Last week, I packed off the fifth version of Spacebuckler to my awesome and always-upbeat agent, Sara Megibow. In celebration, I thought I’d blog about what revisions mean to a would-be novelist like myself. (Actually, in terms of celebration, I had a Brooklyn Lager. But you get the idea.)
It took me roughly five months or so to pound out the first draft of my book. And naturally, being all kinds of green and uninformed, I got out the red pen, gave it a line edit and declared it finished. And yes, I still managed to get an agent, despite this severe but blessedly temporary case of shortsightedness. Anywya, Sara responded to my partial manuscript in August of last year, declaring the idea compelling, but the plotting far less so. She agreed to read a revision. And thus began versions two thorough five. She offered to rep me after version four.
So what changed in the book? It’s probably easier to ask what didn’t change. The characters, for the most part, didn’t undergo a lot of changes. They got more nuanced. A few really stepped up to the plate in terms of driving the plot. One had a career change, and another toughened up considerably. But the main characters are still there, still very much recognizeable.
In terms of plot, somewhere in between v2.0 and v3.0 I had a pretty huge dose of inspiration with regard to how the bad guys were doing things, and it became a major plot point, one that allowed a lot of other things to slide easily into place. (If you want to check out that source of inspiration, watch the Science Channel clip that did the trick.) On the writing side, the sailing-ships-in-space half of the book went from a first-person journal to third-person almost right away, in v2.0.
I think the biggest benefit to all these revisions came from thinking through the cause-and-effect of various plot points and character actions. My agent kept asking for more action, more doing, “more mayhem,” as she put it. And it was my job to make that happen in a way that made sense. So I began exploring the more subtle “what ifs” of the events happening in both settings, and lo and behold, there was stuff left unmined there.
So. Revisions. Revisions are good. I’ve rewritten this book four times now, and I would have to say that there’s probably less than 20% of the original book in there in terms of word-count. In terms of plot, the bare bones are still there: Martina mining colony in 2132 undergoes strangeness, while heroes in 1779 use alchemical ships in space to try to stop Bad Things from happening. But in each revision, I’ve learned more about my characters and settings, found new avenues of the plot to explore, and generally improved the story exponentially.
Will v5.0 do the trick? Probably not. I imagine my agent and I might go at least one more round to tidy things up. And even if not, let’s not forget that any would-be publisher will assign me an editor, and the editor will will want revisions — likely substantial ones, too. But so long as these future revisions do as much to improve the book as the first four rounds have done, I’ll be happy to dive back in.
And as I start to outline what will hopefully become Book II, I’ll apply all those lessons I learned the first time around — including the lesson about thinking you’re done after the first draft.