I love revisions

By Sally Carpenter

Last week I checked out “The Muppet Show Season One” from my hometown library. The discs have a feature that allows interesting trivia to pop up on the screen during the show. I’ve learned how some of the Muppet characters evolved over several episodes.

In episode 7, for the first time Kermit shows he has a temper. A different puppeteer operated Miss Piggy before Frank Oz took her over. Over several episodes Miss Piggy’s voice became more feminine and her personality deepened. Fozzie began as just a bad comic but over time acquired more sympathetic traits.

I’ve also been listening to my Beatles Anthology records (yes, vinyl). A number of the cuts are early takes on the songs. Some of the tunes required dozens of takes-revisions if you will-before the song was perfect. It’s fascinating to hear how a complex song began with just a few chords on the guitar and some lyrics.

I used this as an example of how revisions can help any work of art.

Many writers hate revisions. They write one draft of a piece and consider it finished. Granted, this is a big time saver. Writers who face tight deadlines may need to rush out a piece out just so they can move on to the next project.

A few authors can get away with this, but the majority of writers need to go back and refine their work. Very few works are ready to go from the outset.

I look at writing like crafting a jewel. Gemstones dug from the ground look like rocks. They must be cut and polished to achieve their beauty. Likewise, I see each revision as cutting another facet and adding another layer of polish until my work shines.

My first drafts are just to dump the information on the page. It’s to get the ideas down so I can see what I have. I often don’t have character names at this point. The first draft is largely dialogue with little description of setting, clothing or faces.

In the second draft I rearrange material, shift scenes around, name characters, look for repetition, and start to work on the dialogue. I also spot continuity errors. In one chapter of my WIP, my protagonist left his house riding his motorcycle and returned driving his car! I also found I needed to add more red herrings.

I’m in the third draft of my WIP. The characters are taking on more shape, so I’m smoothing out their dialogue. I’m adding description as well and making sure the plot makes sense.

What makes revisions fun in that in each pass, the story gets better and I see the improvement. The downside is that revisions are time consuming. I want to get my book on the market soon, but it’s better to take my time and make sure it’s the best story it can be instead of rushing out a book with errors.

So I’m off to work on my book some more. And mostly likely some more after that.


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