Friday, March 22, 2013

A Revision "Aha!" Moment

Happy Poetry Friday! I'm not sharing a poem today, but I have included links to where you can get your Friday poetry fix at the end of this post.

Instead of poetry, I'm discussing revision today. I'm currently in the throes of revising not one, but two, manuscripts, so Jeanne Marie's recent post on revision was timely. However, unlike Jeanne Marie's students, I am not a "reluctant reviser." I know all to well the value of revision from my experience working on my novel Rosa, Sola (Candlewick Press). (For more about that experience, read my blog post on "The 'R' Word".)  That's not to say revision is easy for me. So I jumped at the chance to attend a Revision Retreat led by award-winning authors Julia Durango and Linda Sue Park here in Illinois last month. (Hint: If you don't know their books, especially Linda Sue's Newbery winner, then you're not reading enough. The importance of reading was one of the topics Linda Sue touched on at the Retreat. For more on what she said, read the blog post "Do You Read Enough" by Jennifer Kay, a fellow retreat attendee.)

At the retreat, I was especially inspired by Linda Sue's description of how she writes and revises her work. Before even beginning a novel, Linda Sue defines two crucial story aspects:
  • External Quest: what the protagonist wants to accomplish (the plot objective) and
  • Internal Quest: what the protagonist needs (this drives the character's emotional growth/change) 
Linda Sue shares examples of defining these for her first novel, Seasaw Girl (Clarion), on her website. There, you can also read a bit more about her pre-writing work.

At the retreat, Linda Sue explained that the quests are not cast in concrete--they can change and evolve as she works on a manuscript, and she talked a bit about how that happened with A Single Shard (Clarion). However, after she's defined the two quests, one step in her revision process includes analyzing every scene to make sure the protagonist makes progress toward and/or faces impediments to one or both of the quests.

Prior to the weekend, attendees had been instructed to bring the first and last ten pages of a work-in-progress. Then, during the retreat, we were given time to practice the techniques the speakers shared. For example, after Linda Sue discussed internal and external quests, we had to define them for our own WIP. In my case, that was a very enlightening exercise. But my greatest "Aha!" moment came when I had to break my manuscript into scenes and then determine whether my protagonist made progress toward and/or faced impediments to at least one of his quests. IN EVERY SCENE! It became obvious to me that, as interesting as some of my scenes were (at least to me), they really had nothing to do with either quest. I saw for myself how much better the manuscript was when I cut those scenes. I left the retreat excited to go home and apply this new tool to the rest of the novel! (Fortunately, I have no qualms cutting when needed. But if you do, you may appreciate the following comic.)
Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at
Speaking of tools, I've been reading up on using Scrivener for my writing. It does appear to have lots of neat features. I've downloaded the free trial and worked through the text tutorial. I'll let you know if I decide to try it out on a manuscript. Meanwhile, if any of you use it, I'd love to know what aspects you especially like.

Also, I want to add that much of what Linda Sue shared at the Revision Retreat ties in nicely with the concepts presented in Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence (Ten Speed Press), which Esther reviewed here last fall. I finally picked up Wired for Story last month, and I have to say it definitely hooked me. The combination of the Revision Retreat and Cron's book is inspiring me to take a fresh look at two manuscripts I thought were "done."

On a different topic: don't forget to enter our latest Book Giveaway! You could win an autographed copy of Michelle Markel’s and Melissa Sweet’s Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 (Balzer and Bray).

Also, I'm sorry to report that wonderful TeachingAuthor April Halprin Wayland did not advance to the third round of the March Madness Poetry Tournament. :-(  However, the competition continues, so do visit the live scoreboard to cast your votes before the tournament ends.

And for more poetry, check out the Poetry Friday round up over at Gottabook.

Happy writing (and revising)!


Linda at teacherdance said...

I know about April, so sorry & I was rooting for her all the way, got some of my friends to vote for her poem! Thanks for this great post & your sharing from your retreat Carmela. I may never write a novel, but it's good advice for anyone as to "must have a purpose". I liked the two parts expected in the reasons, & glad you felt you benefitted after the weekend.

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks, Linda. I'm sorry you got knocked out of the March Madness early. That's one TOUGH competition. You are both braver than I!

Allison said...

In a few of my writing guides, the activities require me to require a particular technique to every scene. So far, I have been avoiding them, but maybe it's time to start thinking about them. Sounds like it worked for you.

PS I have used Scrivener to outline and love that feature. One day I'll play with its other features too. :-)

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for the feedback about Scrivener, Allison. I've just started using it, but I can already tell that the Outline feature is going to be one of my favorite parts. I used to keep a similarly document manually, so it will be great to have it generated automatically.
Regarding the exercise: I don't know that I'd do it for a whole novel, but I found it quite helpful to analyze the beginning and ending this way.