This is a common question for first time novel writers, heck even experienced authors wonder this from time to time. You know what you've written needs some work but you aren't sure how to go about it. Worry not! I will be writing a three-part blog series to help you tackle the process of revision and polish up your manuscript.
What is Revision?
Let me start by saying what revision is not: it is not fixing every single issue all in one go. It is completely overwhelming to try and correct the gazillion things you spot in your work. So relax. Revision is done in rounds. The amount of rounds and length of each will vary from project to project.
Revision is also not editing. These two terms are often used interchangeably when they are in fact separate tasks. Sometimes first time authors will picture themselves with a red pen after they finish their first draft, adding a comma here and there as needed. They may think this is the only thing that needs to be done upon draft completion. Not true.
Revision is often described as the "real work" in writing. It is the molding of a bunch of messy words into a true story. It is implementing character arc, narrative pacing, descriptive language, and other elements into your story that are absent from the initial attempt. Revision is not fixing grammar and conventions. That is editing. Editing is done after revision takes place and usually by a qualified editor.
Where Do I Start with Revision?
The answer to this question is not what you may think. You start revision by actually stepping away from your manuscript. That's right. Put your hands up and step away from the computer. You will need to let your work breathe for six weeks. Why? This will give you the chance to get some much needed perspective. When you first finish, you will be too close to your work to see your mistakes. Take the time to write some poetry, read a book, or squeeze in a short story. When it is time to go back, you'll have fresh eyes for your work.
Revision Part One: Taking Stock
Before you roll up your sleeves and dive in, the first thing you need to do is take stock of what you have. You need to do a full inventory in order to figure out what to fix. You will be taking notes for this part, so grab a notebook or open a fresh doc on your computer. Your first task is to reread your entire manuscript from start to finish...without making any changes. That's right. Yes, it will bother you at certain points. But your job is to write down notes for each chapter about what needs to be done, similar to a surgeon getting x-rays, MRIs, and other images done before making any cuts.
The rationale behind this is that there will be larger issues that go across the book or entire sections that may need to be cut. If you dive right in to chapter one, you may be wasting your time when you later realize the whole chapter needs to be omitted. It will also be too late to weave in a subplot you realize you need for the climax when you are at the end of the book. So reread, take notes, and digest your work as a whole. Examine your character arcs, pacing, and overall narrative structure. What changes do you need to make?
This will get you ready for part two...making your revision plan. Check out my post Developing a Revision Plan for next steps!
Want to get even more info about revision? Check out some of my guest posts:
Five Common Revision Problems and How to Fix Them
What an Editor Won't Do: The Myth of the Magical Editor
A guest post by Jessica Baker
To start, what is a cozy mystery?
Cozy mysteries are lighter than traditional detective fiction. The genre was popularized by Agatha Christie, who created classics like And Then There Were None, the Miss Marple series, and of course, Poirot. Malice Domestic, an annual mystery convention, even named an award after her.
Cozy mysteries, often called “cozies,” lack the graphic violence and excessive gore that darker detective fiction have. There’s no explicit sex scenes. Cursing, if there is any, is kept to an absolute minimum. Children and animals shouldn’t be harmed. Some cozies are suspenseful, but they aren’t usually the kind of stories that give you nightmares after reading them. Romantic elements may be present and many are geared towards women. A lot of cozy authors also write romance because there are similarities between the genres. Some are historical, some have magic, and some are just set in the modern-day.
Cozies should be an escape from reality. They aren’t as heavy as other fiction and aren’t usually geared around current events. As a result, they are generally lighter to read when life gets too overwhelming. They provide puzzles for the reader to work through and end on a positive note where the killer is always caught.
Some questions I asked when I was initially plotting out Murder on the Flying Scotsman were:
Who is the main character? Who is with them? Who is the killer? Who is the victim?
What is the murder weapon?
When does this take place? The murder weapons available vary in different time periods.
Where does this take place? Is it a locked room mystery or does it take place in a small town?
Why was the victim killed? Why does the main character investigate?
How was the victim killed?
The main character, usually female, is an amateur sleuth after something forces them to look for the real killer. They are always curious about the murder that takes place and the smarter they are, the more engaged the reader will be in the story.
