The third and final phase of the Revision Cycle is the word-by-word, line-by-line edit, perhaps the most critical to the story’s success, and one often undertaken too early in the process.
After having completed Phase I (Structural) and Phase II (Scenes), I now focus on specific language, which includes foreshadowing, and of course, adding more depth to the characters. This is the phase where words, sentences, maybe even entire paragraphs or scenes are ripped from the manuscript because they do not move the story forward. It does not matter that I love a particular description or word usage: if the content does not move the story along or in some way enhance the characters, out it goes. Of course, I keep those sections to use in another work, or I might find a place to insert where they will enhance the current story.
Much of Phase III will entail replacing weak verbs with stronger examples, mixing up nouns and pronouns for clarity purposes (essentially replacing he/she with specific character names or descriptions—the king, the younger boy, etc.—or vice-versa), in each instance watching for the syntax and overall flow of the story-line.
The third phase is the “polish” section where I strengthen the weak prose, making sure each sentence and paragraph contains value. Paying special attention to rambling or too much backfill, if necessary I will break sections and sprinkle necessary details throughout so as not to overload the backload information.
Another revision aspect I concentrate on during Phase III is to make sure I do not have any “spear carriers” appear, those inconsequential characters whose only purpose is to relay information that should otherwise be included within the normal story flow. Also checking for consistency (blue shirt on page 10, green shirt on following page within same scene) is an important concentration at this stage of revision. In fantasy and other speculative venues, watching for a character’s items (sword, shield, dagger, pack) to make sure that something—say a bow and quiver of arrows—does not suddenly appear because of a need when the actual having of the item is not previously mentioned.
The third phase is all about the details, both large and small, and I do not catch all the problems the first time through. If a part strikes me as either odd or lacking in some way I cannot pinpoint, a note in the sidebar will bring it back to the forefront during future revision cycles.
I have found that making a note of an apparent flaw in a story, regardless of the type, starts my subconscious working to resolve the short-coming; there are times when the problem is completely fixed (seemingly by itself) when I return to the section later. Essentially, I believe that once something is written down, that something becomes a tangible entity rather than the haze of an idea floating around in my mind—the very reason I always have a pen and notepad to catch those fleeting thoughts which so often appear at inopportune instances.
Revision is all about taking a crappy first draft and turning it into a viable story. There are writers who claim they do not revise: I do not believe them. In some way they edit and revise their original copy, though it might not fit into the cycles or format described here. All writing will improve with the proper attention and edits—deciding if an idea and story are publishable is altogether different than revision, and one best left to people other than the writer.
See you on the next page,
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