Debbie Austin sat in on Amy Letinsky’s Round Table and provides a great synopsis of the discussion!
This year I took the strategy of choosing what would most benefit me right now. With several short story manuscripts that I need to revise and get out the door, I chose Amy Letinsky’s round table on revision.
Amy talked about three levels of revision and editing. In the first level, you want to see things as a whole – the theme, the thesis statement, the characters, the plot line. It’s the bird’s eye view, so to speak.
It’s at this point that you need a fresh perspective on your work. She suggested reading your manuscript in a different environment from where you wrote it or creating a reverse outline – after the first draft. A visual idea which I found intriguing was her suggestion of highlighting different elements of a manuscript. For example, highlighting all the dialogue in pink and all the descriptions in green shows me at a glance if I have a good balance of these two elements in my story.
For more ideas at this stage of revision, Amy recommended three books:
1) In The Artful Edit, Susan Bell suggests printing out your manuscript and hanging it up.
2) James Scott Bell, in Revision and Self-Editing, suggests writing a summary of your manuscript.
3) Darcy Pattison, in Novel Metamorphosis, recommends changing to a tiny font so you can print out your novel in 30 pages or less.
Amy emphasized that before making major changes, save the original manuscript. Each subsequent revision should be given a different name. If you know the original is safely tucked away and can be returned to at any time, you’ll feel freer to make radical changes.
She also suggested using “Track Changes” in Word, which allows others to comment and make suggestions to your document. You can easily incorporate the changes or discard them as you see fit. For a tutorial on “Track Changes,” check out Amy’s blog.
The second level of editing requires getting a little closer and looking at each sentence. Look for repetition of words, verb tense, cliches, clarity, sentence length. At this level, it’s helpful to read aloud. Listen for places where you stumble or hesitate and rework those places. Amy looks at metaphors and similes, too.
She suggests highlighting them and running them by a few writer friends to make sure they are effective. Also, make sure your word choices reflect your target audience. If you are writing for the unchurched, they are not going to understand the Christian jargon that we might take for granted.
The third level requires more of a magnifying glass. You are looking for errors in spelling and punctuation. Good ways to catch errors at this stage are by changing the font size and spacing and reading sentences backwards. Amy recommended Rules for Writers by Diana Hacker as a good reference for this stage of editing.
Amy said that often going through these three levels of editing can be the longest part of the writing process. Her suggestions and examples made me feel like this stage could be just as fun as writing the first draft. I think I’m ready to take on those short stories. Thanks, Amy!
Debbie Austin has been a member of NCWA since January, 2009. A story that she was inspired to write from a writing exercise here at NCWA won 2nd place in The Children’s Writer Folk Tale or Fantasy Short Story Contest in 2010.
Her dream is to one day be a published picture book author, although she may have to revise that dream because she has recently become fascinated by the history of the Book of Kells and the seed of a novel idea is growing.