Friday, May 27, 2016

3 Revision Tools for Seeing the "Big Picture"

Today I continue our TeachingAuthors series on "After the First Draft: Revision" by sharing three tools you may find helpful for seeing your story's "Big Picture." I'm mainly talking about novels here, but the first two tools could also be used with picture books.

1)  Writing your own flap copy.

"Flap copy" is the name given to the "copy" or information printed on the inside of a book's front dust jacket to hook the reader's interest. I recently attended the SCBWI Wild Wild Midwest Conference, where editorial assistant Rebecca Schwarz of Katherine Tegen Books gave a great talk on how writing the flap copy for a work-in-progress can help writers define and clarify their story's focus, characters, and plot, and hone in on the heart of the story. I won't try to summarize her talk here, but I did find a brief description of this same exercise in a blog post by Cheryl Klein, executive editor at Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic:
Another excellent exercise for identifying problems with your manuscript: Write the flap copy. It should include the opening situation, the action that precipitates your main character into the novel, at least one action s/he takes in response, and two of the following elements: interesting secondary characters / further plot twists / the great mystery driving the narrative on / distinctive phrasing from the book / larger questions the book raises that might intrigue the reader, all in 250 words or less. If you can't supply any of these elements, think about why not.
If you'd like to see examples of Klein's own flap-writing process, check out this blog post. Also, note that she's no longer publishing new posts on that blog. You can now find her blog posts at her new website.

2)  Visualizing your book's cover

I recently did a cover reveal here on our blog for the new edition of Rosa, Sola. As I mentioned in that post, I hired a professional designer to create the cover. Of course, I provided him with a plot summary. But he also asked me to share any ideas I had for appropriate visual images. In thinking about what those images might be, I created two lists:
  • words/phrases that described themes or aspects in my novel, such as only child, Italian-American, 1960s Chicago, immigrants 
  • visual images in the novel, which included baseball, beach, bicycle, butterfly, cardinal, tomato plants, rose bushes
I have to admit, my first instinct was to try to recreate a scene from the novel on the cover. But the articles I read about cover design said that's not the point. Instead, the cover is intended to catch a reader's eye while hinting at the genre, subject matter, and tone or theme. One of the things I liked about the original cover of Rosa, Sola was the sunlight shining behind Rosa. When I talked to young readers at school visits, I asked them what they thought that represents, and they would always answer "hope." Rosa herself looks rather somber in the picture, and rightfully so, because some parts of the novel are somber. But the sunlight behind her hints at the story's hopeful ending.

However, I've always felt the somber look on Rosa's face might be off-putting to potential readers. I wanted something for the new edition that would be more inviting but wouldn't belie the serious nature of the novel. I decided to use the image of a butterfly, in part because one of my favorite scenes in the novel involves a butterfly. But also because the image of Rosa reaching for a butterfly portrays her longing. Based on the comments I received about the cover reveal, I think it was a good choice.

To use cover design as a revision tool, I recommend you come up with two lists like mine: one containing words/phrases describing themes or aspects of your story, and the other listing actual visual images found in your story. If you have trouble creating either list, that should provide clues as to what's missing in your story and the areas you need to work on.

3)  Analyzing your "shrunken manuscript"

To use this tool, you "shrink" your manuscript by printing (or displaying) the text in a small font. Analyzing this version of the manuscript helps you evaluate your story's overall structure. I've never actually tried this myself, but other authors I know have used it with success. There's a written description of the process on Darcy Pattison's site. She also presents an introduction to the process in this webinar.

Photo credit: veryuseful via VisualHunt / CC BY

So what are some of your favorite revision tools? Mary Ann talked about "killing her darlings." JoAnn mentioned re-writing her manuscript in longhand. And Bobbi finds inspiration from reading about how other authors approach revision. I hope you'll share some of your favorite revision tools in the comments below.

Meanwhile, the inspiring quotes in Bobbi's post made me think of these words from Several Short Sentences About Writing (Vintage Books) by Verlyn Klinkenborg:
A writer's real work is the endless winnowing of sentences,
The relentless exploration of possibilities,
The effort, over and over again, to see in what you started out to say
The possibility of saying something you didn't know you could
I don't have a poem for today, but you can check out this week's Poetry Friday round-up at The Drift Record blog by Julie Larios.

Happy writing!


danielle said...

Great ideas!!! I've never thought of imagining the cover, but it's both fun and instructive. :)

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks, Danielle. Glad you found it helpful.