Friday, March 23, 2012

Quick Robin, to the Revision Cave!

I don't have a Robin.

When it's time to tackle a revision, major or minor, a sidekick (or the whole Justice League) sure would come in handy. But the mission to clean up a manuscript is often one you must tackle alone. It can be daunting, and leave you feeling much like the Dark Knight himself (the brooding Christian Bale version with the hangover voice, not the campy BAM! KAPOW! one). It's a necessary part of the process. Writing IS revising/rewriting. You've got to send that manuscript out into the world, and if you don't tear it down and rebuild it before you let it go, your readers are going to let you know that your efforts were...less than heroic.

While you'll likely be fighting the good fight on your own, you will have allies. Beta readers can be your Commissioner Gordon. You editor can be your Oracle. They'll feed you the clues you need to solve the problems in your manuscript. You may not always like what they have to say, but it's better coming from them than from some Rogues Gallery critic who'll be more than happy to pounce on whatever story weakness you failed to address.   

Every writer may spend their time in the Revision Cave a little differently than the next. There's no right or wrong way, just so long as the job gets done. Here's how it typically goes down in my lair:

Draft 1 - This is almost like a training session. I take all the techniques I've learned over the years and use them to get the story down on paper. I know things will have to be refined and improved which is why no one sees this draft. It's just for me.

Draft 2 - I fix the most obvious flaws. I'm not just talking about typos or wordiness, but I make a pass at things I think the Beta Readers and my editor will likely ding me on. Character consistency. Motivation. Believability. In other words, I try to anticipate what a reader will see as a problem area, and fix it before they call me out. Interesting note here: I'm almost always wrong. Most often, the things I think are working aren't, and the things I'm skeptical about, the Betas/Editor love. Go figure. This is the first draft anyone other than me sees.

Draft 3 - This tends to be the toughest time in the cave. I've received feedback from my allies (who might feel like villains, if only for a little while). This is where I stitch up all the wounds (where's Alfred when you need him?) and get ready to go back into battle stronger than ever. EVERY PAGE GETS TOUCHED HERE. I don't necessarily start from scratch, but I will make adjustments in everything I've written based on the feedback I received. This can mean slight dialogue tweaks, or the addition/subtraction of entire scenes. It's imperative that everything gets reviewed, then adjusted, because every change creates a ripple that resonates throughout the manuscript. It's not uncommon for me to have two copies of a manuscript on my screen at once. Draft 2, which is marked up with track changes, colored highlights, and comment bubbles. And a work-in-progress Draft 3 which I expand page by page as I address each draft 2 issue in sequence. When I have a completed digital copy of Draft 3, I print it, then go through and mark additional adjustments in red pen. Finally, I key any red pen changes into my digital copy before returning this updated draft to the Betas/Editor for more feedback.

Draft 4 - By this point, most major concerns have been addressed. There may be more changes, but the scope will usually be reduced. This mission is almost complete.

Draft 5 - If we're lucky, there's no last minute twist that puts us in cliffhanger mode (will the manuscript survive?!). Minor tweaks at most.

I won't tell you that I've never had to do more than 5 drafts of something. It's rare, though. Does a 5th draft mean perfection? Hardly. But you could do 100 drafts and never achieve that lofty goal. You're not supposed to LIVE in the Revision Cave. It just where you keep your gear, where you train, where you do the research. The true mission takes place in the outside world, where you strive to save the day for readers in peril.

Good luck out there. See you next time, folks. Same Revision Time, Same Revision Channel.

Just try not to end up in Arkham in the meantime

Lamar "L. R." Giles writes for adults and teens. Penning everything from epic fantasy to noir thrillers, he's never met a genre he didn't like. His debut YA mystery WHISPERTOWN is about a teen in witness protection who investigates his best friend's murder and stumbles on a dark conspiracy that leads back to his own father. It will be published in Summer, 2013 by HarperCollins. He resides in Virginia with his wife and is represented by Jamie Weiss Chilton of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Find out more on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.


  1. Thanks, Liz. Decided to let my comic geek roots show. :)

  2. I'm in revision hell right now with one of my novels. I rushed through the first draft, and it's honestly one of the best things I've ever written...BUT it needs so much work in terms of research, exposition, and new material that needs to be added that I feel like just giving up on it.

  3. Nigel, don't give up. I'm working on the 3rd draft of a new novel right now. It's ridiculously hard, but what worth doing isn't? Keep it at it, a little at a time, and it'll be done eventually.

  4. Our processes sound similar--and I'm on that dreaded 3rd draft right now! I would feel better about it if I were in the Batmobile. Thanks for a great post!