Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Revising: an eye for repetition

I am such an odd duck. I love to revise my books. Mostly I love to revise a book when I'm supposed to be writing another book. But then I love to write a brand new book when I'm supposed to be revising. There is some sort of twisted logic in that I suppose. If you believe in a muse and an internal editor, I have one on each shoulder. They are very competitive and don't like to be ignored while I work with the other. Yes, that probably sounds crazy, but I'm an artist. I get to be nuts.
Let's talk about revisions, most importantly repetition in the work. Part one is the easiest. Keep a personal list of common repeated words. We all have them. Here are a few examples from my list: just, glance, some, that, look, fine, so. Others to look for are began, was, then.
If you haven't already made a list or copied someone else's list, start one now. You will need it later. Even after nearly 20 years of writing, I still have favorite words. I've managed to get rid of felt and began, but others pop up to replace them. Use this list. It's as easy as using the find and replace tool in your word processing program.
Unfortunately, repetitive words are only the beginning of ways in which a writer can repeat themselves in a manuscript.
Part two is harder to spot and may take an second pair of eyes such as a beta reader or critique partner. Revise for repetition in action, thought, feeling and dialog.
I tend to do this in my first drafts. I will write an action or thought in one paragraph and repeat it in the next paragraph using different words. It's as if my creative brain is trying to figure out which way is best to say it. I don't know I'm doing it when I tell the story. It's something I have to catch in revision once the book is done. Sadly the only way to catch this is to break the book down into scenes- I like to do them out of order so that I don't get caught up in the story. Read each scene with a critical eye, looking for places where you hit the reader over the head with how the characters feel or think. It comes down to trusting the reader. Fiction is NOT an essay where you have to tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. This method is fine for exposition papers but tends to slow fiction down.
Next pay attention to dialog. You might like the back and forth of two characters- but keep an eye out for going on too long. I know I tend to have so much fun that I over do. (I am an over the top kind of writer, but revisions help me rein that in and narrow it down so that it stays punchy and fun and does not become well, repetitive.)
There are other things you must do when revising but these two steps can get you started thinking like an editor much to your muse's dismay. Try it next time you are revising and let me know how it worked for you. Cheers~


Heidi said...

Love this! Thanks for the tips. This was great! :)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I sometimes do the second one as well.
And I'm odd, too - I love editing and revising!

~Sia McKye~ said...

I'm still working on all that Nancy. I have been doing the out of sequence thing but not as much as I need to. I'm thinking, once life settles down where I can think creatively I'll get back into revising. Right now, I'm writing the first draft on the wip so I curb my inner critic a bit--not that she's quiet, but I say, later, I think about that later, I promise.

I never thought of a list of words. hmmm.

Marilyn Brant said...

Nancy, you KNOW how relevant your post on Revision is for me today!! Thank you ;). Part of my irritation with revising my current wip is because I was trying to do some of it before I finished writing the first draft. Typically, I really like the process, but not when I'm still creating the storyline. So I was reminded of something very important about my own work style this week: write the ENTIRE draft first, THEN revise! xo

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Heidi, thanks for stopping by. Glad to see you here.

Hi L. Diane, I guess I need to learn to love the one I'm with. lol. But you are so right, revising can be fun.

Hi Sia, when I'm on a new wip- I don't revise. I plow through. Revisions are for after. Sometimes it's the only way to reach those beloved words--The End. When it comes time for you to revise I'd be more than happy to e-mail you my list. You can cross off the ones that you don't repeat and add your own, but it's a good place to start.

Cheers, my friends~

Anonymous said...

Hi Nancy, I loved this post! I realised I do BOTH of these things and loved how you explained the second one: like your mind is trying to work out which one is better. and i agree!

i found a paragraph the other day and thought 'hang on a second...'

also, I am a massive sucker for the 'then' word. v. v. bad!

thanks for your advice on catching these slippery little suckers!

Jessica Nelson said...

Good post Nancy! You're so right about the repetition of thoughts, actions, etc. Thanks for the reminder!

Linda Kage said...

Thank you so much for this post. I think this is one of my biggest problems in writing. It must stem from my childhood. "Linda, put that book down and come help me. Linda, put that book down. I need some help. LINDA. BOOK DOWN. HERE. NOW!"

Nancy J. Parra said...

Marilyn, I wrote this post then visited your blog and had to laugh. Great minds think alike. Yes, I am like you, I have to finish the first draft before I revise or all hope is lost. No matter how much jumping up and down my internal editor does on my shoulder and stabbing me with her pitch fork. :D

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Miss Ali, I discovered my over use of the word then when one of my beta readers pointed out that I have a tendency to mistype then and than- oh boy. I think it comes from my Kansas accent- we speak both words the same. th-an and th-an. Same for Pan and Pen and Pin. They all sound the same. Accent on the p and the n. :) Thanks for stopping by.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Jessica, thanks for stopping by. I'm sure you don't have quite as much repetition as I do. :)

Hi Linda, your comment made me laugh!! Thanks for that.


Meg M said...

LOL - tell them what you're going to say, tell them, and tell them what you told them! That made me laugh. No wonder my very first mss was 800 pages... 15 years ago.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Meg, your comment made me smile. Cheers~

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I do have an over-used word list that seems to continually grow rather than diminish, but it does help during the revision process. I like your idea of reading scenes out of order. I’m going to give this method a try.

prashant said...

Thanks for the tips. This was great! :)
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