Monday, 12 September 2011

Revision is Fun!

And no, I'm not on about the revising for exams type of revision. That sucks. Always. What I want to talk about is the importance (and if you are a bit sad like me, the fun) of revising your writing!

Obviously being able to write something decent straight off is important. After all, you couldn't build a house on bad foundations. But that's what you should think of your initial writing as; the foundations of the finished product. Or if you don't like that metaphor, how about the seed from which the tree grows from, the egg that turns into a chicken, the base of a cheesecake, maybe a strawberry one, or raspberry. Maybe with some white chocolate as well. And sprinkles. Mmm...

If you're good enough at writing that your cheesecake base also includes some of the lovely cheesecake filling stuff, then that's awesome. That should save you some time, and the more you write the better you will get at the first pass. I know for me that I've had to go over my most recent chapters a hell of a lot less than my first few chapters, because I've gotten better at knowing what sounds good straight off. Practise makes perfect after all  Well... not quite perfect, as I still have to go over these chapters a bit. But like it better that way anyway. Ok what was my point?

Ah yes, revision. Looking back at what you've written lets you see what you've done in a new light. It lets you read at the speed of a reader rather than a writer, and basically just lets you polish what you've done. For me, revision probably takes up almost half of the time I spend writing. It might have been more than half a bit ago as well. It's something that you shouldn't be afraid of, and you shouldn't seek perfection on your first pass, just a solid basing of that cheesecake with raspberry and white chocolate and stuff... mmm...

So rather than continuing this rant about how important revision is, I thought I would show you some examples. Time to go looking back at the backup folders of ye old times.

I'll start with my prologue. Here is how my book starts in an old draft:

“You will tell us who you are, and what you are doing here, or you will die. It is that simple.”

Favoir’s mind raced, endlessly searching though the vast amount of information coursing through his brain. His head still ached from the blow that had left him unconscious for what he assumed must have been hours. The colours of the room danced in front of his eyes, denying him a clear view of his surroundings.

He knew in his heart that nothing he said would appease his captors, but he would not be the fool who would remain silent until his death.

“I’ve told you, I’m nothing more than a messenger. I… I shouldn’t even be here, my place is in Asfulen,” he stuttered in desperation. “I must see their King.”

And here is the new version:

“You're going to die here little man, if you don't stop that tongue from ranting.”

Favoir’s mind raced, scavenging though each half-formed memory of the past week. He squinted, trying to discern the features of his new interrogator, but the colours of the room span too heavily before his eyes, denying him a clear view of his surroundings. His head felt like lead, swaying uncertainly above his neck, and his temple still burned from the blow that had left him unconscious for hours.

“I ask you only to tell me the truth, nothing more. It is that simple.”

“I’ve told you, I’m nothing more than a messenger. I… I shouldn’t even be here. We were heading to Asfulen, I swear,” he pleaded. His voice shook with every syllable.

Hopefully you agree that the second version is better. There are no massive changes, but I'll point out a few. The first line is different.

“You will tell us who you are, and what you are doing here, or you will die. It is that simple.” 


“You're going to die here little man, if you don't stop that tongue from ranting.”


The first line before was ok, but a little cheesy. The thing that bothered me about it was that it doesn't sound like the sort of thing you would say to someone you been interrogating for days. It's too much of a 'letting the reader know something' sentence, and not very natural. The new line basically says the same thing, but shows a bit of the interrogators personality, as well as the fact that Favoir has been pleading for his life. And it isn't cheesy. I hope.

Another difference you will see is the removal of the paragraph all about Favoir not wanting to stay silent to his death. I don't feel like the paragraph doesn't work, but I think at this early point in the chapter, I wanted to keep the tension as high as possible. I want Favoir to seem disorientated, and panicked. Showing what's going on inside of his head kinda removes that, especially when it shows him thinking quite logically. And later on the in chapter there is a line from Favoir that reads 'Do I look like the sort of man who doesn't buckle under torture?' Sort of a similar statement, but more dramatic, so no need to state the point again.

I actually ended up revising that extract just before I copied it over here as well! I can't help myself! The last 2 sentences used to be one long sentance, but short sentences work better for dramatic parts.

