Monday, November 15, 2010

Layers, Critiques, and Winners!

Okay, people, this is a multi-faceted post. Get ready.

First, I wanted to expound a little more on my revision process. It has complete relevance, because it's also how I read critically, and at the end of this post is the Pay It Forward With Partials! winner. So if you don't like how I'm probably going to slash help you, then you can just pretend like you never saw this post...

Okay, so revision layers. When I revise, I do it in steps. Stages. Layers.

1. Little stuff/Senses. This is tweaking the writing, the word choice, the flow, the voice, the style. This is moving one sentence up a bit and taking one out for clarity. This is not rewriting scenes. I make sure I know the weather and how that affects my character. I spice up the writing with smell, taste, and sound, not just sight and touch.

I make notes of where new scenes might go or how the weather might affect emotion or setting for later. I star them, I don't actually write them. The first layer is a clean up layer, basically erasing all the comment bubbles I left for myself in the drafting stage.

2. Character. Okay, I don't know, like really know, my MC until I'm done with the first draft. And sometimes not even then. So I devote an entire layer to developing character. Fleshing them out. Making them consistent in action/choice (unless their arc dictates otherwise). Bringing them to life. This takes way longer than the first layer, but it's one of the best layers, IMO.

I make notes of where new scenes might go, mostly backstory or flashbacks in this layer. (Yes, I said flashbacks. Deal with it.) I star them, I don't actually write them.

3. Emotions. I'm ridiculously flat at emotions. Most of the time, my first draft is emotionless. Going back in to get them right, to insert reactions and feelings, is something I do after I've written the whole book. Then I know my character (and I've done the character layer, so that helps too), and I can accurately portray how they'd be feeling in certain key situations. I'll admit that sometimes while I'm doing my character layer, that I work on the emotional layer too.

I make notes of where new scenes might go, again mostly backstory to set the character's emotional reactions in key scenes. I star them, I don't actually write them.

4. Setting. I'm notoriously bad about describing the setting. My CP's are always like, "I'm so confused here. Is she in the culvert or not?" So I make an entire layer just for setting purposes. Anywhere that someone was confused about where things are/were, etc. I take a deep look at. This goes for blocking too. Where are the doors? Who's in the room? I go through my entire MS just to make sure the setting is well, set. (Ha!)

I make no stars here. I simply write what needs to be written. I mean, I'm almost done, so it would be lame to star and then go fill in the stars. You know?

5. Plot. This is where the bulk of my rewriting comes in. All those stars I've made? Yeah, now something has to be done about them. I have to actually write the new scenes that are needed to fill in the plot holes I've created (or have always had) in my main plot, subplots, character arc, emotional journey, etc.

This is the same way I critique. I'm looking for little things, well-rounded characters, authentic reactions/emotions, just enough setting, and a plot to keep me reading.

I pretty much mark everything I think feels off, or isn't quite as strong as I think it could be in each of the 5 areas above.

So if you don't want me to do that, maybe you'll leave your prize unclaimed...

Because the winner of the 25-page critique is: Josh Hoyt!

Email me your 25 pages at your convenience. (elanajohnson(at)gmail(dot)com)

Do you revise in layers? What are you looking for when you revise?

Oh! And don't forget about the live WriteOnCon event tonight! Literary agent Stephen Barbara and his client, Leila Sales will be discussing amazing things! 9 PM EST. Be there or be there.

72 comments:

Renae said...

I like how you do everything in layers. I'm trying this on my next round of revisions. Thanks for the tip! And congrats to Josh!

Trisha Wolfe said...

I'm going to copy and paste this in my notes for revision, this is some good stuff! I'm with you on setting, I'm bad bad about description. I think though it's because I don't like reading too much of it in other books. I feel readers are smart enough to envision what my characters see, but I know I do need to work on this. Great post!

Emily White said...

Congratulations to the winner!

I must admit my revising style is much more erratic than yours. I'm still trying to figure out how to do the bubbles on the side.

I pretty much read through the first draft, highlighting areas that made me stop, or places I felt needed a bit more umph.

Theresa Milstein said...

Congratulations to lucky Josh.

Thanks for telling us your process. Its different from mine, so there are things for me to think about.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I know about the multiple revisions. Your process sounds great. Glad to know someone else struggle with the same things I do.

