The Revision Process by Susan Dennard
22 August 2017
By Lauren Welch
We caught up with Susan Dennard, author of The Witchlands Series, soon to be continued in her newest book, Bloodwitch, to get an insight into her writing process, and her step-by-step guide to revising her books!
My revising process is...well, the word "intense" comes to mind.
As I've talked about before, I'm not a particularly good writer. I ramble, backtrack, infodump, and pretty much do everything one shouldn't do to tell a good story.
But you know what? I'm a darn good re-writer and an even better reviser.
The key to my process is having a plan and staying organized. I never dive into revisions without a clear idea of what I need to do next--of what my story needs next in order to reach that goal of book-awesomeness. ;)
You'll notice as I go through the steps of my revising process that I link to various pages. These are the lessons from my "Sooz's Guide to Revisions". I get much more in-depth with each of these steps in that guide, and there are even worksheets for people to follow (in case you wanna give my method a try ;)).
So step 1 is figuring out what the heck I wrote.
To do this, I first print out the entire manuscript, and then I read that entire manuscript in one sitting. As I read, I take copious notes of all the issues (and I also scribble down any solutions that come to mind).
I'm all about the color-coding (as you can see here), and I'm DEFINITELY all about the "Deal With Big Issues First". What's the point in line-editing or tweaking a scene if you decide later on to cut that scene?
Step 2 is getting about getting organized.
I break up the entire book by scene, and I write out index cards that summarize each scene. As I make these scene cards, I try to spot areas where the conflict is non-existent or else there is too much happening in one scene.
Once I've got my cards ready, I move to step 3: figuring out what the "perfect" book is.
I know that The Book I Wrote ≠ The Book I Wanted to Write. And it's also quite possible that The Story I Wanted To Tell Originally ≠ The Story I Want To Tell Now.
That's okay. You've got to be organic in your writing/revising. You have to be able to accept that maybe the way you intended a character or plot point isn't actually what the story needs.
So for this step, I sit down and map out the EXACT book I want now--a.k.a. "the Perfect Book". If my story was finished and on shelves, what would I want it to be like?
Step 4 is turning that Perfect Book into a Plan of Attack.
What do I need to change in order to have the Perfect Book? A more 3D villain? A bigger, more intense climax? A new subplot between the heroine and the hero?
I analyze each change by its category--plot, character, setting, and "other". Then I go through and leave little color-coded post-its on each of my scene cards. This allows me to go through my scenes one-by-one and handle each problem one-by-one. It also allows me to always know what I've done and what still needs to be done.
The hardest and longest step is step 5: writing in all the necessary changes.
With that manuscript I printed in step 1, I go back through and make changes to my story (you can see what I mean here). As I address each issue, I yank the corresponding post-it off my scene card. :) Again, I always know what problems I've fixed and what I still need to address. Some scenes require more work than others, and some scenes are so unsalvageable, they require a COMPLETE rewrite.
The key here is to stay focused and not let yourself get overwhelmed. Take one scene card at a time, and don't worry about what comes next.
The final step is to type in those written changes and line edit. This is pretty straightforward--you type in all the handwritten changes, and you line edit as you go. (Or you can try to line edit as you go. I often find I need to print the whole thing out again to do a truly decent job of line editing.) When you're finished, you SHOULD (in theory) have a solidly revised novel. Now, I say "in theory" because it doesn't always happen in such a straightforward manner. I usually write 2/3 to 3/4 of the book before I start revisions. After I revise that first chunk, I then go back and write the end (or else I revise the whole chunk again if it's total scheiβe).
At the end of the day, we all have different methods for revising--different means to the same end: a good book. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. All the same, I hope I've managed to give a few helpful pointers--or at least some entertaining insight into my slightly OCD revisions process. ;)
Susan Dennard's Witchlands Series continues from Truthwitch which Robin Hobb enthused 'will delight you' in the equally epic adventureWindwitch!
Sometimes our enemies become our only allies ...
Windwitch is out now in Hardback and as an Ebook.
This piece originally ran on http://aliciagregoire.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/susan-dennard-and-revision-process.html