Blog

When to Stop Revising Your Novel

Author’s  Note: This is a revised post.

 

church portrait 6

What is the key to literary excellence? Revision, of course. However, the time comes when we must tell ourselves to stop. We can get so hooked on revision that we never submit our manuscripts to agents and publishers. I know, because I’ve had this problem. Like most writers, I love playing with words.

How do we know when to stop revising ? Here are a few tips.

1. When we’re tired of looking at/reading our manuscript after multiple revisions. This isn’t always a sign that we’re finished, but it might be. Put the work aside for a day or two, then return to it and look for any major problems we may have missed. See any? If so, we’re not done yet.

2. When all the major problems with our work have been corrected, such as openings, endings, scenes, characterization, plot, etc., our revision has reached its end.

3. When we’re just finding minor issues, such as punctuation errors and typos, after the major editing has finished. These minor errors must all be corrected, of course.

4. After we’ve let someone whose judgement we trust read our manuscript, who gives us honest feedback and advice for improving  our work. Be sure whoever gives the advice is qualified to give it, though. Don’t approach just any person for it.

5. When we’re confident that we’ve done our best work.

 

 

caution-guidance-halt-1806900

WARNING! WARNING! OVER-REVISION.

When we over-revise, our writing suffers. This is why it’s important to know when to stop. What once was a good story will become a bad one because we’ve either cut it too much, or added too much to it.

Suppose, after we see our work in print, we still find problems with it? One thing I’ve learned from hard experience is this: these things happen. We aren’t perfect, editors aren’t perfect, proofreaders aren’t perfect. Sometimes the simplest things, such as misplaced punctuation or typos, are easy to miss. If we’ve done a good job, though, and have a good editor and/or proofreader, there shouldn’t be too many of these.

Write, revise. Write, revise. Write, revise. Then submit.

 

Port Hudson, Last Rebel Bastion on the Mississippi

The Defence of Port Hudson, Louisiana

Squire, Tales of a Mascot, due out in September by Ashland Park Books, tells the story of a canine mascot during the siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana, a tiny village on the banks of the Mississippi River. Though Port Hudson no longer exists, it was an important Confederate bastion during America’s Civil War. Cut off by sea and land, the Rebels held out against a vastly superior Union army for 48 days, the longest genuine siege of that war. It was also the last Confederate bastion on that river to fall to Union forces, surrendering just a few days after Vicksburg fell. map_porthudson842x1052

Quit Clearing Your Throat

Portrait_of_Sir_Walter_Scott
Sir Walter Scott, dog lover and creator of historical fiction, my favorite genre.

All writers have their own writing methods and styles. Regardless of how we write, though, every novel has a basic structure. It comes in three parts: the opening, the middle, and the end.

While all these parts are important, the opening is the most important. If our first sentence or paragraph doesn’t hook readers and draw them into our story, they’ll likely put down our book and look elsewhere for entertainment.

One common mistake beginning writers make is “throat-clearing.” In novel-writing, it means loading the opening pages with lots of information—backstory, description, and/or too many characters, for example. It’s coughing up words before we actually write the story.

When writing openings, think about a favorite movie. What was its opening scene? How did it hook us? I mention movies because they’re one of the main mediums we authors are competing against. Of course, we must also consider our favorite books. Study their opening lines. How did they motivate us to keep reading?

The best opening is the action opening. It begins in medias res (in the middle of things). These openings can start with something spectacular, such as an earthquake, or something seemingly innocent such as a knock on a character’s door. It can also include dialogue. We must either see a character in action or hint that something is about to happen. Also, be sure to mention your character(s) names as soon as possible.

In my book due out this coming fall, 2019, Squire, Tales of a Mascot, I didn’t “clear my throat” by writing lots of narrative background information and description while building up to the main story. Instead, I jumped right into the action. Here are my novel’s first two paragraphs:

Well, I’d sure as sand say he is going with us.” Jesse Webb sauntered down the steps of his father-in-law’s brick furniture store.

Rachel Webb folded her arms, her billowing hoopskirt spanning the slatted walkway in front of it. Her hazel eyes narrowed. “Oh no, he’s not. Besides, how could you take the most popular dog in Coughlin with you? What if he gets killed?”