Congrats to Josh!

Christine Danek said...

I like this process. I tend to do everything at once, and to be honest, it's annoying me. I must try this.
Thanks for sharing. Congrats to Josh. Yes, I'm jealous. :)
Have a great day!

Candyland said...

Your layers are making my revisions happen.

Jen Daiker said...

Congratulations to the winner, (I'll try to remain un-jealous - yes I made that word up)

I really like this process!!! Thanks for going more in depth!

salarsenッ said...

Thanks for this post. It's filled with such energy. I'm printing it out for future reference, plus I tweeted you. lol

It makes me feel so much better when you share your processes. Through this, I realize that writing is really a process and maybe I have more of what it takes than I think. I used to think authors sat down, wrote those bestsellers, and then had a latte. Easy peasy. This reminds me that we all have hurdles to jump over and all is in due time.

Deni Krueger said...

I'm probably a little less strategic in rewrites, but a little more strategic in the first write. As I rewrite, I take one chapter at a time...and if, while reading, I lose the strong visual or sensory experience, or the characters voice, it lets me know what I'm missing. Congrats to the winner!

Claire Dawn said...

Never gotten past one revision, but theoretically, I'm all about layers. Plot first for me though. Big to little.

Matthew Rush said...

Congratulations Josh! You just won the most awesome thing that may ever happen to your writing.

The Golden Eagle said...

I haven't revised in layers before . . . but I like the idea! I'll have to try it when I'm done writing my first draft.

Congratulations to Josh!

Michelle McLean said...

I'm a total layer gal, though I tend to try to do all those layers in every revision instead of splitting them up separately. Each revision gets more and more until I'm left with what the story needs :) Congrats Josh!

Kelly Lyman said...

Thanks for posting this. I love hearing how other do their revising because this is the hardest part for me. I'm horrible at it- if someone else gives me notes/comments, I'm good. I just have a hard time being objective and finding everything that needs fixed within my own writing. I think I may have to try your layer method. Right now, I go through each page and change everything that I see...maybe this is why I'm bad at it? Maybe I should concentrate on one thing at a time?

Christine Fonseca said...

I totally revise in layers. A lot of the character and emo stuff is there...but the plot and overall arc is usually a mess. And dude, I am a repeater...hard-core. So yea, I have a whole layer devoted just to that!!!

Marisa Hopkins said...

Awesome post!! And I say that because I totally layer everything, too, only I thought I was doing it wrong (and by it, I mean writing) because I thought everyone else got their story right in one go... yeah....

So great to see your process! Thanks for sharing!

Shannon said...

Glad to see that I'm not the only layer-er (Layer? Layer-person?) here. While my approach isn't as methodical (I'm taking notes), I approach revisions in a similar fashion.

Congratulations Josh!

Joanna St. James said...

and i thot i was the only one who didn't describe emotions and characters at first. This is making me feel better I look on to my revisions with gusto.

Victoria Dixon said...

Congratulations to Josh and thanks for the notes!

lotusgirl said...

Great steps. I love your layers.

BECKY said...

Great post! Congrats to Josh, too. I'm sure I'll be back often!

Lydia Kang said...

Love seeing how you do these things!
Congrats to Josh!

Kelly said...

Congrats, Josh!
I'm going to use these when I revise. I do some of this, but I like the organization of the step by step. Thanks, Elana!

Tina Lynn said...

Wow, that's incredible...and wise...and incredibly wise. I've never done layers before, but I totes my steal your methods from you:D

Congrats, Josh!!!

Kelly Bryson said...

I revise in layers, too. Plot, characters, setting, smoothness, and finally pacing/dialogue. I'm hoping pacing is the last layer and I can get on with my life!

Kelly Bryson said...

And congrats to Josh!

Patti said...

I like that idea of adding emotion in after the first draft, because lots of times I don't know my mc until later as well. Congrats to Josh.

Janet Johnson said...

Layers make everything easier. I have a hard time letting myself leave things undone, but it is easier to concentrate on one thing at a time. :)

LTM said...

this is a great approach. Usually when I revise, I just print the whole thing out and read it all looking for anything that doesn't work. Notes notes notes all over the place.

