Revision Revelations: The Things I’ve Learned

by Brandi Ziegler

I try to leave out the parts that people skip.  ~Elmore Leonard

 1. Get a real CP. Your CP should care more about your writing than your feelings. I’m not saying their edit notes should consist of “WTF DELETE!” or “This sucks turtle nuts!”, but you need someone who will be brutally honest with you. Besides, you’ll either hear it now or with your editor after your MS sells. Here are some CP notes I’ve received:
This sentence seems… awkward. (It took me forever to come up with that!)

This entire thing with Rai and Ethan is ridiculous. (Thanks, I’ll just rewrite half this chapter then…)

Well, no duh 😛 (I’m being redundant, I get it.)

I’d say take that out. It’s overly dramatic. (Overly dramatic?! Did you not read what just happened???)

2. READ!
And not just your genre. I try to have a book on hand at all times. When I start overusing how much my heroine’s stomach churns, or her eyes glare, or her fists clench, reading inspires new ways to express feelings and descriptions. Rarely have I read anything that hasn’t taught me something new, about angels, about teenage boys, about the workings of a steam engine. The more you know, the more of the craft you absorb into your head, and the more arsenal you have at your disposal to be a literary genius!

3. Take advantage of the internet.
Whenever I’m editing I always have Wikipedia and windows open. Knowing the proper term for an item in a scene completely sets the tone and gives an air of authenticity. You really convey to the reader that you know what you’re talking about if you use something as simple as a horse’s fetlock instead of a horse’s ankle.

Also, read any blog you can find on writing! I’m personally a huge fan of YAHighway and LetTheWordsFlow, two YA community blogs, but agent’s blogs are wonderful sources of information as well (Kristin Nelson’s Pub Rants, Jennifer Represents, Coffey. Tea. And Literary). Plus, nothing is more inspiring than the journey of a published author (Alexandra Bracken, Lauren Oliver, Maggie Stiefvater).

4. Write the hardest part of the scene first.
It could be description, or perhaps characterization. Dialogue is my weakness. I have a hard time flowing it into the mix. Solution: write it out first. Here’s what I mean:

“Where’d you get those?”

“Family wealth.”

“You don’t come off well-heeled.”

“I’m a modest person. Are we going to play your little game?”

Okay. Now I add the rest.

“Where’d you get those?” the entertainer asked incredulously.

“Family wealth,” Chloe answered in her next breath.

“You don’t come off well-heeled,” he said, studying her with new eyes.

“I’m a modest person.” She met his gaze. “Are we going to play your little game?”

5. Ask why.
Characterization is a close second to my dialogue weakness. One of my CPs gave me this bit of advice: “The best way to overcome characterization problems, I find, is to ask ‘Why?’ about everything. Why is the character’s favorite color blue? Why does he always wear red on Thursdays but never on Saturdays? Why is she violent? Why does she barely speak? The best stories are the ones where you can ask ‘Why?’ about a certain factor, and the answer’s there.” Her advice
has saved me so much grief!

6. Read your work out loud.
I learned this from my YA epic fantasy idol Tamora Pierce. Read every single line out loud. If you stumble over something, highlight it. I usually do this chapter by chapter. Once I read through a chapter, I go back and examine the highlighted sentences, deciphering if I was just experiencing a brain fart, or if the line truly is effed up and I need to fix it. If you’re in a public place, I don’t care if you have to mumble under your breath like a crazy person – just do it!

With the mind-numbing, albeit victorious revision process done, I’m focusing on putting the finishing touches on my query letter (which is a whole nother article).