Sometimes he or she might become a professional detective in later books or may date a police officer, but the main character usually has some other career that translates into their investigations. The job is usually something like baker, librarian, or seamstress. In my book, Lady Thea is a socialite and it affects how she behaves and what she knows about murders.
Cozies are more often character-driven and the series usually has the same main character, even if the books aren’t directly related in an overall arc. This means that many cozies don’t necessarily have to be read in order.
Suspects and Red Herrings
Generally, the first person accused of the murder in a new cozy series is a close friend or relative of the to-be detective. Sometimes the sleuth themselves might be accused. They might be the only suspect that the police have and the sleuth makes it their mission to prove otherwise. The evidence gathered and the motive might lead to that accused person, and the protagonist may think that they’re guilty. Those are usually the red herrings since they fit so perfectly that they couldn’t possibly have done it.
Cozies often take place in small towns or have a closed pool of suspects. If you think about Murder on the Orient Express, the list of people who had the opportunity to commit the murder was limited to who was on the train. In And Then There Were None, only someone on the island could have committed the murder.
When should the murder take place in the story?
Since a cozy mystery is not a suspense, it’s not necessary to wait until the end to have the first murder. It might be the first thing that happens in the story, especially if that is the catalyst for the entire plot of the book. Most people prefer that the murder takes place in the first few chapters. After all, that’s what they came for.
When planning the murder and the killer, it should be something that can be traced back to the beginning. The murderer shouldn’t come out of the blue. They should always have an actual motive, even though the motive isn’t always apparent at the beginning. They don’t have to be someone who is front and center in the protagonist’s life, but they should appear early in the book and usually, the reader shouldn’t have too much cause to suspect them.
Clues that point to the identity of the real murderer should be scattered throughout the whole mystery. Half the fun of cozies is solving the murders with the amateur detective.
A guest post by Selys Rivera
What would most people say is the most popular topic for poetry? From my experience, it’s love. Specifically, romantic love.
When I think about poetry, the poets who come to mind are known for their romantic poems. I’m not even talking about the Romantics studied in high school who lived centuries ago. I’m thinking before, during, and after.
My mind recalls the entire book of Song of Solomon in the Bible. I’m thinking Shakespearean sonnets, too. There’s also John Keats, Emily Dickenson, William Blake, Lord Byron, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman, Julia Alvarez, Maya Angelou, Tyler Knott Gregson, Sandra Cisneros, Rupi Kaur, and Amanda Lovelace…
…to name a few!
While many of these poets wrote about other topics, their romantic poems stand out the most to me. I don’t know about other people, but I can recall poems about romantic love much faster than anything else. Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 116.” Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty.” Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?” Sometimes I’m even remembering poetry collections that had an impact on me and shaped my view of romance, like Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Gregson’s Chasers of the Light: Poems from the Typewriter Series, and Kaur’s Milk and Honey.
The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized that there’s so much more to life than just romantic love. Perhaps one of the biggest lessons is how important it is to recognize and express gratitude towards other areas of love in our lives.
Many of these same poets wrote about other kinds of love that are just as good as their romantic poetry. Blake explored love for God and humanity. Keats reflected on loving life. Hughes and Angelou shared about their love for family members. Whitman, Kaur, and Lovelace dove into self-love. Alvarez and Cisneros analyzed the complicated love/hate relationship between English and Spanish or their Latin culture and Americanization.
Now, not all of these poets or poems are about love in a positive light. Some are negative too, which is expected in a yin and yang world. Nevertheless, something inside me clicked when I started to see poems about love and heartbreak in a non-romantic way.
I’ve been writing poetry since, at the very least, my early high school years. Surprisingly enough, I’ve never considered myself a poet as I used to write poems infrequently. When I started my current romantic relationship, though, I found myself writing poem after poem, some even coming out as a final draft almost immediately.
Once I started connecting the dots between poems I read, versus those I wrote, inspiration hit hard. During difficult times, like the death of my grandmother, I wrote poetry. When I passed life milestones, like a meaningful full-time job in a career I’m passionate about, I wrote poetry. While I went through spiritual existential crises, I wrote poetry. And as I learned more and more about myself, I wrote poetry.
