|Bonus advice...don't do your own illustrations!|
Top Ten Techniques to Revise your Writing©
By Kim Tomsic
I recently met with a group of children’s book writers for a brain storming session on revision techniques.
1. Choose strong verbs to make your sentences active NOT passive.
2. USE CONSONANTS TO NAIL HUMOR. Comedy writers say consonants are funnier than vowels, so revise word choice where needed. Corndog is funnier than ice cream, upchuck is funnier than vomit.
3. WATCH OUT FOR “STARTS”. Avoid having your character “start” or “begin” something. Don’t have him start walking down the street or begin making dinner. Think like Nike™—just do it! The exception: “Started” works when the character begins to do something, but then stops, i.e. “I started to close the door, but the stranger caught it with his foot.”
4. SHOWING MAKES FOR MORE INTERESTING PROSE. Duh! As writers, we’ve heard this a gazillion times—show don’t tell. But we still make the mistake of telling. Not to worry, that’s what revisions are for! When editing your manuscript, weigh every sentence in your story. Does it show or does it tell? I have an amazing example borrowed from Matt de la Pena’s book We Were Here. In the book the main character is smack in the middle of a first kiss. Instead of giving the reader a “tell” line like, “I was nervous” or “I felt awkward” the author shows how the character felt by writing,
“On the outside I tried to make like everything was super smooth and calm and my palms were dry as hell, but inside my mind was thinking all kinds of crazy thoughts like: How long do I keep my mouth open? And when do I turn my face? And how much tongue do I use? And where do I put my hands? And how are we supposed to breathe?”(255).
5. LISTEN TO THE VOICE. Ask yourself if each line meets the voice you intend to convey. Read it aloud and think of your audience. If you get bored with the sound of your prose, your audience will grow bored, too. Next, have somebody else read your story aloud and listen to the words with fresh ears (especially picture book writers). You may hear the reader emphasize words you did not intend to highlight, or you may hear the story exactly as you anticipated.
6. DO THE EXTRA WORK. If you know your writing weaknesses, search your manuscript for those problem areas. Read books in your genre. Use tools—author John McPhee advises writers to skip the thesaurus and use the dictionary when looking for better words. He says the dictionary gives the subtle nuances around the meaning of words and can inspire better choices.
7. Keep a rules book, especially if your story has magic. And let your readers in on the rules, so they understand the stakes. Also make a timeline for your story to keep things in sync. I remember one author saying his copy editor found he had eight weeks in his October!
8. Make a check list to see if your story contains satisfying plot elements.
¨ Does your character have a want (and does reader want to root for MC)?
¨ Is there an inciting incident?
¨ Does your story have real stakes and tension?
¨ Does your main character (m.c.) make things happen, instead of having a bunch of things happen to him?
¨ Do you have a compelling antagonist vs. a gratuitous antagonist?
¨ Do you have interesting subplots?
¨ Does your m.c. make a big decisions that propels him through a couple of “doorways” ? A doorway, in my eyes, is a point of no return—imagine toothpaste squeezing out of a tube, once you squeeze it out, you can’t put it back in. Some giant examples include: killing someone, announcing a kids secret over the school’s loudspeakers, burning down a building…those are all things you can’t undo…you can’t unkill (in most books), you can’t untell, you can’t unburn. **Please note—the doorways happen when your main character makes a decision, NOT when something happens to your main character.
¨ Do you have a second doorway? I hope so!
¨ Do you have a black moment when your main character almost gives up or feels at his low?
¨ Do you have a showdown moment and/or a climax?
¨ Does your main character change by the end of the story?
¨ Did you tie up loose ends?
9. JOIN A CRITIQUING GROUP. Get involved in a critiquing group and listen to at least some of the advice. Be a good receiver and a good reviewer. We get so close to our work, it's hard to hear it clearly after a while. The more you critique somebody's work, the more you're able to see the flaws that need fixing in your own manuscript.