Routing Myself through Revision – Revision is the highway I take to move a manuscript from first draft to publishing. I’ve been on this one everyday since October 2020. I’m prepping 4 manuscripts for an agent audition. It’s June, and I finally have 3 manuscripts agent-ready. WAHOO! One to go!
Part 1 – The Route . . . with a New Manuscript - This is like driving blind. I use my writing experience to get me on the road. I always start with an outline. It’s my road map. I drive from one point, to the next, until I reach the end of that outline, the end of the story. I’ll write a whole picture book manuscript before I send it out for a critique.
This baby idea is from my newest picture book. I started writing it this week – research first. I found a website with great information. I copied the link, the pictures and some of the words from the website. Then I wrote the first couple pages.
I won’t revise until I finish the baby story. It’s parked in my computer, for now. I have a picture and chapter book that I’m running back and forth between critiquing and revising. Whenever they give me a break, I’ll slip back to my new idea.
When I finish writing, then I’ll start revising. How? By listening to the words on Narrator. It helps me focus. I listen to make sure the story’s making sense, that it flows along, and that the words fit together.
The first time through a manuscript . . . that’s when I hit the most bumps. Sometimes even a pothole or two. It gets smoother each time I listen. Then I take a break. Leaving, then returning helps me to listen better. I usually do 2 or 3 rounds of editing before I move onto the next phase . . .
I read it aloud. It helps me find the last tangles and bumps in the words. I repeat my rounds of 3 until I like the way the words flow, until I find myself changing back and forth between the same 2 words. Then I’m done. I’m ready to send it off to be critiqued.
When I send a story out, I’m not looking for a grade. That’s for teachers and school! I’m looking for feedback. Pretend the star picture is a story. I’d critique it by writing what I like and what could be better. I’d look at the color and size of the shells. Is the red enough? Do I need other colors? Do the shells show up against the sand? Is there anything I should add or delete?
That’s what I want from my critique partners! What’s good? That gives me hope. What could be better? That helps me move the story forward!
Part 2 – The Route . . . with a Picture Book Manuscript – This is the story about my dog. It all started with Leia and my daughter back in 2011, but this year it changed A LOT. I hope it will be the 4th story for my agent audition challenge.
I’ll show you a few comments I got from Bonnie two weeks ago. I used them to prepare for a critique last week, and guess what? They worked!
After a critique, my first step is to copy and paste all the comments into my manuscript. Then I go through them one by one. I look at them and try to make changes.
Sometimes I can’t make changes right away, so I move onto the next comment and come back later. Then it’s easy because I know what to try. Sometimes I decide I like it the way it is, and I leave it alone, for now.
Here are some suggestions I looked at a couple weeks ago . . .
Screenshot #1 had 2 comments from Bonnie. She suggested changing the first line because Mom’s driving the action. In a picture book the kids are supposed to do that. I kept it because it sets the stage and introduces the setting and the main characters. I’ll leave it for now.
I listened to Bonnie on the next one. Jumping on the bed and tugging at the covers doesn’t drive the story, and the illustrator can show them better than I can write them. I put the words into art notes. This image doesn’t fit the picture in my head, but the illustrator will show Coco jumping on the bed and tugging at those covers.
Screenshot #2 has one suggestion. Bonnie thought I should get rid of Coco nudging Marlee down the stairs. She said try putting it in dialogue instead. I did!
In picture books I use words wisely. I try to stay under 500 words – so no room for stage directions. Instead I pick ones that are fun to read, fun to listen to. These aren’t Coco’s steps, but I hope they help you picture the one from the screenshot.
Can you see Bonnie to the right of her comments above? That’s where I usually find them, after someone’s name. No matter where they are, I cut and paste them into my manuscript. That’s how I begin revision.
Bonnie suggested two changes. She thought the line about Coco and her paws were stage directions. I took her advice and turned them into art notes.
When Mom talked about trouble. Bonnie thought Marlee should get that line. I agreed, and it was an easy change to make! BTW - this isn't my Marlee or Coco either, but I love imagining them together.
After I’ve made all the changes, I click narrator. It’s my best friend! I listen and look at the comments in red to see if they work. I do that 2 or 3 times before I pull them out . . . I don’t need them anymore.