At some point, I took a step back and realized I was on to something. A poetry collection started to form in my mind. One about love, but not in the traditional sense alone. One that would show readers about healthy romantic love and how much more there is to love than romance.
Toni Morrison’s famous quote came to mind: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” (Morrison, n.d.)
That’s exactly what I aimed to do in the hopes of joining the conversation and dialogue with other poets across lifetimes, centuries, and generations. I, too, have had something to say about love and how important it is to celebrate all other areas within it too, like family, friends, pets, culture, hobbies, life, spirituality, ourselves, and more.
With each poem, my heart seemed to fill with more and more love, affection, compassion, and tenderness. Eventually, it overflowed with healing tears dropping on my notebook or keyboard as I wrote and wrote. Finally, the emotional wave crashed and receded on the shores of my soul, awaking me from my writing reverie and revealing my very first poetry collection in its wake.
*Morrison, T. (n.d.) If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. Quote Catalog. Retrieved February 27, 2020, from https://quotecatalog.com/quote/toni-morrison-if-there’s-a-bo-O1M69R7/
Originally from Puerto Rico, Selys Rivera considers herself a God-loving and social justice obsessed chica. With an undergraduate degree in English Writing and a graduate degree in Social Work, she marries her two passions by writing to inspire others and voice issues she's passionate about. She is also the author of Rise in Love: A Poetry Chapbook and Social Justice Advocacy 101: How to Become a Social Justice Advocate from A to Z. To read more of her work, please visit her website at www.worthareadtoo.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter @SelysRivera to stay connected.
Being a creative is a challenge. Trying to use your creative talents with others can be even more of a challenge. A good working relationship is key for a project's success, and this is especially true for authors and illustrators who team up. This week, career illustrator Sharon Lane Holm gives us a window into the illustrator's perspective.
What Illustrators Want Authors to Know
By Sharon Lane Holm
Trust me. We both want the same thing—to share a wonderful story with great
illustrations. We both want to sparkle and stand out above all the rest.
Trust me. Please try to not micro manage. Creative freedom is the best thing you can give to your illustrator. Allow yourself to be open to their ideas.
Trust me. You created a great story! As an illustrator it is my job to interpret your
words visually. I tell your story with my illustrations. Both art and
words must be able to stand alone and tell the same story, without each other.
Trust me. My artistic interpretation may differ from yours. An illustrator has so many different ideas and will come up with something you may never have imagined. Let me show you another way to make us to shine.
Trust me. I am a professional, just like you. We will both agree on a fair and reasonable contract beforehand so there will be no surprises. I will always do my best work. I would never expect anything less of myself.
Trust me. We may never actually meet. But professionally we are a team. We are in this together. I so appreciate being a part of our team. I hope you will feel the same way.
Trust me. I love what I do. I create and draw and color outside the lines. I can draw a
story. I can draw your story.
We have a talented guest writer this week, professional photographer Stephana Ferrell, owner of The Inspired Storytellers. Stephana recently took the photos of the watercolor art for our upcoming book Joyride. She has some great tips on how to photograph art for children's picture books.
Five Tips for Photographing Art for Picture Books
Congratulations on being so close to publishing! You've got colorful illustrations in hand and there is one step between where you are and approving a layout- getting your tangible prints into digital form. There are two industry standards to making this happen, and this article will cover ways to ensure success when photographing your illustrations. Let's get into it!
Tip One: Even Out Your Lighting
Lighting must be evenly spread across the surface of the illustration (not pointed down as this can cause reflections or hot spots). It’s best to use a light source that is close to daylight or “white” color (4500-5500 Kelvin), so incandescent and fluorescent lights should be avoided.
Tip Two: Keep Your Position Consistent
Camera distance and angle should be as consistent as possible between pages to ensure you aren’t impacting the scale of your illustrations. Use a tripod when possible or observe your positioning and ensure you keep it the same.
Tip Three: Watch Out for Dust
Clean your lens (and sensor, if it applies) before taking the pictures. I like to test the cleanliness of the lens by taking a picture of a white wall or a blue sky. Dust and other spots that you need to address will easily show themselves.