This is very scientific. Me likey. :D

congrats to Josh~

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

What a great post, Elana. I'm impressed with your layering style of editing and will bookmark this.
Congrats, Josh!

Michelle H. said...

Congrats Josh! And thanks for holding the contest Elana!

Angela Felsted said...

I'm amazed at how well you know your own writing process.

lynnrush said...

Setting is one of my weak points as well. Glad to know I'm not alone.

I like your process of revising. It's similar to mine where I take a focus point each run through. Thanks for letting us see into your process a little more. It's great!

Have a great WriteOnCon!

Nicole Zoltack said...

I'm also weak at setting in my novels. Glad I'm not the only one! Congrats, Josh! You're one lucky guy.

Lisa_Gibson said...

Congrats to Josh! Woo hoo! :)
All those layers make for a very rich story indeed. ;) It's interesting reading your process.
Lisa ~ YA Literature Lover

Heather said...

Congrats Josh, you and your work are in good hands.

I do revise in layers. I like to look at the character development, then the plot development, grammar, ect. all at seperate times. It helps me focus. I love your method!

Falen (Sarah Ahiers) said...

i do not revise in layers, but it seems like a good practice. I may have to give it a shot

Witless Exposition said...

I'm so stealing this method! I've been worried about how to go through the revision stage with my NaNo mss.

I've never written a novel before, just short stories. The revision stage was looming over me, but this makes it seem a lot more manageable.

Thanks for sharing!

Kristen Knight said...

Elana,

This is a great post! Do you actually revise in this order (words to plot) or the other direction? I would assume you start with plot...but maybe not.

Kristen

Josh Hoyt said...

Wow I'm very excited for the critique let the red pen flow (:

Josh Hoyt said...

oh yeah no way on leaving it unclaimed. (: Other than this the only thing I have ever won is a center piece at a banquet now I can't tell my wife I never win anything lol

Teresa aka JW said...

Great tips, Elana. Thanks much.

Congrats, Josh.

Jennifer Hoffine said...

I wish I had some layers to my revising...I usually read and reread and do things as they come to me. Unless I'm following revision/editing notes from someone else. Then I go chronologically (if they're inset notes) or from easiest to hardest is they're done "letter" style.

I do like Nathan Bransford's advice to tug on the thread to see where it ends. One change usually causes many other changes, and I try to think of and change as many of those things as I can before another full read through.

Jolene Perry said...

Wow. Our first drafts are devoid of many of the same things. I don't take time to describe much of anything. I know what it looks like, how they're moving, what they're feeling but I'm always amazed at how little makes it into my rough draft.

I'm going through my nano project and adding setting descriptions (sparse) and moods and movements. I'm amazed at how quickly my word count is creeping up.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I can nail the characters and emotions but suck at settings. Maybe that's because I'm rather oblivious in real life, too. LOL

Shallee said...

I love reading other people's processes! Thanks for sharing.

I revise in layers, too, but I usually start big and work my way to the small. I have to fix plot issues first, and then characters (though sometimes I reverse that order). Then I work my way through the setting, and then down to the "little stuff." It takes a lot of drafts, but I love making my story come out the way I want it!

ali said...

Of course, I'm totally ROFLMO at #4. Um, yeah. But I have to pretty much say DITTO to all you said. Maybe it's because we've been working together for so long, I'm not sure ~ but I find my revising method is pretty much the same as yours.

I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who doesn't always know my MC until I'm done the whole book (and maybe done twice or three times, lol).

And CONGRATULATIONS Josh! This is quite the prize coming from Elana ~ she's the best. :)

Dolly said...

This is uncannily similar to my own method - though I wouldn't say my method is final yet, as it's very much a WIP and I will see how it evolves, but while I don't do this in any particular order, it's still the same layered editing.

Susan R. Mills said...

Congrats to Josh! I love your layer technique. It's nice to know that your first draft is emotionless. That's a big problem I have too.

kathrynjankowski said...

Lucky Josh!
I love how you have this put together, Elana. When I revise, I look at scenes (using Sandra Scofield's book) and consult SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Renni Browne and Dave King.
Godsends, both.
;-)

Holly Ruggiero said...

