Building it up to break it down

Now that I’m finished with the first draft of my manuscript, it’s time to dive into revisions this week.

The process of writing sometimes seems counterintuitive, especially at this stage. Think of outlining a novel as drawing up blueprints for a massive, intricate structure. Think of sitting down to write the first draft as laying a foundation, building the structure brick by brick, only to tear it all down upon completion (revision), breaking it into pieces, examining each piece, and putting it back together in a different fashion — just to see how it looks.

It can be rather exhausting, immersing yourself in your own imaginings, engaging with them on a daily basis, and when finished at last with the contents, pulling yourself out of it all and standing back. This is where others’ objective perspectives come in, because you as the creator will inevitably have a biased attachment to your creation.

For me, revising means killing darlings (scrapping stories), digging deep into character development, rewriting and rearranging scenes, filling in plot holes, researching potential avenues for worldbuilding, gathering feedback from alpha readers, and much more.

Assisting immensely with all of this are my family and friends who have been unconditionally supportive, not only with their words of encouragement, but with some excellent editing tools that have proven invaluable to me.

My brother gifted me with Scrivener, word-processing software especially for organizing notes, references, and concepts of a novel. I have already spent hours sifting through my research, plugging in my entire manuscript scene by scene, and playing with the various features of this brilliant program. Below is a snapshot of one of my epigraphs.

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I mentioned taking apart the structure brick-by-brick and arranging them in a different order as a metaphor for revisions, and Scrivener literally allows you to do that. Because I’m largely a visual learner, actually seeing the potential of a plot in a nested layout is a highly advantageous system.

My colleague for whom I’m editing commissions graciously mailed me three guidebooks which will be essential throughout the process. Regardless of my background and education in English, I think there is always something to be gained from a traditional book on the craft of fiction, and I’ve already begun to highlight areas of note.

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From one of these texts, “Outlining Your Novel” by K.M. Weiland, this passage stood out to me:

The magic ingredient in fiction is that special something that socks readers right in the gut and leaves them breathless with joy or sorrow…Our emotional and physical responses to our ideas are often the most accurate indication of their value.

Some of the best stories are those we react to viscerally, with feeling and with passion. I realized that I had been writing with elements of my story clearly in mind, but not necessarily my audience. One of the challenges of writing is to create opportunities for your readers to connect with your characters in the way you do. Revisions will give me a chance to put each of my scenes under an emotional lens, to study and enhance the intimacies of character interactions, the deep inner conflict in my protagonist’s mind, and the underlying symbolism that tonally shapes the story.

Finally, the honest advice and completely dedicated readership of my husband has been a gift to me in itself. Not only did he agree to be my alpha reader, but he finished it, expressed genuine enthusiasm, and told me it was not only worth publishing, but should really be published. That is perhaps the highest compliment an unpublished writer can achieve, and he’s a tough critic.

He then went on to give me some insightful critiques and suggestions for rewrites of particular scenes, providing that objective perspective I needed. Without any prompt from me, he charted the rise and fall of intensity and intrigue throughout the whole novel and mapped out the plot structure and archetypes using monomyth in Excel.

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I swear, this man! All of this unprecedented support makes me more inspired to venture forth with the manuscript.

And so onward I go into the wreckage.