Tip Four: Get Rid of Camera Shake
Tip Five: Editing is Key
Editing is just as important as the images you create. Keep in mind which pages will end up being full spreads and crop your images to the right bleed size, ensuring anything that needs to line up does. The final printing color profile also needs to be considered while when making any tweaks to your image files. Ensure your screen is calibrated. Contrast, Exposure, and Tone/Saturation changes you make on screen may not render the same way when it goes to print.
Now that you have all of this information as your guide, you are ready to get those illustrations into digital form. Here's a quick recap to follow as you're photographing:
What happens when an exuberant exclamation point keeps taking over a story? Things get pretty interesting...
I am beyond excited to announce a new children's picture book coming next spring, Pling's Party. Pling is an exclamation point--he adds excitement to stories. He has one rule to follow: he can only appear twice in the story. As the tale of three goats unfolds, Pling has trouble staying out of the story until he's needed. Things get a bit out of hand and hilarity ensues.
In this book, children will learn to identify exclamation points in text as well as observe how an exclamation point makes sentences more exciting. They can practice reading with emphasis and discuss the difference with how a sentence is read with a period versus an exclamation point.
Pling's Party is the first book in a series of punctuation stories.
I am thrilled to share that the illustrator for this book is the very talented Sharon Lane Holm, illustrator of over thirty children's books. She's done a brilliant job creating her vision of Pling and making him come alive. Plus, I just love those goats! Be sure to follow her on Facebook to keep up with her amazing work.
Arielle Haughee (Hoy) is an award-winning author, writing coach, publishing consultant, and contest judge. She is also the author of the 5 Star rated picture book Grumbler. Click here to get a signed copy of Grumbler!
Language in picture books is just as important as illustrations. The words play in the air as they are read aloud and make the storyline dance. Unlike a lot of fiction genres, picture book texts must be designed to be heard. The tiny ears in the audience want language that is fresh, crisp, and fun when appropriate.
Don’t worry about having perfect language when you are first drafting your story. Just get your story down. After you finish, and after each round of revision, read your manuscript out loud. Focus on how the words deliver.
Ask yourself these questions:
The biggest challenge when cultivating great language is that people read stories aloud differently. Some people will put emphasis on one word and some on another. This can be frustrating when you’re trying to intentionally create a rhythm or have specific words stand out. The best way to address this is to have other adults read the story to you while you take notes. You could also ask them to record a video of them reading and send it. This helps if they live far away and also allows you to listen the replay.
Language is something I personally rework over and over in each round and continuously tweak. If I’ve read it so many times that I can’t hear the distinctions anymore, I will record myself reading and listen to the recording.
Every manuscript you write, you will improve with your language. The more you write, the more you will improve. So get those hands and ears ready and get to writing!
We are thrilled to announce that Grumbler received a wonderful review from Reader's Favorite! Check out our great review below.
Reviewed By: Dacie Dayan for Readers’ Favorite
Review Rating: 5 Stars
Grumbler, written by Arielle Haughee and illustrated by Marina Veselinovic, is a charming story about love. Grumbler, the nasty, rude main character, is a rotting potato with a broken bowl for a hat. He lives alone inside a trash heap. Animals who live in a nearby forest try to show love to Grumbler but Grumbler hates love. He thinks it feels tingly, itchy and terrible. But the love from the animals settles on different parts of Grumbler’s body. He can’t get rid of the love, so he goes to a pond and throws it at the animals. Then he goes back to the dump and gets in a slimy bathtub until he thinks all the love is gone. Before long, the animals of the forest come to visit him and surround him with more love. What will Grumbler do? Will he ever realize that every time he gives love away, more of it keeps coming back?
Grumbler is a delightful story by Arielle Haughee, and is inspired by Warren Buffett’s quote: “Love is a strange thing. You try to give it away and you get more back.” The author uses great descriptions to show how love makes the nasty Grumbler feel: “tingly, itchy and terrible.” As children hear the story, they will think of how love makes them feel. They will see how miserable and frustrated Grumbler feels when he tries to get rid of love by giving it away. The illustrator, Marina Veselinovic, does a great job of showing Grumbler’s mean eyes turning to kind eyes; his nastiness slowly turning to happiness. She gives the cute forest animals adorable expressions as they share love. A great, meaningful read for kids.
