Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Revision Outline

As near as I can remember, I am currently working on my sixth novel revision. By the time I'd written my first novel, I'd figured out that an outline would be a huge help. Why did it take me so long to understand that the same thing would be true of revision?

In 2007 I spent most of the year revising one novel, and I'm happy with the result. The process, however, was like pulling hair out by the handful. I worked through from beginning to end, going back and forth as I discovered issues. For instance, realizing something needed to be foreshadowed, then searching out the best place to put in a mention earlier. Realizing I'd dropped a thread, and looking for places to tie them off later on without drawing undue attention. Or should this thread have become more important rather than dwindling? Back and forth, back and forth. Just keeping track of all this (in my head, of course--where else?) was headache inducing and there were days I simply couldn't face the mental gymnastics required.

Holly Lisle talks about a one-pass revision. I thought I was doing this, for the most part. But I was so bogged down I couldn't see the forest for the trees. Many days, I couldn't see the trees for the twigs and leaves in my face.

About a year ago Margaret taught a workshop at Forward Motion about using a revision outline. I could see that this method worked with what Holly had been trying to teach. Since then, I've taken Holly's How to Think Sideways online writing course (highly recommended, by the way!) and feel that the process has clarified for me.

I guess the proof is in the pudding, as they say. I've read through Chloe this past week using techniques learned in the Think Sideways class, and analyzed my scene list with all the insights I've learned since the last big revision. Today I deleted scenes (in outline form) that were either weak or misleading or pointless, and replaced them with ideas that add greater conflict and move the story forward more forcefully. I've still got about the last 20% of the outline to rework. There are several really lame scenes coming up that need to be reworked, but I think I've got the underpinnings in place to deal with it.

This is all going in Scrivener. Have I mentioned lately how much I love this program for Macs? One thing Holly teaches is something she calls The Sentence Lite, in which one tries to get to the central kernel of the conflict of the individual scene. This Sentence Lite is what goes on the front of my Scrivener notecards, but, being as they're virtual notecards, there's plenty of room on the *back* for additional details, such as what subplots are carried in this scene, what additional characters are present, etc.

This is giving me the best of both worlds. I used to simply write *about* the scene on the notecards, and then wonder why the scene, when written, fell flat. Well, some of them weren't really scenes, didn't have solid conflict, didn't do any thing that pushed the whole story forward. They had good information in them and were often needed to a degree, yet still fell short of the goal. Spending a bit of extra time to focus on the core conflict of each scene ahead of time helps me to clarify the path through the scene.

At least, that's the goal. I wrote the new first chapter to Chloe's story yesterday, then went back to the re-outlining today with a new sense of purpose. I have a much clearer vision of where this story is going, and what I'd like to accomplish with it. Having this version of an outline is energizing!

1 comment:

Margaret said...

You know, some writers take decades to figure out the revision outline if they ever do, so you're ahead of the curve :). I love that you can't remember how many novels you've edited. I thought it was just me :D.