In this post I discuss the process that went/goes into revising the second novel in the Ava Rome series. The working title is Day Of Infamy, but I have not settled on that. I’ll leave that to another post. As of this writing, I have completed nine drafts of the manuscript and believe it is close to being finished. I expect at least one more draft, of mostly polishing.
The First Draft:
On July 15, 2016, I wrote “The End” to the final page of the first draft. When compiled into a single manuscript, it came to sixty-six chapters, six hundred fifty-one pages, 128,978 words (162,500 words according to the page count method. More on that later.)
The manuscript was a beast and the beast needed to be tamed. Clearly it was too long. How much needed to be eliminated? Typical mysteries run about 70,000 to 90,000 words, so I needed to eliminate at least 40,000 words, about 30%. Eliminating that many words seemed a daunting task, but at least I had a goal. I anticipated many drafts to get to that point. I hoped that no more than ten would be necessary.
I follow the Three-S system of revising—Story/Scene/Sentence. One draft for each, so the minimum number of drafts would be four. Each draft should be shorter than the next one. Let’s look at what goes into each.
Revising for story is where the biggest cuts are made. Stephen King said the second draft should be ten percent shorter that the first draft. I hoped for fifteen to twenty percent shorter. The first thing I examine is the story structure. Does the story fit the three-act structure? Are the act breaks clearly identifiable? Is there an inciting incident? Does the story have a compelling center point? Is the ending believable, inexorable, and satisfying? Does the story have a theme? Does the main character have an arc? Does she have inner and outer goals? Does she grow? Are there characters and subplots that can be eliminated? Are there seeds that produced nothing and can be pulled? Plot holes to be filled? Dead ends to be sealed off? Loose ends to be tied down?
Scenes are where the action takes place. Scene-editing is done in the second step. Things to consider when revising scenes are setting, action, and sequel. Every scene takes place somewhere. The action must be set up before it can happen. The action is conflict and movement. The point of view character has a goal. Someone or something tries to thwart that goal. The POV character’s steps to reach that goal and reaction/response from the other side constitute the action. It can be told in dialogue or with action verbs. The goal is either attained or it is not. After every action comes a sequel. The sequel can be paragraphs or even pages long, or it can be as short as a single word. The sequel is a judgement or internalization or conclusion on the part of the POV character regarding the action that took place. How did she feel, what will she do as a result? What did she learn? Each scene should have a good mix of narration, dialogue, and introspection.
Finally, the sentence:
This is the third step because there is no need to work on sentences that might get cut from a scene in step two. This is where the writing is tightened up; adverbs are hunted down and eliminated; empty words and filler words are cut or replaced. In this stage, you remove or rewrite passive constructions. You vary the sentence length.
Getting to work:
Having set a goal and laid out a plan, my first step was to go through the manuscript and identify each scene. For each one, I wrote a one or two sentence description on a 3 X 5 index card. Many scene cards had already been created during the writing of the first draft. I would write them out when the idea hit me or else when I was planning out a scene. Some of those ideas did not make it into the first draft. Those, I discarded. Most of the cards represented scenes in the early part of the book when I did a lot of planning. The writing went easier and faster in the later part of the book—like running downhill. The cars for those scenes were the ones created after the fact.
Step two was to put the scene cards in their order in the first draft. Step three was to group the cards by act. I laid them out in order on a card table-one column each for the first act, the first half of the second act, the center point, the second half of the second act, and the third act.
Next post, the three acts.