for 2023………… 36822
Total nonfiction words for January… 10950
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 10950
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 48772

Calendar Year 2023 Novels to Date…………………… 1
Calendar Year 2023 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2023 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 72
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer because of my zen-like non-process. If you want to learn it too, either hang around or download my Journal Archives at https://hestanbrough.com/the-daily-journal-archives/, read them, and try WITD for yourself. For the time being, the archives are free.

8 thoughts on “On Revision (Gasp! What?)”

  1. Hello there!
    Repetation can be tricky. I write my novel now, and two POV characters are involved. Only once I felt I repeated an information. I put away for a little time the novel and when reread it, I didn’t feel it again. Yes, repetation was there, but from different angle and via this it meant a different thing to the other character. So, in the end I didn’t touch anything.
    I’m afraid that the five sense technique (which I focus on during writing this novel), WITD, and HR 1-5 are just the opening gate to a labyrinth full of information. I feel I will never finish learning, but this is good.
    Like this revise thing. I don’t know how much practice should be involved while I will learn it. I don’t worry – the journey is enjoyable to there.

    Greetings, Balázs

    Reply
    • Yes, I almost regret having mentioned it. It’s very easy, while revising as I talk about in the post, to start second guessing the characters or what happened in their world. Try not to let that happen.

      Reply
  2. This is something I do, not for every novel, because it’s rare I have more than one POV character, but I do it often. Funnily enough, I never realized it was an advanced technique. I actually worried I was doing something wrong because revision and WITD are not supposed to mix. But it’s just like you said: I don’t revise story content. I don’t edit the characters’ experiences, or add/omit things that happened in their stories. But I can usually always tell, instinctively, when something is unnecessarily repetitive and affects the pacing. And sometimes repetition does not always negatively affect the pacing—sometimes it’s necessary to repeat stuff. Sometimes the POV character was repetitive for a reason, and it’s like you said, you have to be cautious, and make sure you respect the way the characters told their story the first time and don’t try to exert control.

    One example that comes to mind, is in one of my mysteries, where the POV character and her sidekick visit a specific location several times throughout the story during their investigation. I don’t ever “hunt” for things, but if I’m reading back and it feels like the character is describing the route to the location and the way it looks and sounds with all the same details that she used the first two or three times they went there, I try to ascertain if it’s overly repetitive or if she’s mentioning certain things again for a reason (i.e. Could be crucial to the mystery/clues etc or just purely to be true to her unique experience).

    To me, this kind of “revision” never feels like critical brain revision though. More like cycling. Still being in the creative subconscious and just kind of gently nudging the characters like, “You know you said this twice now—is that what you intended or can I cut some of this?” And then waiting for them to touch the story as they see fit, and sometimes they don’t and it’s up to you to make that call. But in the end, it’s not so much changing events/experiences of the characters, as it is nudging what’s already there into a cleaner, tighter state. That’s how I take it anyway.

    Great post! Really made me think.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Chynna, and congratulations. I call the skillful use of repetition “advanced” because I know very few writers who can apply it intentionally and without doing so mechanically. It’s one of those techniques that come to us from poetry, a certain rhythm. Eventually those writers who stick with it long enough eventually get it, but many continue to think their way through it, some even counting and considering similar repetitions the same, then striking one just because they’ve used it before. These are the same folks who intentionally alternate “which” and “that” because someone (often, these days, a formal teacher) told them to and because they don’t understand the function of those two words in the language.

      One thing—You wrote “waiting for them to touch the story as they see fit, and sometimes they don’t and it’s up to you to make that call.”

      Please remember that sometimes they don’t touch the story in a way you think they should because that isn’t how the story’s unfolding. Either way, if you “make that call” You might send the story in a direction it wouldn’t have unfolded naturally. Always be on your guard against that conscious-mind influence.

      Reply
      • Thanks for the reply, Harvey. It gave me even more insight. I like how you referred to it as a rhythm—that’s exactly how it feels to me too. And you’re right, it can be easy to slip into conscious-mind influence. I feel like guarding against that is a skill in itself, one that comes from lots of practice. I remember when I used to overthink every single word I wrote. I don’t know how I dealt with that kind of drudgery I was heaping on myself. Now my main goal when writing is just to not think at all. Like the sign Ray Bradbury kept in front of his typewriter that said Don’t Think. If I’m thinking, I’m not in the story. I don’t want my mind in the story at all, except to be there as an excited observer.

        Thanks for these tips. They’re great tools to have when reading back and cycling. I hope I can one day get to the point of mastering this technique.

        Reply

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