Now it’s time to go back and listen to the whole story. If I hit a bump or a pothole, I fix it, go back a paragraph or two. and listen again. I listen from start to finish at least three times. I’m done if I like the sound of my words. No bumps or snags or tangles! If not, I repeat until it is. (LOL – I do lots of repeats!)
There shouldn’t be any snags or tangles left, but I always find some when I head into the final phase – reading the words out loud. Starting at the beginning and reading to the end. I read in rounds of three until the story is tangle-free. Then – I’m ready for the next critique.
The results . . . Bonnie’s suggestions were right on! When she looked at my story, it had 509 words. I took her advice and added art notes. (They don’t count toward the word count because they won’t show.) That cut the words down to 461. My critique group liked the new revision, and they suggested I look for more places where art notes are more effective. I did . . . the word count sits at 436.
What’s left? The last two steps – listening with narrator and reading it aloud. I have time to polish. My next critique is in two weeks. That’s when I’ll know how I did on my changes. The proof is always in the critique!
Part 3 – The Route . . . with a Middle Grade Manuscript – I started my ant story back in 2011. I kept going back to the beginning and getting it edited. I was afraid of taking the wrong road, and I did – because fear kept me in a roundabout. I found my way out when I finished it for a conference in 2016. Last May, in 2020, I did another round of editing & revision on those ants with my mentor Callie.
I started in chapter 1 and did an analysis of story structure from the beginning to the end as I edited. It was the most thorough review I’ve ever done of a story.
When I started this round, I had a saggy middle . . I pulled it up! I made it all the way to chapter 26! Woohoo! Then I stopped. Time is never your friend even if you’re retired! I had other projects coming due, so I put my ant story aside.
In February 2021 I pushed my zoo chapter book to the back burner and set those ants on the march. I’ve been working on them since then. In the next section I’ll show you some of the edits I just made on Chapter 8. I’ll clean up all the snags and tangles I can, but I’ll leave notes behind for the next round of edits. It will come. Now, here’s chapter 8.
Screenshot #1 - Look at the first line in pink. There are two comments to address. I started with the 2nd one, the antennae check Callie didn’t like. My guess, it’s a little mean. Heather gave me some ideas for other ways Antinet could show anger. That helped me revise. I left Antinet shouting, got rid of the antennae, but had her asking about the missing humans. I’ll know if it works when Poppy goes through her next round of editing.
The next line I looked at started with ‘a few ants.’ Heather suggested that if Poppy heard giggles behind her, it would help the reader imagine the room she’s in. It was an easy change to make!
In the last comment, Heather thought Poppy went from hesitant to rambling too quickly. I decided to have Poppy clutch her claws and picture what she’d seen. I’m hoping it shows Poppy’s change in mood.
Screenshot #2 - This time I numbered the comments to make it easier for me to write, easier for you to read. The 1st comment is terrific! Callie loved my line about Kings. Comments like that are great – they give you hope, and keep you writing. They also give you a target to write towards.
Comments 2 and 3 refer to ‘only five.’ Heather was confused about that number and using those 5 humans wisely. I broke it apart. Antinet still talks about the 5 humans who are left. The next paragraph lets the room react. Then in a new paragraph Antinet asks how the colony can use them wisely. I’ll have to wait till the next round of revisions to see if it worked!
With #5, I didn’t make any changes because Poppy is the idea ant. She was the only one who had an idea about how to fix the food-room problem – so I left the line alone, for now.
Screenshot #3 - This is the note I add to the top of all my chapters this time around. First I look for any comments Callie made from last summer. That’s where I start editing.
The next 3 lines came up last summer somewhere around chapter 3. The 3 main characters were too much alike. I added this note to chapter 4. Then I clicked ‘Find’ and the name of the character.
I went through the chapter doing 3 rounds of listening first for Poppy, then for Snapdragon, and finally for Foxglove. I reread that description line when I started a new character. IT WORKED! I left it in this year to make sure each ant held onto their individuality. It’s still working!
When I write, I can only have one voice in my head, mine. A little noise is fine. But too much, or worse yet, WORDS, and I must change rooms or pull out headphones. Then I can write on!