Posts Tagged revision

Writing Books: A Revision Resource Round-Up

I’ve been deep in my revision cave these last few weeks. Which for me means a printed copy of my most recent draft, a pile of sticky notes, a jar full of colored pens, and lots of notes and thoughts scattered across legal pads and journals. It also means revisiting a number of writing books for help while I’m tackling everything from character motivation to the big scary thing that is plot.

Since my brain is a hot mess of new and old ideas right now, I thought I’d keep this blog post simple and share some of the writing books I’ve found most helpful when tackling a revision.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgStory Genius by Lisa Cron
How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere)

I really wish I had worked through this book when I was starting this novel. But it’s proven to be a really useful tool for see where I’ve got some key components of a strong story down and where I need to dig deeper.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSave the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody
The Last Book On Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need

I discovered Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat books on screenwriting years ago and they made a huge difference in my storytelling. Jessica Brody’s take on using his approach for novels is a good one, and I found a couple of key pieces that have really made a difference as I revise my book.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgStory Engineering by Larry Brooks
Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing

I’ve heard Larry speak a number of times and this book is a pretty nice overview of his take on story. I haven’t read it in a while, but the pieces are always rattling around in my brain, and I will be certain to use his checklists later in my revision process.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgWriting the Breakout Novel By Donald Maass
Insider advice for taking your fiction to the next level

I haven’t found a craft book by Donald Maass that I didn’t like. His questions are great tools for getting deeper into character, motivation, and most importantly stakes. Whenever I feel like something’s not quite right or I’m simply in the mood to run things a different way, I do an exercise in one of his books and see what happens. It’s great for clearing the cobwebs and seeing new possibilities.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThe Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson
Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master

Can you tell I have a little lack of confidence when it comes to plotting? 🙂
This book was instrumental in getting my last novel to a final, publishable draft. I’m not sure what exactly it did to make the pieces fall into place – but I appreciate it. And, I have it handy in case I need it this time around, too.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgManuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lion
Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore

My copy is well worn and filled with sticky tabs. This guide covers pretty much every part of the revision process clearly. And the checklists at the end of each chapter are detailed and incredibly useful.

 

I’d love to hear what writing books help you through both the drafting and revision process. Please share below. I’ll be sure to duck out of my cave to respond.

Revised and Updated

Peachtree Publishers is putting new covers on my companion novels Do You Know the Monkey Man and Yes, I Know the Monkey Man! What do you think? Here are the original covers:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here are the new ones:

Do You Know the Monkey Man was published in 2005. I signed a contract for it in 2003 and I wrote the first draft before 2000. My main character listened to her music on a Walkman in my first draft. (That was changed to “MP3 player” before publication. “MP3 player” rather than iPod, because who knew how long these iPod things would even be around?)

As soon as I saw these new covers, I asked my editor, Kathy Landwehr, if I could revise and update the books. She agreed that I could, so I marked the deadline on my calendar and noted I also had a MUF post due right around the same time. Suddenly I had a topic for this post: revised and updated middle grade novels!

I knew Lauren Myracle revised and updated her Internet Girls series ten years after they were published. I just saw this article on the Nerdy Bookclub blog and learned that James Preller recently revised and updated his Jigsaw Jones books. But when I started talking about this with people in my various writing circles, I had a hard time finding anyone else who had revised and updated a book. I wondered why that was. Were books simply not staying in print long enough to warrant an update?

Peachtree tends to keep their books in print for many years, so I asked Kathy if she could put me in touch with any of their other authors who have revised and updated one of their books. She couldn’t. Because she didn’t know of any other authors who had done it!

She said, “We’ve revised a series that began publishing in the nineties to update some references in the early titles, so they’d be consistent with the more recently published books. The editorial staff reviewed the books and had the author approve all of the changes. Some of our backlist is historical and doesn’t require updates. Many contemporary titles are set in the outdoors and the content, which doesn’t involve much technology, doesn’t require updating. And then there are some titles in which dated references are so thoroughly integrated into the plot that updating them would require a major overhaul. We haven’t felt that this sort of update would improve the reading experience; kids are perfectly capable of understanding older references and technologies, just as they understand them in historical fiction.”