Let's find another example. Here is the start of Chapter One from an early draft:

The busy city air filled her lungs as she discreetly lifted herself up from the sewer grate. Instantly she forgot the sickening stench from below, basking in the new array of gentler smells that greeted her. The stale city air, intermingled with the smell of wet rock and factory fumes that floated above the city in a constant dull cloud felt like silk compared to below. Beneath these smells was the smallest hint of bodily odour that stemmed from the nearby markets where desperate merchants were baking in the rare sunlight, and a gentle hint of some spice or other flavouring was seeping through the side street from a nearby house.

Finally there was the usual but almost unnoticeable hint of sea-salt, a smell Elysie found bizarre in that the city was hundreds of miles from any coastline. Even more bizarre was that none of her few acquaintances noticed this aroma themselves. Recently she had come to the conclusion that an old job as a salt drainer a few years before she arrived in Dolindium must have permanently damaged her senses. Like most of her prior work, she did not miss it.

It seemed a shame that this interesting balance of smells was now ruined by the foul odour rising from her. Desperate to be free of the sewer stench, she flexed her legs and suddenly set off on a wild sprint out into the open streets.

And here is the new version, with almost every sentence changed.

Without so much as a groan, Elsie pulled herself up from the sewer grate. She quickly scanned the side street she had emerged into, checking to make sure no one had seen her most likely illegal appearance, and found herself relieved when it was empty all but to herself. Standing to her full height, she moved the grate back to its original position, before pulling out a flask of water from her bag and washing her hands. Then, with an extravagant raise of her nose, she took in a large breath of the busy city air. Cement, factory fumes, and even the smallest hint of bodily odour from the nearby markets greeted her, each a welcome change from the rancid sewers below. She had ventured below hundreds of times before, found herself scrunching up her nose so often it was becoming more than just a habit, and yet each time she allowed herself an intake of breath she was sure the smell had worsened. It was as if she had developed some sort of counter-immunity to it, or that the sewer had decided she had abused it too long and was evicting her with an ever increasing stench.

She tried to ignore the almost unnoticeable hint of sea-salt that mingled with the other odours as she checked her clothing for stains. It had plagued her mind in her first few months living in the city, leaving her in long sessions of intense thought to try decipher its origin. It was a city hundreds of miles from the coast, and to her annoyance she seemed to be the only one who had noticed this out-of-place aroma. But when the answer had finally come to her, it had left her more angry than content. That damn salt factory; it had been perhaps the worse, or at the very least the most monotonous of her many jobs, and whilst she had thought its only parting gift had been a bitter taste in her mouth, it was now apparent that the resentment had spread to her nose as well. Like most of her prior work, she did not miss it.

Nor would she miss climbing out of sewer grates, once the sun had set on her current career path, as it always did. Desperate to be free of the smell, she flexed her legs, tensing her young muscles, and set off on a wild sprint out into the streets.

Now I'm not sure everyone will completely agree with me on this one. The first extract is quite a bit shorter, and says almost the exact same things. Normally I would think this best. Saying things in as few words as possible is often an effective way of writing. But something feels off about that first extract to me... It feels... hollow. 

"But Ian, why?" Ah, I am glad you asked Mr. Voice. Well first the writing is a bit annoying in the first version. Saying 'suddenly set off' rather than just 'set off' is a bit silly here. She hasn't suddenly set off. She's been stood thinking to herself! I use words like 'suddenly' a bit too much sometimes, and am trying to cut down. I'm a sick man I know.

But I think the real problem with the first extract, and one you won't understand unless you know the character of Elsie (whose name used to be spelt Elysie in the old draft as well. What's that about???). The first extract doesn't feel like her. It feels like it's trying to be her, but really it's just a pale imitation. I wrote that extract when I was first writing for her, and perhaps I didn't know her well enough. The second extract is longer, but it shows her personality through the language. Adding in "That damn salt factory" really shows her disdain for the place, rather than only stating that she would not miss it.

I was going to do a third example, but this is quite a long blog post already. I might do another one of these at some point though.

I hope you've enjoyed the post, and the blog in general. If you are one of those people secretly reading without letting me know, please leave and comment! I'd love to hear everyone's opinion!

Now to watch a film, each popcorn, and dream about cheesecake. 



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