First off, a big blog congratulations to @StephenWilds over on Twitter, who joined the hordes…er…bunch?…of followers who signed on in November for a chance to win a critique of their work or a sneak peek at mine. An avid writer, Stephen opted for a critique. That means I may yet be inclined to share a short excerpt of Spacebuckler here on my blog at some point. Stay tuned.
Now then…remember seven-layer dip? That’s my writing metaphor du jour. It’s also an unholy mess to eat, no matter how you try to do it. Revising your work is also an unholy mess at times, but perhaps this might help, especially now that some of you out there have the first draft of a novel in hand thanks to NaNoWriMo.
See, the seven layers in seven-layer dip are roughly the number of times you may end up revising your novel. Yep…seven. And like that spicy, savory snack we all know and occasionally regret, there are layers that are foundational, layers that add flavor, layers that provide a twist. And in the end, you end up with deliciousness.
Bear with me. I love beating a metaphor to death. In fact, you can use this Rachael Ray recipe to follow along.
At the bottom of the dip are refried beans. That’s your plot and the bare bones of your characters — your first draft. That’s always going to be the foundation of your story, but that said, each revision is going to change it significantly.
Next up is green salsa. That’s your first revision. You’re reading through for the joy of reading, finding areas to add coolness and wonder, filling out the setting, just sort of getting a feel for the story. The first revision is always fun, because you’re still fresh and excited. So you tend to be adding flavor, giving the book its first jolt of heat. (Like salsa!) Add or subtract what you want — just have fun with it.
Third layer (according to Rachael) is black beans. You’ve got the bare bones done, you’ve added some fun stuff. Now the hard work begins. This time, you’re looking at plot. Major plots need to be linear and you need to ensure there are no holes. Add subplots. Make sure the characters are in the right places, doing the right things to further the story. This is, in essence, your major plot revision. If something feels forced or untenable, scrap it. If you need to create links to major plot points and scenes, do it now. Yes, this layer may give you gas.
Fourth layer is chipotle salsa! More spice! But this time, focus the spice on your characters. Make sure that each character has a believable and tenable character arc in your story. I’m not a fan of each character in a book having to have “learned” something, because it’s not realistic in life. But the story should still be of importance to your main characters, and it should change them somehow. Make sure that’s happening here, and make sure there’s consequence for those changes.
Fifth layer: Sour cream, that wonderful stuff that ties it all together. To me, this is your setting revision. Your plot and character revisions probably had a ripple effect within your setting, and furthermore, you may have ignored setting for the moment while dealing with plot and character. We’re all affected by our environment, and it behooves you to make sure that the characters and plot are affected by — and have their own affect on — their environment.
The penultimate (love that word) layer is guacamole. Guacamole is full of flavor, full of action. So…is your book full of flavor and action? Each scene needs to hold its own, to further the story, to hook the reader with conflict and movement and development — my uber-agent Sara Megibow is big on this, and it’s rubbed off on me, too. If there are scenes not carrying their weight, cut them or, perhaps better, make them zing more with a little guac. Add drama, tension and heat. Mix thoroughly.
Finally! The end of our recipe, our revisions, our tired metaphor. Veggies, typically tomatoes and olives, top our dip and give it some chew. In this last revision, chew over everything. We haven’t really touched on voice yet, so if that’s something you feel the need to read for, make sure you’re consistent throughout. Indeed, just be consistent, period. This isn’t quite a copy-edit, but it’s close. If you still feel you’ve got work to do on plot, character or setting, then you may want to go back a few layers.
And then, seven revisions later…you’re done. Serve with tortilla chips and enjoy.
The point of all this is that revisions take a while. Trust me…a year ago, I thought I had Spacebuckler nailed. I had just finished ny third version. Ha! You may have a first draft in hand post-NaNoWriMo, but until you go through a rigorous revision process, you don’t have a novel yet. Now, you may not need seven revisions, but you still need to look for character, plot, setting, action, voice, consistency, fun, etc. Maybe you can do 2-3 of those at once, but it’s still going to take time and effort — far more than the month it took to write.
In the end, though, it really will be delicious.