You can also read the review on their site here.
Get a signed copy here!
You had a plan. Marked it on your calendar and everything. You’d sit down to write at these times on these days. Then you got sick. Then Aunt Marci came to visit. Then there was the whole fiasco with your car and the maple syrup. In other words, life got in the way, as it always does. One of the most important factors to developing a writing routine you’ll actually stick to is adaptability—your ability to adjust whenever life happens and keep on with your goal.
It would be great if we could sit down in our favorite spot everyday, completely uninterrupted and focused on our writing. But that’s just not reality. You’re going to get sick and have visitors and schedule changes and all kinds of chaos thrown your way. The real question is, what are you going to do about it? You know you want to achieve your goal of finishing your draft or revising your book or whatever it is.
Here are five strategies for utilizing adaptability to stay the course.
Strategy One: Don’t Beat Yourself Up
The first thing you need to do is actually something *not* to do: Don’t beat yourself up. It happens to all of us. We all get sidetracked from time to time. In fact, you should probably expect it. Something is going to pull you off course and you'll have the challenge of fighting with yourself to get back into your routine.
Know what doesn’t help? Telling yourself you failed or that you can’t do it or that you can never achieve your goal. Negative talk does not put words on the page. Negative talk does not finish the book. It only holds you back. Use your disappointment to motivate you to get back to work.
Strategy Two: Get Back on Your Routine ASAP
It’s okay to have a bad day or week or month or several. As soon as you are able, hop back on your routine. You’ll feel better and have more output. Don’t use life’s potholes as an excuse to be lazy about your routine. Got a stomach bug and had to take a week off? Rest during that week and feel better. Return to your writing next week but don’t let one week off turn into four. Remember you want to achieve your goal and the longer you aren’t writing/revising/other, the longer and less likely it will be for you to finish.
Strategy Three: Recognize When Your Plan Isn’t Working
It’s one thing to have an illness bump you off track, it’s a whole other thing to create a routine you can’t possibly stick to in the first place. Writers want to Get.It.Done. We also get incredibly excited about new ideas and can be very driven...in the beginning. But writing or revising an entire manuscript takes more than just the beginning, it takes months and sometimes years of work. Focused, sustained work.
Creating a “writing routine” where you write eight hours a day everyday or have a 20,000 words per week limit aren’t sustainable in the long run. Trying to keep up with high-maintenance routines leads to burnout and likely to project abandonment. Be realistic with yourself and what you can do in your schedule. You want to strive to make progress, but in doses you can manage. I have a writer friend who gave herself a 400-word-a-day minimum because she knew that was something she could do with her schedule and would be able to stick to. She did it everyday for an entire year!
Be honest with yourself about your routine. If you keep not making your weekly goals, maybe it’s time adjust your expectations of yourself. You’ll be happier overall if you remove the pressure to produce, produce, produce and enjoy the process. You want this to be a routine that flows naturally into your life, not something you constantly struggle to accomplish.
Strategy Four: Be Willing to Experiment
A key component to adaptability is trying different ways to follow through with your routine. It would be great if we could block off two hours at the same time every single day to write but that doesn’t work out for most people. So if you made a goal like my writer friend of 400 words per day, you may have to experiment with writing at different times. Don’t tell yourself, “I can’t write in the mornings.” That’s an excuse. You can write any time.
When my kids were very little I was always exhausted at the end of the day from chasing them around. I tried to say I couldn’t write at night. Well when I stuck to that excuse, guess what happened? You know it—I didn’t write at all. I tried getting up at five in the morning but someone always got up early and I lost that time. There was no other option. I decided to try out doing thirty minutes a night, just thirty minutes. I could do that. Once I got started, often I ended up writing longer because I got into the story. Be willing to try things out and give it a good two weeks of effort. You might surprise yourself.