I did four things in these opening lines:

1. I introduced the main characters—Jesse, Rachel, and their dog, Squire.

2. I identified the setting, the town of Coughlin.

3. I showed conflict between Jesse and Rachel.

4. I hinted at future danger for both Jesse and Squire. A few paragraphs later, we’ll learn what this danger is—Jesse and Squire are heading off to war.

So, let’s not “clear our throats” before we begin our story. Instead, jump right into it and hook our readers from the start.

Five Marks of a Successful Writer

apple laptop office macbook
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

For me, success doesn’t always mean fame and fortune, though it can mean that. By my definition, successful writers are those who write well enough to sell their articles, poems, and stories to magazines and book publishers. Most professional writers aren’t rich and famous, but they are successful in that they do get paid for their work.

The five marks I discuss below aren’t comprehensive. However, they are things all writers must possess if they expect to sell their manuscripts to editors.

Successful Writers Possess Talent

Of course, everyone’s born with certain gifts and talents. But it takes time for such talents to grow. After all, talented pianists don’t start out playing Chopin. They begin with the basics and learn to play simple compositions first. Then slowly, they work their way toward playing more complex  pieces. Through many years of study and practice, their talent develops till they finally reach a professional level.

Even so, if we possess literary talent, don’t expect to write like William Faulkner or Joyce Carol Oates from day one. Through practice, though, we’ll discover our own literary voice and eventually reach the point where we can sell our work.

Successful Writers  Possess a Stubborn Nature

Has anyone ever called you stubborn? I’ve been called that many a time. Oh, the stories I could tell about how it’s gotten me into trouble! Too many times to count.

However, I’ve also become convinced that it’s a required trait for all serious and successful writers. Why? Because if channeled in the right direction, it can be a positive thing. Even though we stubborn-types are hardheaded, the upside is we don’t quit easily.

When we’re passionate about our writing, our stubbornness drives us toward success. Temporary failure can’t stop us, naysayers can’t stop us, nothing can. So, when it comes to writing, embrace stubbornness and use it toward reaching our ultimate goal—publication.

Successful Writers Love Literature

Successful writers love literature and reading. When we read, we subconsciously absorb other authors’ styles which influence our own writing. We also learn new writing techniques, which ones work best and which ones don’t, as well as new information we can incorporate into our work. Reading can also prompt ideas for new literary projects. Writing and reading go together like shoes on feet.

Successful Writers Possess Humilty

No matter how talented they are or what they’ve achieved, successful writers possess humility. They’re always willing to learn from others and grow in their craft. We’ll never know everything about writing. There’s simply too much to learn.

Successful Writers Possess a Good Work Ethic

Successful writers, aware that good writing requires hard work, own a good work ethic. They approach their job with a professional attitude, work at it most every day and usually at the same hours, as though clocking in and out from a regular job. When we treat our writing like a job, which it is, we’ll find success.

 

I hope my thoughts have helped some of my readers. Till next week, friends, keep writing and never give up.

The Civil War’s Longest Siege

map_porthudson842x1052The Defence of Port Hudson, Louisiana

Although Ulysses S. Grant’s final campaign against Robert E. Lee is sometimes referred to as the Siege of Petersburg, it was not, by definition, a genuine siege, though Grant did have Lee’s army with its back against the Appomattox River.

Grant’s siege started on June 15, 1864 and ended on April 2, 1865. The two commanders fought several battles around Petersburg, Virginia during these months. Grant’s maneuvers and attacks stretched Lee’s defenses thinner and thinner till at last, only one escape route remained open—a road north which Lee finally took.

Once Petersburg fell, Richmond fell soon thereafter. However, thanks to Lee’s earlier warning via telegraph, Confederate President Jefferson Davis had fled the Rebel capital. 

If Petersburg wasn’t the Civil War’s longest genuine siege, then, where did that event happen? In the village of Port Hudson, Louisiana, a small rebel garrison on the Mississippi River. Totally surrounded by a vastly superior Union army and its navy, the garrison held out for 48 days. It surrendered on July 9, 1863, five days after Vicksburg surrendered.

