Revision

I read once where Stephen King said he rewrites his novels seven times before he sells them to a publisher and then there are revisions after that. David Farland had a kick today that affirms that need for revision. 

David Farland’s descriptions of what he does in each revision were helpful so I thought I’d share.  Here is his post in part:  

The Value of Revisions
There’s a certain part of me that hates studying a piece of writing over and over, but it’s not until I’ve been through it a certain number of times that I feel good about it. For me, that number is something like 5-7 times.

Typically my first draft is a “discovery draft,” where I begin playing with my characters, the world, the conflicts I’m dealing with, and the themes that I first imagined when I outlined the story. Hence, my characters might seem a little undeveloped, or just plain wrong for their roles. Or maybe arguments go on too long, or not long enough.

With my second draft, I refine my work—adding scenes, changing viewpoints, deleting scenes, altering plots. By the time I’m done with it, I usually feel that I pretty much have the “story locked.” By that I mean, the story has all of the pieces that I want.

Draft three lets me play with the wording, put things precisely the way that I want the story to read. I think a lot about my tone and character voices on the third draft, and I worry a lot about clarity. Can the reader understand this? Or do they feel a little lost? Does the scene come alive? Can you tell that the protagonist is speaking by tone of voice here, or do I need a dialog tag? So I do a lot of soul searching as I write.

In draft four, I worry about these same issues, but I also begin cutting the wording dramatically, doing a “syllabic edit,” where I pare down the wording until I feel that I’m keeping my voice, but I’m allowing the story to move forward effortlessly. By the time I’m done with my fourth draft, I’ve pretty much got my “word lock” on the story. This means that every word reads as I want it.

So why would I want to go through it again? The fifth draft allows me to catch dropped words and typos, but the real purpose of the fifth draft is to “Boost” the story. By this I mean, I want to make sure that there is plenty of dazzle in the story—powerful metaphors, great hooks, and so on. So if I find a section that I think is a little weak, I look for ways to “boost” it, to make it better.

The sixth draft allows me to go through and boost the story a second time, not worrying so much about the typos. Oh, sure, I’ll make minor changes in wording and even the plot on the sixth draft, but these are usually very minor.

I sometimes wish that with each novel, I could go through it a few more times, but for me, this is about the right balance. I’ve had novels that I’ve had to turn in without as much revision as I would like. I feel uncomfortable about those novels even today, twenty years later. I also have worked too hard on rewriting, smoothing the narration out until it feels a bit soulless.

So if you’re feeling a bit anxious about getting your work to market, just remember that the single best marketing tool that you have is QUALITY. A great novel will tend to sell well and find an audience. A novel that needs a lot of work—well, no matter how hard you try to push it, you’re doing your career more harm than good.

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