Book Review, Books!, Inspiration, Signal Boost, Weekend Writer, Writing

Weekend Writer: Revision, or Chapter 7 of Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer

Hey all, Dani here.

We’ve almost finished a whole book for this blog series! Wow, that is awesome and crazy at the same time. Oh, and I promise that the next several books will not take this many posts to get through. Seriously, this is one of the longest writing craft books I have found in many many years. So there’s just today and next week, and then we’ll be moving on to the next book…which is going to be The Art of War for Writers, because that is what was voted for on Twitter.

It would be really cool for all of us who want to write creatively (whether that is poetry, stories, novellas, novels, screenplays, RPGs, video games, whatever) to be able to help uplift and inspire each other, and keep ourselves motivated to strive for our dreams, so I decided to start this blog series here. This series will be a lot of me working through books on writing and creativity, maybe doing and sharing some writing exercises, and possibly doing some writing based discussion posts. It’s going to be an adventure for sure, and I hope it helps you as much as it is helping me.

Wonderbook

Summary

This all-new definitive guide to writing imaginative fiction takes a completely novel approach and fully exploits the visual nature of fantasy through original drawings, maps, renderings, and exercises to create a spectacularly beautiful and inspiring object. Employing an accessible, example-rich approach, Wonderbook energizes and motivates while also providing practical, nuts-and-bolts information needed to improve as a writer. Aimed at aspiring and intermediate-level writers, Wonderbook includes helpful sidebars and essays from some of the biggest names in fantasy today, such as George R. R. Martin, Lev Grossman, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, Catherynne M. Valente, and Karen Joy Fowler, to name a few.

Praise for Wonderbook: 

“Jammed with storytelling wisdom.” —Fast Company’s Co.Createblog

“This is the kind of book you leave sitting out for all to see . . . and the kind of book you will find yourself picking up again and again.” —Kirkus Reviews online

“If you’re looking for a handy guide to not just crafting imaginative fiction like sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, but to writing in general, be sure to pick up a copy of Steampunk Bibleauthor Jeff Vandermeer’s lovingly compiled Wonderbook.”  —Flavorwire

“Jeff Vandermeer and Jeremy Zerfoss have created a kaleidoscopically rich and beautiful book about fiction writing.”  —Star Tribune

“Because it is so layered and filled with text, tips, and links to online extras, this book can be read again and again by both those who want to learn the craft of writing and those interested in the process of others.” —Library Journal

Chapter Seven: Revision

Oh boy, revision, reworking, editing, rewriting…Currently I am definitely nowhere near this stage. I need to get my butt back to drafting, but having done this series for nearly two months now, I see that working cover-to-cover through each book seems easier and smarter than jumping around multiple books to stick with a similar writing concept.

“When you emerge from inspiration and cease writing for the day, your mind is still mulling this or that aspect of the story and altering events, characters, and descriptions before you sit down to write the next day.” –pg 245

So, I really liked this quote, even if I’m not currently an every day writer (I mean, aside from the blog, because I’m usually writing the next day’s post each day). But I do relate to the idea of my mind still continually thinking about the story even when I’m not writing, because that does happen quite often. That’s why when it comes to writing style I don’t consider myself to be a planner or a pantser; I tend to call myself a percolater–you know, I let the ideas and scenes and characters percolate in my mind until it is time for them to spill out on the page.

“So, in a sense, after the initial spark for the story or novel, every act exists simultaneously in a liminal, interconnected state of writing/revision, revision/writing.” –pg 245

This stage in the writing process is the one that can be the most tedious. Depending on your process and/or that particular story or novel, you might need to repeat this stage just a couple times, or you could end up in revision for 20+ rounds. It is different for everyone, based on their writing style and their own personal process.

So, for the purposes of this chapter, Jeff Vandermeer looks at revision and rewriting both as the process after finishing a rough draft. There are people who edit the previous day’s writing before starting the new day of writing. Or they edit chapter by chapter as they go. Or whatever. If your process is different then you can still apply these notes, just in a slightly altered way.

First of all, what is revision? It is really the act of going through your writing with a fine toothed comb, looking for places to eliminate extraneous words and/or phrases, add to unclear areas, better detail character growth and descriptions, tighten dialogue, and try to find inconsistencies in the plot and characters.

