Friday, March 25, 2011

Revision is All About Taking Risks

I don't think of myself as a risk-taker. I don't like roller coasters, I get anxious driving in new situations, and my idea of fun is to curl up under a cozy blanket with a good book. But when I'm revising, taking risks is almost a requirement if I want to make my story stronger.

Here are some of the big risks I've been taking in the last couple of weeks:

Cutting out good writing. It's scary, but sometimes parts of my book where I really loved the writing have to go. It feels like I'm taking a huge chance, not knowing if whatever I replace it with will be better. I can only do it if I comfort myself with the thought that all that good writing is in another version of the file and I can get it back if I need it.

[When I read the improved version, I know those elegantly-worded sections won't ever be coming back. My story doesn't need them.]

Changing the beginning. Messing with the opening paragraph (actually, the whole first chapter) makes me nervous, especially when my crit partners didn't find much wrong with it. Since the first chapter sets the tone for the whole novel, these changes spill over into later chapters, gathering momentum, and I soon find that more and more changes are needed. Aack!

[When I come back and read it later, I realize the changes aren't as big and overwhelming as I thought. My words still capture what I originally envisioned. Sigh of relief.]

Taking out drama. I tend to throw a lot of obstacles at my protagonist, sometimes several in one chapter. I'm learning that too much drama doesn't give the reader a clear emotion to focus on. Cutting out action still worries me. Will the story be exciting enough? Will it hold my reader's attention? Should I risk it? I have to start small, reminding myself that it doesn't hurt to try. I can always put it back the way it was if it doesn't work out. What's few more hours of writing, anyway?

[My 11-year-old decided to re-read the early version of my story this week and commented that a lot of the story events happen "just in time" and it seemed unrealistic. Huh. Maybe there will be some benefit to losing some of the drama.]

It's hard work, but I'm learning to take more risks as a writer. One of the bonuses is that it stretches my mind in entirely new directions. I've stumbled onto a few great ideas which I know will improve the story.

What risks have you taken lately in your writing?


  1. Boy, cutting out the best bits is so hard. I think it's because they often make the cut through so many drafts because we love them, but then as story elements change, these bits don't always work and so we need to let go of them to improve the whole.

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  2. Changing the beginning! I'm trying to convince myself right now not to let the beginning of my novel feel "set in stone." I should actually put this on a poster. "It may be draft number 10, but the beginning of your novel is not carved in stone."

  3. Angela, it is really hard to cut out some of those good bits. I'm pushing myself to do it with my latest revision, just to see what happens.

    Kate,I kept the same beginning for a long time, even though I knew it wasn't very "hooky". But I got a good crit of the beginning from an agent as part of a workshop, and I saw it through new eyes. Now it's in a constant state of change, and I wonder if I'll ever get it right!


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