So you edit in that order or switch it up? For my it’s rough draft, rewrite, then look for plot holes and failings, then punch up all the other stuff.

Sara B. Larson said...

Wow, what a great way to revise! BUt wouldn't you have to go back and do #1 again after #5 since you added a bunch of new stuff? You are amazing girlie.

And congrats Josh, you are a lucky guy!

Colene Murphy said...

My gosh! That is an amazing idea, to edit for each specific thing one at a time. I always just go through and immediately edit everything, write it out and all that. Might be why I don't care for the editing process. Might be just making it too hard on myself cause this sounds wonderfully fun they way you do it!

L.T. Elliot said...

I love that you said your first draft can be emotionally flat. Sometimes I worry that my first drafts are like that and think I must be the most sucktastic writer ever. So it's comforting to know that it's FIXABLE and that I'm not the only one who needs to go back for emotion.

Carol Riggs said...

Nice post! You are SO organized in your revisions, more than I am. I do make comment bubbles though, very handy. But I like to put in the emotions and weather details as I write, more fleshed out all along (that's why I'd never do NaNo! I like the building details).

I bet you'd make a great critiquer, being so thorough!

Karen Akins said...

Great post!

And congrats to Josh. :)

Michael Winchell said...

Well, yes I revise by adding layers, actually blogged about it not too long ago. But I've found that, for me, the most important part is revising for the sake of characterization/dialog. When it comes to characterization, I read each chapter multiple times, with a focus on a different character each time. My most recent MS, which just went out to publishers a few days ago, has four crucial characters. Therefore, each read concentrates on one specific character and I try to make sure he/she is fully "there." I had a problem with one character who my agent thought drew the short straw throughout most of the MS. Therefore, reading/revising this way helped that character play more of a role in the story. Helped a lot.

I also do a separate read for sensory details, since I think later drafts allow you to add this type of "life" to the narrative in brief fashion. If you write your first draft with the "I must address the senses" frame-of-mind, what ends up happening is you go way too long with drawn-out, flowery paragraphs. Cool visuals created, but your narrative drive stalls as a result. Sprinkling the sensory details in a later read allows you to drop it like it's a hot tamale here and there w/o ruining the pacing of your story.

Cool post, Elana. Thanks.

Krispy said...

I think layers are a great way to go. It sort of makes the whole task less daunting.

Abby Minard said...

What a great process! I like the different layers- I think it helps organize a little better than just tackling everything at once. Plus its not too overwhelming. I'm definitely keeping this in mind for when I revise.

Jennie Englund said...

Congrats, Josh! That's exciting!

Elana, I'm waiting for the day you give tips for love scenes...

Julie Musil said...

Oh Elana, this is good stuff! I like peeking into other writer's habits and seeing how they make the original lump such a nice and shiny novel. Thank you!

Ishta Mercurio said...

Um... I guess I'll be there!

Ishta Mercurio said...

Oh, and congrats Josh!

Shari said...

I revise in layers, too. I really liked your steps. They are similar to what I have done.

I also have to say that I love that you don't know your MC until you are through or even after that. I don't feel so alone now because right now I am struggling with mine!

ciaraknight said...

I've always struggled with editing. How do I tackle all the different issues. LOVE this!!! Thanks for this post. I think it just changed my writing life.

Miriam S. Forster said...

Congratulations Josh!

Jemi Fraser said...

Congrats to Josh!

I'm finding that I'm really just learning to edit. I have almost no description in my first drafts so I definitely need to go in and fix that. I do rounds of editing too, but nothing this organized... may just have to borrow an idea or two! :)

Heather Eagar said...

I'm sending your post to myself to reference later. Thanks!

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Great layers for the plotting. Thanks!

Shayda Bakhshi said...

I don't have such a gloriously ordered revision process, but I do find myself doing certain things repeatedly. It goes somewhat like this:

1) Readthrough with small cuts/changes.

2) Overhaul major problem areas.

3) Readthrough with serious pruning/streamlining.

4) Wait nervously for beta review.

5) Organize serious notes and thoughts for feedback revisions.

6) ATTACK.

Basically how it goes.

Melissa said...

Layers... that sounds like a really good idea. I need to consider all th epossible ways that I can revise. It's coming up soon...

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