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Novel Writing: The Revision Process Part 1

Most of you know that bit of excellent writing advice, the rule about letting a draft sit and marinate for a time before diving into the revision process? It’s good advice, but a rule I don’t usually follow. Until now, that is, while awaiting the editorial notes for my forthcoming novel (working title: The Alchemy of Glass: Book 2 of The Apothecary’s Curse), slated for release in the second half of 2019..

My usual process is not to press “pause” and let the novel rest, but go on to the revision process immediately. I love the revision process. To me, the raw draft (or “zero” draft) is for discovering the story, the next is to texture in layers of its heart, and the next for diving headlong into its soul. Everything after is tightening, tweaking, filling in those “TKs,” killing darlings, more texturing and fine-tuning the editing. (Of course then its more editing once it’s at the publisher…)

(Here’s a reading of The Apothecary’s Curse I did at the Bram Stoker Awards weekend last year as part of the Shades and Shadows reading series. (I’m the first reader, followed by bona fide speculative fiction luminaries Stephen Graham Jones, Tananarive Due, Elizabeth Hand, Chuck Wendig, and Jonathan Maberry–so keep listening…)

So, while waiting for the first round of edits and notes to cross my desk, I sold a short story (my first, and a bit of fluffy post-apocalyptic zombie romance to boot!) to be published February in DreamForge Magazine, the brand spanking new speculative fiction venture print and online magazine. I’ve been bouncing around a few ideas for more short stories (including one I need to finish by the end of the month–yikes!), a novel or two to play with and the inevitable planning for Book Three of the Apothecary’s Curse series and more time playing in the tormented, tortured, brilliant mind of immortal apothecary Gaelan Erceldoune. But unable to settle on any one thing to attack next.

Anyway, the other day, while rummaging around my virtual file cabinet of WIPs (works in progress–we all have ’em, right?), I came across a “zero draft” of a novel I’d drafted just before I started writing The Apothecary’s Curse. I’d always loved the story, and it’s very different than my now-finished novels. I think it might be described as Robin Cook meets Michael Crichton meets Dr. Gregory House. It’s a medical mystery, as are both Apothecary books are, but a modern story, and not fantasy.

So I re-read it, and by the time I finished the novel (first draft is 80,000 words with a few TKs–to comes–thrown in, so I figure 100K by the time it’s done.) And then it hit me midway through, how far I’ve come as a novelist lo these past three or four years. I cringed at the whiplash-inducinghead-hopping (I generally write in third-person close, so head-hopping is very, very bad within a single scene), the pages and pages of morose dredging through my main character’s bleak moods. And yeah, I love those, and specifically and intentionally write Byronic, tragic, moody, broody heroes, but too much is too much!

I spent a few hours (Okay, make it two days–told ya I was obsessive) trying to decide if the novel was redeemable or whether simply to chuck it in my MacBook Pro’s trash bin. But after coming to the conclusion that the novel was pretty solid, I have begun a journey to bring the thing back to life.

So, despite the advice I always get about not showing anyone how the metaphorical sausage (or the novel) gets made, I’ve decided to talk through my process. To you. I teach a monthly writing class, and I’ve grown accustomed to sharing the journey, so now I’ve decided to write about it as well, sharing the process of revision, the tools I use and may be useful to your own endeavors.

I’ll talk more about tools as we go along, but here’s a list of what I find most helpful to me as a novelist:

  • Scrivener
  • Autocrit
  • Grammarly
  • Fictionary
  • Oxford English Dictionary Online

Next post: Preparing for revision: Deconstructing the raw draft using Scrivener. So stay tuned!

Barbara Barnett


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