Jebba

Against the backdrop of this siege, I tell the story of Squire, a canine mascot for an Alabama regiment. While men in blue and gray fight and die Squire battles his own enemies, humans and beasts. Squire, Tales of a Mascot is scheduled for release this coming fall, 2019. As the release date draws nearer, I’ll be sharing more on the siege of Port Hudson as well as tidbits from the book.

I hope everyone will enjoy it.

Choose Your Words…Carefully

Books

Words ha800px-1896_Merriam_ad_BradleyHisBook_v2_no1ve meaning. Sounds obvious, right? Right. That’s why it’s important to choose our words carefully. That is, that we use correct diction.

It’s fine to go ahead and whip out our first drafts. They’ll be trite, maybe even cliché-ridden, and certainly amateurish. After this, though, approach our words like a professional. Professionals revise, revise, revise till their diction is as accurate as they can make it.

When we look at our manuscript, is each word precise? Can we find better words to express our thoughts? Spend time pondering our words, searching for ways to say what we mean with greater clarity.

Though we writers should develop a habit of building our vocabulary, we should also consult a thesaurus whenever necessary. Unfortunately, when most folks use a thesaurus, they simply look up any ole synonym to put on paper. This is a mistake.
Since every synonym possesses its own nuance of meaning we can’t use just any word. Research each synonym’s definition. Once we find one that means what we mean, use it in our manuscript.

Diction also affects our writing’s tone. By carefully selecting our words, we can convey whatever atmosphere we want. To illustrate, I’ll write a birthday party scene. Through diction, I’ll first paint it as a happy scene, and then I’ll portray it as an angry event.

Happy Party

Hugging the birthday present she’d purchased close to her chest, Mary practically skipped toward the laughter behind her friend Becky’s house. Soon as she passed through Becky’s patio gate, a dozen smiles greeted her.

“Sorry I’m late.” Mary set the present on a picnic table and flashed a grin. “My car got hungry so I had to stop to feed it. Happy birthday, friend.”

Becky grasped her hand and patted it. “Thank you, dear.”

Mary scanned the balloons attached to Becky’s white picket fence. They danced in the wind like colorful ballerinas, bobbing and swaying and twirling on their long strings. A coconut cake sat on the table. Thirty pink candles circled its perimeter. Hard to believe Becky had turned thirty. Mary chuckled. “Well, Becka, looks like you’ll be drawing social security soon.”

Becky burst into laughter, accompanied by their friends’ giggles.

Mary knew she was no Carol Burnette, but she did know she had some good one-liners every now and then. Making people laugh gave her pleasure.

Angry Party 

Clutching the birthday present she’d wasted her last dime on, Mary stomped   toward the cackling behind her friend Becky’s house. Soon as she shoved her way through the patio’s gate, a dozen smiles irritated her.

“Quit showing me your teeth, y’all. It ain’t funny. I know I’m late again.” Mary slammed her gift on the picnic table. “My stupid ole wreck of a car needed gas.”

Becky grasped her hand and patted it. “That’s all right, dear. We’re all glad you could come.”

Mary scowled at the balloons bound to Becky’s white picket fence, jerking and twisting on their long strings as though trying to escape their shackles. A coconut cake sat on the table. Thirty black candles stood around its perimeter like bars in a jail cell. Becky tuned thirty today. Tomorrow, they’d all be old maids drawing social security. Growing old, and alone was no fun.

Though I didn’t change the details in each scene, I did change the words as well as the dialogue. Each tone was conveyed through diction: word choices in action, dialogue, and how the point-of-view character, Mary, viewed the party’s details such as the balloons and the cake’s candles. 

Till next week, everyone. Keep on writing!

Dr. Johnson’s Advice

 

Doctor Samuel Johnson ?1772 by Sir Joshua Reynolds 1723-1792Here’s a quick tip from one of eighteenth century England’s greatest writers, Samuel Johnson. A poet, essayist, literary critic, and editor, he compiled and organized  A Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1755. This dictionary was used for 150 years before the Oxford English Dictionary’s publication. He said: “The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.