Jeff Vandermeer definitely recommends the book Revising Fiction by David Madden, and references it many times. In that book Madden states several different stages for the beginning writer when it comes to revision:

  • makes a mistake but can’t see it
  • makes a mistake, sees it, but doesn’t know how to fix it
  • makes a mistake, sees it, has learned how to fix it, but can’t fix it yet
  • makes a mistake, sees it, has learned how to fix it, and fixes it

“Over time, your creative imagination and your technical imagination will begin to work in tandem to create great fiction.” –pg 247

Honestly I do think this quote makes sense. I noticed it a bit when I was still in college and was working on the student newspaper. There is a certain creativity to writing and to layout, but it really does need to be balanced with that technical side as well. And weirdly being able to work my inner editor for the newspaper really helped me keep that inner editor at bay while writing my NaNovels for NaNoWriMo each year.

Okay, but after finishing your first draft, what questions do you need to focus on for the revision stage? Good news, Jeff Vandermeer has a list of helpful questions to ask your story.

  • Do the passages within the story that reflect your own personal biases or judgments intrude on the story?
  • Has your writing style evolved out of the story’s point of view?
  • Are your minor characters underdeveloped?
  • Should your sequence of events be restructured?
  • Are there too many dialogue and thought tags?
  • Do you open the story with overly long descriptions of the setting?
  • Are your uses of flashbacks crude?
  • Have you failed to create tension in the story?

Then, of course, there are more specific questions for writers of more fantastical stories.

  • What kind of imaginative fiction am I trying to create?
  • Is the fantastical element wedded to the emotional impact–and does it need to be?
  • Have I allowed an infatuation with the fantastical to overwhelm or unbalance my story?
  • Have I put too much weight on “solving” or exploring the fantastical element?
  • Have I written a story in which the fantastical element isn’t actually necessary?
  • Have I followed through on the implications of what my imagination has come up with?

Honestly, I know the current work in progress in my mind is technically a romance novel, but that last question feels like what my biggest stumbling block is at the moment. I’m worried that I won’t be able to translate what is in my mind down onto the page. It’s causing me to just not write at all, and I want to tell this story so badly. So I guess I probably just need to write.

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The next section is that of Systemic Testing, which is a three step system for editing and revision. Step One is Reverse Outlining, which takes place after the first draft and lists all of the scenes and the actions within the scenes. Doing an outline at this stage can show what is missing as well as what is unnecessary. Step Two is Interrogating Your Characters, where you examine character interactions and diagram their relationships. This can show you if the connections you’ve built are good and strong, or if they are flimsy and you need to build them up (or throw them out if unnecessary). Step Three is Paragraph-Level Edits, where you could use different colors to mark all of your adjectives, adverbs, dialogue tags, etc. to see what you use too much or not enough.

After that, the following section is your process to keep in mind. Without a plan for revision you can get lost in your manuscript, and could possibly go too far. It is also important to take revision seriously.

“Revision is hard, repetitive work, but it teaches you about language and narrative at an immersive, nitty-gritty level.” –pg 264

Once these stages of revision are through, you can look at feedback from others, which means that you need to know how to choose your first readers. This book suggests having a limited number of people, and you need to consider the diversity of the group you choose (whether that is gender/sex, race, religion, walk-of-life, etc), whether you need readers who specialize in a certain area of knowledge (such as a martial artist for combat scenes, or a doctor for medical knowledge, etc), consider their ability for analysis as well as empathy, their ability to turnover commentary in a timely manner, and perhaps most importantly, don’t choose people just because they’ll give you an ego boost. You need helpful feedback at this stage.

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That leads nicely into the next section, which is reconciling feedback. Because just because you got a lot of comments on your writing doesn’t mean that they will all be helpful to you.

  • Read and absorb all comments before rejecting any of them.
  • Make a list of strengths/weaknesses that appear across all of your fiction, because that can improve your writing in general.
  • Make two other lists, one for comments that support your vision for the story, and one for comments that don’t support your vision.
  • Have satisfactory reasoning for why you are not using the comments that do not support your vision for the story.
  • Use the remaining comments to improve your story.

Finally, don’t kill the spark. Revision needs balance to work. Don’t over-edit your writing. You got this.

Where to Get a Copy

If my thoughts on this seventh chapter have helped you out at all, you can try picking up a copy of the whole book from AmazonBarnes & NobleBooks-a-millionBook Depository, or your local independent bookstore.

You can also check with your local library.

Links to Other Wonderbook posts

Chapter One / Chapter Two / Chapter Three / Chapter Four / Chapter Five / Chapter Six / Workshop Appendix and Additional Writing Exercises

7 thoughts on “Weekend Writer: Revision, or Chapter 7 of Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer”

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