Category Archives: novel revision

A Dry-Erase Board by Any Other Name…

I can’t really call mine a whiteboard, because it’s blue…or a dry-erase board, because I use non-smear ink pens which need to be erased with a damp cloth. It’s magnetic too, which puts it in an entirely different category. All I know is whatever this thing is, I LOVE it! It’s incredibly useful when you’re in the midst of writing a novel–for plotting, keeping track of facts and timelines, inspiration–you name it. Especially when you live in a New York City apartment where space is at a premium and your office is, literally, a converted walk-in-closet. Hanging a magical board on the door expands the work space. TAH-DAH!

Dry Erase Board (Blurred)

[Sections have been blurred for purposes pertaining to paranoia]

For a previous book I was working on, I used a virtual “canvas service” called Lino for basically the same purpose as a dry-erase board. (A novel approach! Pretty impressive. Kinda fun.) Lino Board The advantage is you can create as many online boards as you like and include links to videos and documents. (Space-saving. Transportable. So, what’s not to like?) Well, the downfall, for me anyway, is you have to view these boards on your computer, and my 23-inch screen is already jam-packed with my manuscript, notes, maps, pictures, etc. When I’m in the “sacred zone” of writing, I don’t have the patience for the 1/100th of a nanosecond it takes to click on a link and wait for something to load. I simply want to glance to my right and see the info I need immediately. (Or my left. I’m flexible.) “A tangible board that’s right there in your face at all times?” you ask. Yes, please! Not very high tech, I know, but the heart wants what it wants.

Traveling back even further in time…I remember using prehistoric index cards taped to my door to keep track of plots and timelines. A crude approach, as there was no rearranging them without having to replace the tape and pulling up paint chips. Eek! (It was a different world. We didn’t know better back then.) Post-It Notes to the rescue! The problem with these little beauties is they don’t stay up for very long. Even the new and improved super-duper strength Post-Its will eventually come fluttering to the ground like sleepy butterflies and wind up stuck to the soles of your shoes–or the cat.

Cat Post-It

Not to diss the almighty Post-It. I still use them for many different things–but for this specific purpose, they’ve been happily replaced with something called mcSquares Stickies Dry Erase Notes. A tad expensive but they’re durable so you can rearrange them at will–plus they come in different shapes and sizes. (I swear I’m not a spokeman for the company–just a fan. There are other brands out there as well, like SlickyNotes that come in different colors!) These things stick to most smooth, flat surfaces so you don’t even need a whiteboard–or blueboard–or whatever. I find that the non-smear variety of markets work best in this scenario. (Tackie Markers and Writey Liquid Chalk are my faves. Again, not a spokesman.) You’ll need to use a damp cloth instead of a dry-eraser with these but it’s so worth the iota of extra effort.

So, that’s the scoop. Carry on and HAPPY WRITING!MARKERS

So, your editorial letter has arrived…now what?

Zippity-doo-dah! I’ve just completed Round Two of my edits for MADhattan Mystery and I owe myself a ridiculously decadent reward. Let’s see…there’s this $1,000 chocolate sundae topped with edible gold at a restaurant called Serendipity. But, no. I have to pay the rent.

Anyway, now that I have a minute to blog again, I thought I’d compare and share the two different approaches I took to my first two rounds of edits. The first I had several months to deliver; the second—just two weeks. Let’s visualize…

ROUND ONE (THE LUXURY ROUND):

* The editorial letter arrives along with my annotated manuscript. I’m excited, exhilarated, and completely overwhelmed. I read the letter at least three times in a row and let it all wash over me without indulging in my immediate reactions. These can run the gamut from “Wow, what a brilliant idea!” to “You’ve got to be freakin’ kidding?” (Warning: initial reactions can be completely misleading.)

* With all this new info marinating my brain, I go to Staples and buy an assortment of colorful sticky tabs, extra-long rubber bands for securing loose manuscripts, and a funky little composition notebook. (Warning: totally unnecessary stuff like paperclips in the shape of treble clefs should probably be avoided while in this overenthusiastic state.)

* I read through my entire manuscript, identifying every page that has a handwritten remark from my editor with a pink sticky tab; and pages where I have new ideas or solutions with a blue sticky tab. I make corresponding notes in my notebook for easy referral and record all my ideas, no matter how wacky—I know they can turn out to be valuable later on. (Warning: Every “Ha!” from your editor will elicit a twinge of joy; every “Too abrupt” will bring a pang of deep disappointment.)

* I re-read the editorial letter for about the tenth time.

* I’m thinking it’d make sense to tackle all the small changes first, and then move onto the weightier stuff. But then again, if I end up cutting an entire section filled with the small changes, I’ve wasted a bunch of time. It’s a toss up. I ultimately decide on big stuff first.

* I re-read the editorial letter for the umpteenth time. (Warning: Even if a particular suggestion still seems questionable, give it a shot anyway and try to make it work. Amazing things can happen. Trust your gut—but trust your editor, too.)

