Dec 4, 2011

Revving up your revision

After a break of a few months, I've dived back into revising my finished MS. This round, I'm strengthening a few plot devices and giving my villain (and a few other secondary characters) a bit more depth. How to do this has been the subject of a few early a.m. brainwaves, during which I alternately told myself to go to sleep and mentally wrote this post. Hopefully someone will benefit from the dark circles under my eyes.

When it comes to characters, the best revision always includes background introduced in the right way, at the right time. As novelists, we're a bit like Hansel dropping crumbs behind the clueless Gretel, hoping our strategically placed information will keep our audience from getting lost in the forest. The problem is, we don't know when Gretel is going to look back and put the puzzle together. Here are three ideas that, if used properly,  won't fail to lead your reader to the right clues at the right time.

Stark motivation
Crimes of passion are the most common in literature. They're flamboyant, easily related to and usually involve a complicated knot of relationships.  They're crucial to mystery stories but even literary fiction benefits from characters who want something passionately.  Want - need - desire automatically sparks conflict because our MC wouldn't be in such a state if he/she already had it. Think Scarlett wanting Ashley or Jacob wanting Bella or Voldemort wanting power. Your villian must yearn for whatever with a strong intensity magnified by backstory. Was he/she an abused child seeking safety? An ignored teen yearning for revenge? An overlooked brother wanting attention? Whatever it is, be sure to make that stand out so your reader is in no doubt what's driving all the conflict.

Said is best
One of my betas reminded me of this a few months ago. I love words like retort and hissed and snapped. They fairly crackle with energy. Unfortunately, it's the wrong kind of energy. It detracts the reader from the dialogue, which, if I've written it right, should allow my reader to hear how my characters are speaking.  Too many of those tags and I'm banging you over the head with directions.  Since we all interpret stories differently, using a standard 'said' gives our readers freedom to build the world their own way.  It also gives them freedom to notice what's important in the plot at the time you intend.

Eliminating cliched personalities
There's this secondary character in my MS. I love her to death - she has the most sarcastic lines and is an excellent foil to my MC. Problem is, she's a cliche, about as substantial as an area rug. So I've given her a make-over. She keeps the lines but has a much darker outlook on life, one that's made her determined not to be shocked by anything. Period. And now she works so much better in my MS. So have fun with your secondary characters. Give them weird names, odd habits or accents or taste in clothes. Hollywood's preference for quirky sidekicks makes avoiding cliched personalities a lot harder but I know you're up to the challenge.

Those are my three - I know there are more but that's all I have time for. Please share your revision suggestions in the comments.

Speaking of time, I'll be taking a break from Friday interviews until Christmas break. A grant deadline, end-of-semester work at school, kid activities and my own MS revision have swamped me (not to mention all the Christmas mom duties awaiting me).  I'm cutting back to Monday postings - hope you can join me!


E.R. King said...

Said IS best! This is one of my revisions goals, to go through and wipe out all the unnecessary tags. Thanks for the reminder.

Botanist said...

I'm in the dark revision valley right now too. Character motivation most certainly in need of strengthening. I don't have too much trouble with dialogue tags, but I must blast through with my adverb phaser set to kill!

Carrie Butler said...

Great points, Melodie! That revision cartoon made my night. :)

Nancy Thompson said...

Yes, said is best. I try to keep it said 90% of the time. But I also try to delete most of the tags. I only slip one it when absolutely necessary to keep track of who's saying what. Nothing bogs down dialogue like tags.

Great post, Melodie!

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