Okay, once I got in to my own revision I understood what she meant by “references so thoroughly integrated into the plot.” Some of the things I wanted to fix weren’t as easy to fix as I had hoped they’d be. It was like dominoes. As soon as I changed one thing, that change affected something else.

Was this really worth it? This whole thing was my idea. Nobody told me I had to revise or update my book.

I talked to my friend Carol Gorman, who has gotten rights back to many of her previously published middle grade novels and released them under her own publishing imprint, Skylark Lane Press. I wondered whether she had done and revising or updating. She said, “I revised and updated all of them, including my first novel, published in 1985! The characters now have cell phones and they like Harry Styles instead of Leonardo DiCaprio. Although Harry Styles is now probably out of date!”

I asked how she felt about the revision and she said, “I think the improvement is mostly that the books will appeal more to today’s kids than if they felt ‘old-fashioned.’ I learned when I taught at Coe College that today’s kids think that anything, say 8-10 years old, is ‘back in the day’ and really ‘old’!”

I also talked to Robyn Gioia, who published a children’s mystery entitled Miss President with a traditional publisher years ago. Like Gorman, she revised it after it went out of print and self-published a new edition. She said, “Self-publishing was just becoming big and many authors were doing it, so I fleshed it out more, made it stronger in several parts but basically kept the story the same.”

But then after a couple of years, she decided to revisit the story. She decided she wanted to turn it into a fantasy! Talk about a major revision! She said, “I had just read the Rats of Nimh to my class and thought it would be fun to work in a different style. I drastically changed the story.  The Ghost, The Rat and Me is totally different than the original and I love this version the best.”

I did decide to go forward with my revision, too. But wasn’t just technology that I updated. The speed limit in Iowa has changed since I first published Do You Know the Monkey Man. (You’d be surprised how many kids wrote to tell me that the speed limit was 70 on the freeway. Not 65 as my characters said.) I also realized psychics probably charge more today than they did in 2000. And teenagers are paid more for babysitting now than they were then.

I ended up changing quite a few things. Things I didn’t necessarily intend to change. Things that had nothing to do with technology. I’m a better writer now than I was in 2000, when I wrote the first draft of this book, so once I got in there, I just couldn’t stop myself from fixing EVERYTHING. I didn’t make any plot changes, but I did a lot of work at the sentence level. And I changed one very big scene that I had never been happy with. I had a different editor at Peachtree when I first published this book. This was one of my early books, and at that time in my career I tended to do whatever my editor said, whether I agreed with her or not. Most of the time I did agree, but there was one scene in this book that I strongly disagreed with my editor on. But I rewrote it her way anyway. And I’ve always regretted it.

Well, now I have a new editor. And a chance to rewrite this book. So I rewrote that scene the way I wished I could have written it in the first place. And I didn’t tell my new editor what I did. If she finds it (and I suppose she could find it if she turns on track changes) and she misses the dialogue I took out, we can talk about it. But I don’t think she’ll find it unless she does turn on track changes.

Working on this revision reminded me of something Elizabeth Gilbert said when she was in Seattle a year ago. She was talking about reviews and how she doesn’t let them get her down. She said, “Do they think I don’t know that’s there? I wrote the best book I could at the time.”

That last sentence really resonated with me. I can be a bit of a perfectionist. (I can hear every editor I’ve ever worked: “A bit???”) The truth is no book is ever going to be perfect. We do the best we can at the time and then we let the book go.

But sometimes we get a chance to take another stab at a book. Under the guise of “updating the technology.”

Now that my “update” is done, I’m glad I took the time. I can’t say it’s a perfect book. But it’s better than it was.

