what revising looks like

May 22, 2013

I just finished a short story.  “Finished” in this case means I finished one draft, let it sit for awhile, then revised the heck out of it.  It will probably go through at least one more of these, since it’s getting workshopped this week.  But in the meantime… I spend a lot of time talking about “revision” and how much learning to revise and rewrite helped my writing get so much better.  This story is a really good example of how that works and what that looks like.

First draft, page one:


Clicking on it should make it even more legible.  So, what do we have here?  We have a bunch of stuff that I pretty much barfed on to the page, to put it indelicately.  I knew my character’s state of mind, and that’s what I started with, which means this version begins with a ton of description — including the cardinal sin of having the character describe herself while looking in a mirror.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  All I know is I came back to the story and knew it all had to go.  All the information about Louisa?  (You see where all that research I did comes into play, yeah?)  Also has to go, but since I talk about Louisa just a couple of pages later, I can move this section to there.  Present the information when it’s relevant, not when it isn’t.  Perfect!

Also, you know how writers always talk about “show don’t tell?”  There’s a perfect example here of a place where I should have shown instead of told.  So instead of having the first line of dialog be “He’s the heir,” why not include the dialog that leads up to that statement?  I can cut the exposition, and more effectively illustrate the character of Alexandra by actually having her speak.

The rest of the changes I made are logistical — making sure the prose reads smoothly, that I’m not repeating actions/descriptions, and that the text flows and there’s nothing that will throw the reader out.

Also, before revising, I spent a few minutes thinking about what I wanted this story to look like.  It’s essentially a family comedy with some old-fashioned sense-of-wonder thrown in — I want it be rather fast-paced, “breezy,” so that I don’t run the risk of bogging the reader down.  I want the reader drawn in and charmed.  That’s what I kept in mind, which lead me to make the changes I did — removing exposition and so on.  So, we start with action and character, which is always an excellent place to start.

Second draft, page one:


(You’ll notice I decided not to adjust the title.  That happens, too.)

The second draft ended up being just a couple of hundred words longer than the first draft.  I’m getting this thing critiqued by some very good writers this week, and I wanted it to be the very best it could before I made anyone else read it — I learn more that way, if I fix the mistakes I know are there first, then move on to the mistakes I don’t know are there.  I expect to go through another round of revisions based on their reactions — did they have the reading experience I wanted them to have?  Did the story mean what I wanted it to mean?  No?  Well then, those are changes I’ll have to make.  I can already spot some niggling details that need changing…

Then, I hope to get this to market and maybe give y’all some good news about where you can read the rest of it.

9 Responses to “what revising looks like”

  1. Glad to see more Harry and Marlowe stories coming.

  2. WanabePBWriter Says:

    Carrie, Thank you so much for this post, I have been looking forward to it since you mentioned it last week. I am starting an eleven day staycation tomorrow and plan to spend a lot of time at the computer. This post will be very helpful and motivating. Thanks again.

  3. Nicholas Says:

    Excellent! Thanks for showing us this. It’s fascinating to see this aspect of the writing process – normally I only ever get to see finished stories, so it’s really interesting to see how much changes between drafts, and how . (Also I’ve just spent the last few days marking a stack of undergraduate essays which very definitely haven’t gone through any sort of revision process, or even rudimentary proofreading or spell-checking for that matter.)

    A pedantic point, which you should feel entirely at liberty to ignore: “Dowager Princess Royal” isn’t quite correct, because Princess Royal is a title held by a woman in her own right, whereas Dowager applies to a widow who holds a title derived from her deceased husband, particularly when someone else now holds that title. (For example: Lord Peter Wimsey’s mother is the Dowager Duchess of Denver, because her husband is dead and the current Duke is her elder son Gerald, whose rather snobbish wife Helen is the current Duchess.) On the other hand, I guess this story takes place in an alternate Victorian world where they might do things differently.

  4. Carrie V. Says:

    Thanks for the comments!

    Nick, I went ahead and killed off the would-be EdwardVII, which I think makes Alexandra a dowager, but I could have it wrong…

  5. Nicholas Says:

    Ah, I see. In that case, I think Alexandra would probably have been Dowager Princess of Wales, as the widow of the would-have-been Edward VII. If their son George, as heir apparent, had been subsequently created Prince of Wales then his wife would be the new Princess.

    Anyway, please excuse (and feel free to ignore) my obsession with obscure details (I think my favourite at the moment are the rules of succession for the office of Lord Great Chamberlain, which are amusingly baroque). I’m very much looking forward to reading this story when it’s published.

  6. Mike Says:

    Sorry, but if you killed off Edward before he was king, his daughter would never have been Princess Royal. That title is only available to the eldest daughter of the monarch.
    I look forward to the story though.

  7. Adam. Says:

    I think the title should refer to ‘the Royal Albert Hall’, I can’t think of ever having heard it referred to without that ‘the’.

    Don’t know enough about succession to comment in the wider thread. How often does that get said in blog comments?

  8. Sooz Says:

    It’s fascinating to see this! Makes me realise again how much work writing is. (BTW, have just read your short story ‘Amaryllis’ in Gardner Dozois’ ‘Mammoth … 24’ – very enjoyable, and quite a different ‘voice’ from the Kitty stories.)

  9. Bryan L Says:

    It´s awesome see this.
    I think i need an editor for my stories. (i’ve got a lot of mistakes when i write)

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