Revision

In The Writing Book – A Workbook for Fiction Writers Kate Grenville explains that whilst plots are important, they’re not what makes you read a book.

Life has no plot!

Life has no plot!

If a plot was all there was to it, it would be enthralling to have someone tell you the plot of a book you haven’t read. And having someone tell you the plot of a book you haven’t read is hardly ever enthralling… Plot is one of the most artificial qualities of the artificial construct called fiction. Life doesn’t have plot: life just has a flow of events.

(2009, pp. 142-3)

My stories come to me not as a plot but as a character (a voice) and a series of scenes. I write the scenes down and discover the story and the character. Even when I try to wrangle my stories into a “plot” they become unmanageable and restless. So I’ve given up! I accept that my stories are primarily about examining the human condition and that the story will spring from my character’s voice and their experience of their own plot-less life.

This means that when I’m revising, I don’t think about Goal, Motivation and Conflict. I tend to think more about the fabric of my writing.

I consider the fabric of my stories.

I consider the fabric of my writing.

What is conveyed?

What is left out?

Can the reader breathe?

Is there a strong sensory element?

I like to examine my work at the word level, pruning and pruning the wild bush that grew when I did my “hot writing” splurge. I look for repeated words, clichés, words ending in _ly, long sentences, short sentences and the quality of my dialogue. I read it out loud, scribbling and re-writing until it has a certain poetry to it.

Here's me pruning the unwieldy bush that is my first draft!

Here’s me pruning the unwieldy bush that is my first draft!

As I revise I’m always thinking show show show (don’t tell).

Here are three examples of recent revisions:

Example 1

First draft
It was getting late by the time I got home. There was no one in the house though and the place felt hollow.
Later draft
It was getting late by the time I got home. Nuts wasn’t slumped at the door and there was no one in the house. The place felt hollow.

Example 2

First draft
This was all about Bern. The champion. I let the word focus fill my skull.
Later draft
This was all about Bern. The champion.  Focus.  I let the word fill my skull.

Example 3

First draft
It was an effort. Just staying up that day and not crawling back into bed, but I did it. I followed Gus out to the kitchen for breakfast with Mum and Dad. I could tell they were pleased to see me. They both tried too hard to act normal so I carried on as though nothing had happened either. I made toast and Dad passed me a knife.
Later draft
It was an effort just trying to stay awake that day, but I did it. I followed Gus out to the kitchen for breakfast with Mum and Dad. They were pleased to see me, but they tried too hard to act normal. I made toast and Dad passed me a knife.

When I reflect on my favourite books, they’re more about character than plot.  Getting to know and love the characters is what keeps me turning the pages. I loved Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye. I still consider Adrian Mole one of my mates (since I’ve read all his diaries).

Love love LOVED Adrian Mole. (And Pandora and Bert Baxter and Nigel...)

Love love LOVED Adrian Mole. (And Pandora and Bert Baxter and Nigel…)

I think Helen Garner and Christos Tsiolkas create characters that are memorable and realistic – when I recall their books I recall characters before plots.Garner Barra

There are as many ways of revising as there are authors in the world.  So – don’t leave us hanging here by a thread… how do you revise?  Do you think about each scene?  Do you question Goal, Motivation and Conflict? Do you examine your word choices and interrogate your characters? Click into the comments box below and share your wisdom.  We would love to hear it!

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