4.16.2010

Novel Revision, Step One: Interview the Author

When you write a novel in thirty days from a very basic outline, you might expect to get something like I did: a wildly uneven text, a few characters whom I loved deeply, a jagged but partially usable storyline and one shining moment in which the entire tale had shifted from my original vision to something far more glorious.

I found revision much more enjoyable than the original writing; not the usual way of things, I'm told. And after a revision and a half (the half due to the mistakes of inexperience, I hope), the result--while definitely imperfect and still in the beta-reading stage--is at least something that four of the five people who have admitted to finishing it told me they just couldn't put down.

This series of posts is designed to share what I learned about how to revise a novel. If you're in that process yourself, best wishes, and may you find this helpful and encouraging.

* * *

Before printing the manuscript, before even thinking about what had to change, I asked myself some questions (thanks for the idea, Holly Lisle!) Why me? Why this book? What made it important? I had to get to the heart of the book--the living, breathing part that made it something more than a bunch of possibly interesting people wandering around doing possibly interesting stuff.

Concrete definition for "the heart of a book" proved elusive, and if you have ideas I'd love to hear them! To start, though, here's what I came up with:

--the hook, or central unique idea, plus
--the major themes, plus
--the author's worldview/perspective on life

This is what the book is about, more so even than the characters and the storyline; this is what you must not lose in revision.

Knowing that helped me distinguish between what mattered and what didn't. I wrote out or modified some of my favorite moments, changed most of the characters' names, scrapped and reimagined at least a third of the original storyline--but the book I'd wanted to write, the book I loved, survived.

Why did you write the book? What one thing makes it different from every other? What are the primary themes? Why is the book important to you? It is important to ask, and to answer.

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