Strategy Five: Squeeze in Time Whenever You Can
Five minutes here and there can really add up. Use apps on your phone to write-as-you-go. I personally prefer the Google Docs app so I can work directly on my story. One story that ended up being a contest winner I wrote on my phone in a doctor’s office waiting room. I’ve also been spotted with a notebook on the stationary bike at the gym and using talk-to-text while pushing a stroller through the park.
When you find you have a few minutes, stop yourself from playing on social media or whatever else you do during that time and add a few lines to your story. If you do this twice a day, that’s over an hour of work you’ve squeezed into your week.
Adaptability is an essential part of sticking to your goals long term. This is especially true if you have kids or a demanding day job. Keep making progress, however you can, and your goals will be met!
Having the correct pacing in action scenes is essential. Otherwise your big moment will flop and the worst thing will happen: your reader will be disappointed. Fast pacing is a combination of five factors. Read on to find out what they are!
Factor One: Time Manipulation
The scene itself is usually only a matter of minutes or sometimes even seconds. Think about when Harry and Voldemort clash wands. That was maybe two minutes? But the scene isn’t written like this: Harry and Voldemort pointed wands at each other. The wands blew up. Writing actions scenes requires the author to slow down the clock and stretch out the moment, giving it weight in the plot. This amps up the tension and the interest for the reader.
Another way to manipulate time in action scenes is to try and introduce a “ticking clock.” Yes, this could mean a literal timer before something explodes, but it could also be an imminent consequence if something doesn’t happen within the time frame. Someone or something is coming. Something is falling down. Anything that puts an element of time pressure into the scene.
Factor Two: Including Action + Reaction
We want to give the scene a physical and an emotional punch, a one-two combo. Start with breaking down the scene into smaller actions. What exactly is the character doing? Each motion has more gravitas in this scene so be sure to highlight the actions that are propelling the character forward in the plot. (example: opens the door, feet brush on the rug, a noise comes from the bedroom…)
Next, add in the character’s internal reactions and thoughts. (example: no one is supposed to be here) This confrontation is the culmination of more than just one thing and the character’s mind should reflect that. Increasing the emotion for the character also increases the emotion for the reader. It makes them more attached and rooting for the character to succeed.
Factor Three: Layers of Conflict
Pacing slows down in any scene where there isn’t enough conflict, but it’s especially true during action scenes. Not enough conflict can also make your scene too short or things too easy for your character. The best thing you can do is to absolutely torture your character. Make every single thing that can go wrong happen. If he is about to give a speech in front of a large crowd, make him get a cold the night before. Have him chug a glass of water but not have time to stop in the bathroom. Make him lose all his notes and have his long lost girlfriend in the crowd. Then have a wardrobe malfunction on stage.
Remember to include the internal conflict as well. Our speech giver can have a crippling fear of failure from all the years his mother berated him for minor mistakes. Make this action scene so heavy with conflict it is almost too much for the reader to handle. We really want to stress the reader out. That way when the upturn comes, it’s that much more exciting.
Factor Four: Zero Fluff. None.
Your big action scene isn’t the place for your character to casually notice the surroundings or have long introspections. Anything extra is going to slow down the pace at this critical moment in your story. It could be information you do need to include in your plot, but it’s probably best to save it for another chapter or scene. So if you haven’t explained why the car is able to fly, the big action scene isn’t the right place to tell the whole backstory involving the fairy powder.
Be merciless when revising your action scene. Ask yourself if the information is an essential part of the current motion or if it can be moved elsewhere. Cut your sentences down as much as possible.
Factor Five: Strategic Structure
This is a critical but often overlooked element of writing fast pacing: the visual structure of the words on the page. The reader’s eyes should fly over the text at the same speed as the story pace. Avoid extended paragraphs and complex sentences. Use short sentences deliberately, creating a punch. When you want the reader to pause, say right before the dog is about to attack, that is a good place to put in a paragraph that is a little longer than the others. Look at the structure of the words on your page. Use the visual elements of the text itself to enhance your pacing.
Mastering pacing in action scenes takes practice and a focused effort. My best suggestion is to study your favorite action authors and analyze their scenes. How do they use time to create fast pacing? How much of what they write is action versus reaction? What are the layers of conflict? How did they keep the scene lean? What does the structure of the text look like? Studying successful action scenes can help you learn how to build your own.