* I start from the beginning of the novel and implement all the changes into the electronic version on my computer. As I’m working, new insights pop into my head, spunkier dialogue, etc. Little gifts! Some can immediately be added; others need more contemplating, so I’m constantly keeping notes.

* When I think I’ve got it in tip-top shape, I print out the entire manuscript. Yep, things really DO look different on actual paper than on a computer screen. Then I do a final read-through to see if all the changes I’ve made work as a whole; if they’re integrated smoothly—not lumpy and bumpy. I have my notebook handy and more sticky tabs just in case, but what I’m really striving for at this point is real-time reading speed. It should all play out like a movie. (Warning: You WILL stop a zillion times anyway and find a zillion more mistakes.)

* I make the final-final changes and send the revised novel off to my editor wondering, “Why the heck is it ten pages longer after I’d trimmed so much?” (Warning: You will immediately think of at least FIVE new ideas as soon as you press “send”. Write them all down in your funky little notebook for the next round of edits.)

ROUND TWO (THE SPEED ROUND):

* All of the above but with a few minor changes. I skip the trip to Staples. Instead of taking handwritten notes in a notebook, I type them into my computer instead. Much faster. This time I tackle the small stuff first, ’cause there are less major adjustments. And instead of printing out the entire manuscript, I do the final read-through on the computer screen, making changes as I go along.

* While waiting for the next round of edits, I dream of ridiculous things like $1,000 sundaes…and wonder what I’m going to do with all these treble-clef-shaped paperclips.

The In-Your-Face Calendar

There are so many story facts to juggle when writing a novel, it’s mind boggling! And they have a tendency to change a lot, so keeping track of them all is key. One way I avoid inconsistencies in my timeline is to keep an active CALENDAR indicating which chapters fall on which days and the major events that take place. I plaster it onto the door right next to my desk for quick reference and create separate little sheets for each day so that when facts change, I can simply replace one little sheet of paper instead of having to make a whole new calendar. This saves a lot of grief during the revision process, believe me! Lines like “Remember our fishing trip last Tuesday?” or “I can’t believe school starts in three days” or “The wedding is this Sunday, the ninth,” though accurate in your first draft, might get completely changed and rearranged by, say, version number five. Somehow in the writing process (for a thousand different reasons) the fishing trip was switched to a Wednesday, school starts in five days, not three, and the wedding was moved to the 12th. Keeping a calendar on your computer is also a good idea, especially if you do a lot of laptop-writing-on-the-go, but when writing at home, opt for a giant, handy-dandy calendar a glance away to prevent fits of hair-pulling frustration.

Calendars are also great holiday reminders, of course. Everyone remembers the biggies like Thanksgiving and Christmas, but what about the forgettables like Groundhog Day, say, or Flag Day? I managed to work in Friday, the 13th and Father’s Day into the storyline of the novel I’m currently working on, which might’ve been completely overlooked had it not been for the almighty calendar. Now, don’t get me started on moon phases…

Here’s a link to a great website where you can print out calendars and size them to your liking. http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar. A whiteboard calendar would probably work well, too, but it could get messy—or accidentally erased—and it’s not free.

A Novel Approach

Flaubert once said, “Words, like hair, shine with combing” and I have to agree. (Not  that I  really know who Flaubert was. I’m guessing he ended up bald but accomplished.) Something that helped me whip my last novel into shiny, sellable shape was a little gem of a book called Novel Metamorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise by author/teacher Darcy Pattison. 

Novel Metamorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise Novels with Creative Writing Tips, Tools, and Strategies

It’s a paperback work-book filled with helpful tips that guides you through a thorough examination of your already finished novel. I mean, you’ll really strip it down to the studs and rebuild it into a much stronger piece. But be prepared to work your pencil off! Plot, character, language, setting, voice – you’re really going to delve.

One exercise that takes you out of the work-book is a technique called the Shrunken Manuscript where you print out your entire novel single-spaced in the tiniest font possible and lay it out across the floor to view it as a whole. (At first I thought, Yeah, right – that’s not gonna happen. But I followed through and it turned out to be fun and fruitful.) You use colored markers to highlight the strongest chapters so you can see the proportion of text in them compared with the weaker chapters. But that’s just for starters. According to Pattison, “You can use the Shrunken Manuscript to evaluate anything that you want to visualize across the novel: settings where two characters interact, the percentage of dialogue, places where you repeat a certain setting, places where the theme is made obvious, etc.” Very cool. Just make sure your kitty is locked in another room when you do this or things can get ugly.  

Another particularly enjoyable aspect of this book is that you’re encouraged – no, required to write all over the pages just like grade-school workbooks. Very hands on. Truth be told, I was always sneaking out my miniature-golf sized pencil and scribbling through exercises while I served on a Grand Jury (during downtime only, I swear – and there was plenty of downtime.) But since I’m telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, I did notice quite a few typos in this book – like, “I did done a good job of using active verbs…” Eesh. Come on, copyeditors. Other than that, they did done a good job!  

Check out Darcy’s blog, FICTION NOTES, at www.darcypattison.com.