Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Pantser's Guide to Revision 2 - Listen to your story

If you are a pantser, you probably have had the experience of scenes and chapters pouring out of you so quickly, you can barely capture all the elements with your typing and/or dictating. If you wrote every day and kept your internal editor sedated, you may have reached "the end" with a novel or a script in a couple of months or even a few weeks.

Now, after letting the draft sit and gaining some distance, it's time to get back to work. What do you do first? Print the whole thing out. Hold it in your hands. Feel the weight of your accomplishment. If you can, put yourself back into a moment of creation and enjoy the experience. Congratulate yourself.

Now, before you do anything else, write these notes to yourself:
  • My draft has all the magic it needs to become a wonderful story.
  • It did not emerge from my head as a polished work of genius that should be compared now to stories by my favorite authors or even my last completed manuscript.  
  • The first drafts of my favorite authors sucked. So did all my previous first drafts.
  • Because the manuscript I hold is a first draft, it is full of mistakes, boring scenes, cringe-worthy prose, and random nonsense.
  • I will be patient. I will be tolerant.
  • Everything can be fixed. Everything.
Okay? Now you're ready to get to work. Read the story. Read it quickly. If you can get through the whole thing in one sitting, that's perfect. (I never can, but I keep up a good pace.) Here's my exact process -- I highlight full scenes, run text-to-speech at its fastest setting, and listen. As I listen, I make coded notes on the manuscript:

! - I like this.
? - This is confusing. (A note may need to be added to indicate why.)
M - More needs to be written. Add description, emotion, reflection, and/or beats that fully explore this scene.
V - This is the perfect voice for this story. Review this when rewriting or adding scenes.
H - Hint. This implies more. Something bubbled up that is valuable, specific, and revelatory. It needs to be explored imaginatively.
Y - Yikes, this is bad writing.
F - Flat. It's easy here to get distracted and leave the story.
R - Research is needed because this may be wrong or incomplete in important ways.

Occasionally, I need to add details, so I may listen to a scene more than once, but usually once is enough. Note: I started with ! ? M. The others were added later, and originally those marks were put in during second or third readings/listenings.

I've done fast reads and text-to-speech, and I find the latter more effective for me. It keeps me from getting distracted, and impulsively correcting spelling and grammar. It makes me experience the manuscript as a whole rather than slip into several levels of editing right away.

Do whatever works for you, but strive to get a sense of the story without getting drawn into a massive editing session. Work to identify what you like and what is working as much as what the problems are. Make an effort to stay in love with your story, warts and all. Eventually, you want everyone to love what this becomes, and you want a positive attitude to show through as often as possible.

Remind yourself that there is plenty of work to do, but it is worth it.

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