And I can’t say that it’s totally modern. But again, it’s better than it was. And I really appreciated the opportunity to go back and make it better.

Revision Workbooks and Helpful Tools

Revisions are exciting…and a little scary, too. Years ago, I used to think I was revising, but it was more like tickling my manuscripts instead of ripping them to shreds and rebuilding them with the strongest possible foundation. I’ve been working hard on my revision tools and have come a long way—but the more I learn, the more I realize I still can grow.

breakout-novelMy local SCBWI (Society of Book Writer’s and Illustrators) recently invited me to take an online workshop using WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK by Donald Maass. Wow! I fell in love with that workbook immediately. Every exercise I completed strengthened my middle grade novel in amazing ways. This is such a fantastic tool for writers—and for teachers to use with their students. You can figure out how to flesh out your characters more and highlight their heroic traits so readers can relate to even the nastiest characters. I also learned how to strengthen all my characters, plot, sub plots, theme, etc.

For years, I’ve cherished advice the incredibly talented author, Bruce Coville, shared at a conference—think of the worst thing that could happen to your character. It’s always been a huge help in raising the stakes. I’ve placed my characters in awful situations and thought I had mastered this task. Turns out, I did a good job (maybe even a really good job).  But I didn’t realize there was an invisible line I couldn’t cross. Exercises in Donald Maass’s workbook made that line visible and opened my eyes to even more ways to torture my poor characters. I love having a new tool that helps me dig deeper than ever and add amazing depth to my novels.

Here’s more info about WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK by Donald Maass:

This powerful book presents the patented techniques and writing exercises from Maass’s popular writing workshops to offer novelists first-class instruction and practical guidance. You’ll learn to develop and strengthen aspects of your prose with sections on:

  • Building plot layers
  • Creating inner conflict
  • Strengthening voice and point of view
  • Discovering and heightening larger-than-life character qualities
  • Strengthening theme
  • And much more!

Maass also carefully dissects examples from real-life breakout novels so you’ll learn how to read and analyze fiction like a writer.

 

Another great revision workbook is NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS by Darcy Pattison:

  • novel-metamorphasisSystematically inventory and diagnose your manuscript
  • Visually manipulate your manuscript to identify problems
  • Transform dull characters into fascinating, memorable people
  • Strengthen the narrative and emotional arcs
  • Sharpen dialogue
  • Morph dull settings into backdrops that set the mood
  • Enliven narrated events by selecting the right details
  • Use language with confidence
  • Add depth with narrative patterning In-depth professional development
  • Plan your novel’s metamorphosis

The Results: A stronger, richer, deeper story, a story that makes readers weep and cry and turn the next page. NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS turns theory into radical new tools which are practical, tangible, concrete.

 

If you’re looking for intensive plotting help, check out the PLOT WHISPERER WORKBOOK by Martha Alderson:

plot-whisperer-workbookIn this writing workbook, celebrated writing teacher and author Martha Alderson covers everything from constructing spirited action and compelling characters to establishing an unforgettable ending. Packed with Scene Tracker and Plot Planner templates for you to fill in for your own unique story, she also walks you through the development of a successful narrative with exercises that:

  • Help build suspense, tension and excitement
  • Create multi-dimensional characters
  • Integrate theme and meaning
  • Incorporate effective subplots
  • Tie up all the loose ends
  • Keep the reader turning pages

 

Newest Plot Clock 2016The last incredible resource I’m including isn’t a book or workbook—it’s a free hour and a half recorded Plot Clock webinar by super-mentor Joyce Sweeney.

If you sign up for her mailing list, you’ll receive access to the webinar about her amazing four-act plot tool called the PLOT CLOCK that I use before (and often after) writing anything new. She also has lots of other incredible webinars and classes to help with revision and other aspects of writing.

 

Here’s a link to a past post of mine that is chock full of revision tips. I’d love to know what your favorite revision workbooks, tricks, or tools are.

Happy revising!

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s TwitterFacebook, oblog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.