Revision

Some of you might have noticed I haven’t been blogging (or reviewing!) that much in the last couple of weeks. I have a really good excuse: I’m in the middle of a massive writing project, and starting to test the waters of finding an agent a bit.

And that is proving more tedious than I would care to admit.

You see, I’m a descriptive writer who tends to like indulging in epic plots, which means my novels tend to be long. I wondered about that but didn’t give it much thought until I found out that publishers tend to resist printing new authors with books over 100,000 words. I understand their reasoning. It’s solid: too many pages, they have to sell too many units to make a profit. And considering there’s not more than one J.K. Rowling in a billion authors, they have to watch their funding, particularly in a bad economy like ours.

(I’m not just saying that because I like Rowling. Her writing is excellent. Name it, and she has it: awesome characters, a suspenseful plot, gradual revelation of important information, and tight prose. Sure, she makes mistakes: the Grawp chapters were boring and the final confrontation is a bit theatrical, but considering her massive accomplishments, who cares?)

This means I’m going to have to do extensive revision on my current project(s). In some sense, that makes me want to shut myself up in a cupboard and stay there with a bowl of ice cream, but in another, it is a challenge and there are few things I enjoy in life more than work. I can be a brutal editor. I know how to trim fat. And I am harder on my own manuscripts than everyone else’s (if I’ve trimmed yours, don’t feel bad… I do it to everyone). The problem is, I tend to write a lot of fat. (In the future, I’ll be more careful about that.) But I also know that no matter how “gorgeous” my writing, things can always be cut out: scenes that don’t further the plot, chapters that meander, stating the obvious, etc.

That’s part of being a writer. Writing is less about early ideas and more about revision.

On occasion, I get told off for being so “hard” on things, but the plain fact of the matter is this: my time is important and I don’t want it to go to waste with mundane drek. You know why Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera is so good? Because it started out with a great idea and went through a ton of revision. Watch the behind-the-scenes special on the film version and you’ll discover that half the lyrics changed from that first draft ALW put on for his guests one summer. You know why the sequel Love Never Dies sucks? Not only is the plot stupid and all the characters nothing like themselves, it hasn’t had enough revision. (I’ve seen the revised version and it’s better, but it is still bad.)

Books had to go through an extensive revision and editing process just to catch the attention of a publisher. Sure, there are some bad books, but a lot of them aren’t bad, just not to my taste or interest. On the other hand, there’s a lot of bad movies and a lot of bad television out there, and since I am so focused on what needs revision, I notice when stuff gets rushed. This is why, although I loved the first season of Downton Abbey and its cracking good writing, I was disappointed in the second season. Why? It felt like Julian Fellowes was working off a first draft rather than revision. You cannot tell me that some of the plots that went nowhere would not have been cut in revision. That characters behaving totally unlike their previous selves could not have been fixed when a critical eye realized “oh, this doesn’t work for Lord Grantham.” That the rampant clichés that flooded the second season (the oh-so-evil Vera, the lord of the manor falling for the maid, the all-too-convenient death of a character “in the way” of True Love) could not have been exorcised.

Yes, I enjoyed the second season of Downton Abbey, but it is not going to win a bunch of awards like the first season did, because the writing isn’t nearly as good. It’s “fine,” but it isn’t “great.” No matter how successful you become, or famous you get, you still need revision. J.K. Rowling needed a bit more in her final books. Stephanie Meyer certainly needed it in Breaking Dawn. And Julian Fellowes needs to revise and revise and revise, if he wants season three to be as stellar as season one was.

Revision is hard, and it’s tiresome, and it’s brutal, but it has to be done, because at the end of the day, despite profit and deadlines, we should always do our best.  And our first draft is never our best. Our second draft isn’t even our best. But somewhere in-between ripping our hair out and swearing never to write anything ever again, it will become our best. And that’s when it is time to share it with the world.

PS: If you haven’t bought the 25th anniversary release of Phantom yet, do. It is worth every penny and makes the movie look like drek in comparison.

14 Replies to “Revision”

  1. I never even knew there was a sequel to Phantom. Eww I just read the Wiki about it and Meg as a prostitute? Gross. That doesn’t make any sense. Why would her mother even do that to her own daughter? She’s more of a protector and having her be a pimp in a sequel now is so weird. And what kind of mother would do that to her own daughter? Meh.

    Okay I’m going to pretend that the sequel doesn’t exist. Seriously. Why couldn’t they have had the Phantom rebuild his life after the events of Paris and let him find peace? Some things in life shouldn’t have sequels

    1. I don’t… I can’t even… all I can wonder is what ALW was on when he wrote it. But then, I don’t know what the writer of the original, “The Phantom of Manhattan,” was on either. =P None of it makes ANY SENSE WHATSOEVER. If you try and figure it out, it makes your brain bleed.

      Do pretend. Forget it exists. You’re better off that way.

  2. Best of luck with revisions! (and finding an agent and stuff, that’s very exciting stuff! :)) It can be an interesting and frustrating process (as I painfully experienced with my thesis last year), which is why I’ve stalled on editing some major writing projects that were completed a few years ago. I should get around to that one of these days…

  3. Yes, my main story needs plenty of revision too. I’ve finished the book but I’m far from done, if you know what I mean.

    And even if the plot of “Love Never Dies” is terrible…I LOVE the music!
    By the way…I’m very, very, very excited that “Les Miserables” the musical is going to be a movie this year! Have you heard any of the broadway tracks? It has to be one of my favorite musicals.

    1. I know what you mean. You have reached that point where you don’t know whether to be excited or cry. =P

      The music is indeed gorgeous. I particularly love “The Beauty Underneath” and “Beneath a Moonless Sky.” ALW is brilliant. It’s just that he chose a bad book to work off of.

      Les Miserables is a wonderful musical. I hope the movie does it justice — and isn’t too crude. I saw a live performance and they went a little overboard with the coarse gestures in the first half…

  4. The best luck and a prayer for you. I’m looking forward to reading the finished product.

    A pre-recorded show of Love Never Dies in Melbourne is playing in theaters. (http://www.fathomevents.com/performingarts/event/loveneverdies.aspx?d=2/28/2012)
    You say it sucks, (and I’ve read the plot line on wiki and it does sound ridiculous). But is it worth seeing once on the big screen, or should I wait to rent the DVD, or should I run in terror and pretend LND never happened?

    1. I honestly don’t know how to answer that. See, ten minutes into the Melbourne performance I wanted to kill myself. Thirty minutes in, I thought, “This isn’t half bad.” By the end, I thought, “That was total and utter crap… can I watch it again?” A huge part of me thinks it is a travesty, and a small part of me had fun watching it. I’d say the only way to know for yourself is to see it, but if you don’t like the music (you might be able to hear clips of it on Amazon) you won’t enjoy it. If you DO like the music, it’s likely you’ll have fun. =)

      1. I am curious to see it, but I think I’ll save some of my money and wait until netfilx or my library get the DVD.

        I saw 25th anniversary Phantom in a movie theater, and I just noticed that PBS will be airing it in March.

  5. I have been praying for you as the Lord brings the revision needs to you!!! It is going to be wonderful and I know that you will have given it your best ❤

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