Revisions Aren’t For Sissies …by Susan Lute

Steam punk girl with Typewriter.I am not one of those writers who can blurt out a story, write, write, write until I reached the end. I mull and ponder, watch film, and read until bits of the story start to surface. I’ve learned to map the story so I have set pieces and climaxes to aim for. I write from the beginning in a back and forth dance until I’m finished. And I can’t move on until the first chapters say exactly what they have to say; adding layer upon layer until the main characters reveal their purpose in the story.

So with all that being said, Bear’s Full House is coming along. I’m considering changing the title to Heroes Don’t Lie. I’m at 18,240 words, which may be less than my last report, but I’ve cut parts of scenes that are no longer relevant.

Yesterday, Cathy Lamb came to talk to our group about sketching a character. Yes, we actually made pencil sketches of our heroines or heroes. I haven’t drawn anything more challenging than flowers for the little girls in a long time, but this was fun. I did a good job with her hair, I think. Then around our character we were to write down everything we know about them. Cathy had some very specific questions for us to answer. The easy ones – who are her family and friends? What does she do for a living? How does she dress? Then harder questions like, what are the three worst things to happen to her (I came up with two)? That led me to thinking about the best thing to happen to her, which turned out to also be the scariest. What are her quirks? I’m still thinking about that one. If we were out to lunch at my favorite restaurant – Red Lobster, though I’m not a shellfish fan, I’ve just had some good times there – what would she tell me? She’d say, Life isn’t easy. Get over it. Face the hard stuff. Make your life matter.

The thing I find fascinating about all this is the ripple effect uncovering new information about characters has on the story. In Writing 21st Century Fiction, Donald Maass has similar questions. What is your character’s worst habit, weakness, or blind spot? What is her or his most shameful memory? What does he or she most need to forgive? These are the kinds of questions that take a story to the next level. It’s not about just telling the story, it’s about the journey taken, and the characters who make the journey.

This kind of depth isn’t found in the first draft, it’s discovered in arduous rewrites. For me that’s four sets of revisions, cover to cover. Nora Roberts does three. Cathy Lamb, eight. Everyone’s different, but no writer worth their salt would do one less revision in their efforts to uncover every kernel of their characters and story. The journey home is as much for us the authors as it is for our heroes and heroines, and usually fraught with as much challenge.

How many revisions do you do? And what quirk does your main character have?

Report: Bear’s Full House or Heroes Never Lie – to page 18, 18,240 total words so far.


About Susan

Author, wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend, dreamer.

Posted on April 14, 2013, in General and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. At least three drafts, and usually four. I love that last round of revisions, though; it is all about adding the beautiful details that I usually skip.


  2. I think about my h/h constantly. As a result I find nuggets in other stories or TV shows or every day conversations with people at Red Lobster. This weekend’s little gem was how would my heroine who doesn’t trust men, justify having sex?

    And the other thing I had to think about – if you were running for your life, what kind of underwear would you be wearing?

    I thought Cathy Lamb’s program was particularly insight.


  3. Sorry to have missed Cathy Lamb’s talk. I was mired in tax return calculation and re-calculation. Talk about revisions. How many ways can you cut a business pie for taxes? It turns out 158 ways. Okay, not true, I made that up. But it feels like it.

    The minimum number of revisions for me on a manuscript is three. That doesn’t count the revising that happens as I write. When I start each day,I go back and read what I wrote the previous day (or week depending on time). Part of this is to get me back into the scene and part of it is to layer and revise. Sometimes, those revisions translate into an entire day of revisions–particularly if I create a scene that impacts previous scenes I’ve already written. So, my three times of revisions is after the whole manuscript is finished and I’ve done lots and lots of smaller revisions along the way.

    The most revised novel I’ve done so far was seven times. That’s because that novel was the first of a series and the world (fantasy) had to be completely realized in my mind in order to make it work for future books. Some of that world wasn’t clear to me until I finished. Other parts didn’t come to fruition until after first readers gave me feedback, and yet other parts came after beta readers gave me feedback.

    I’m two books into that series now and very happy to have spent the time in revisions. However, I’m sure that when I get to book three or four, I’ll wish I’d done an eighth or ninth revision too. 🙂 It’s inevitable. But one can’t spend forever in revisions or books will never go out. Writing is not for the perfectionists of the world, unless your hope is to have only one book in life. For me writing is about adapting and culling–adapting to the myriad of changes that editing brings about and culling the numerous possibilities for plot and character arc directions into the four or five I will pursue for a particular book.


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