Monday, May 18, 2009

Revision Roundup - Westside Schmooze Edition!

Howdy, pardners!

Upwards of 35 cowpokes and writer folks gathered to ride herd on some ornery manuscript revisin’ on Wednesday night, May 13.

Some of the cowpokes and writer folks!

The night was jam-packed with ideas for revising our manuscripts, and was organized to move from BIG Picture tips (on plot, character, structure), to MEDIUM Shot issues (research, setting, drawing maps), to CLOSE-UP line-editing and wordsmithing. (In this we were inspired by a great article, "Revising a Novel: The Importance of Structure" by Jennifer Jensen, which you can read here.)

Here are some highlights and links:


We talked about “The 9 essential drafts of your novel“ John Ritter spoke of at Writer’s Day 2005. He gave his process of 9 drafts as:

1. Dream Draft
2. Back and forth Draft
3. Dare to share
4. Surprises
5. Dialog
6. Problem solve and intensify
7. Fine tune
8. Polish
9. Send it off to Editor

Inspired by Linda Sue Park's discussion of Novel Structure at her web site --and in particular how she broke her main character's quest into Internal and External Quest, we did our first writing exercise of the night. Go ahead and lasso it for your story, too!


Write down in a simple sentence your main character’s external arc and internal arc. Do they intersect at your story’s climax?

Example: The Picture Book “Knuffle Bunny,” by Mo Willems
External arc: Knuffle Bunny lost to Knuffle Bunny found
Internal arc: Trixie can’t communicate to Trixie says her first words
Yes, both arcs resolve at the story’s climax.

Airborn” by Kenneth Oppel was our Middle Grade example.
Fat Kid Rules The World” by K L Going was our Young Adult example.

Another way of thinking of this is The external arc is what happens. The internal arc is why you should care.

Lee shared a SHRUNKEN MANUSCRIPT of one of his picture book drafts.

Glitter, colors, stickers... It helped him look at pacing, consistency, internal and external arcs... and from this Lee figured out he was telling the wrong character’s story!

Here are some links to bloggers and authors talking about the shrunken manuscript process:

Darcy Patterson on Shrunken Manuscripts


Cheryl Rainfield sharing Sarah Miller's video on Sarah's Shrunken Manuscript

Rita talked about an alternate tool to view your novel in miniature: doing an OUTLINE of what happens, chapter by chapter--or scene by scene--in a table or spreadsheet. One of the writers in Rita’s groups did this with just three columns: the first column contained the chapter number or title, the second described What Happens, and the third was blank, for making notes or comments—either for herself or for the people she was getting feedback from.

You can expand this table by adding columns, perhaps for external plot and internal plot, or for your themes. Nancy Lamb gives her own version of this in The Writer's Guide to Crafting Stories For Children.

Karol shared Jeffrey Kitchen's technique of writing backwards--as a way to check whether each event in your story is truly caused by what came before. (We found a link about this here)

Lee compared this idea to a fun picture book by David LaRochelle called The End!

We talked about why one might choose 3rd- or 1st-person--or even 2nd-person--to tell their story, and attendees volunteered insights on what their own manuscripts gained when they changed from one to the other. (For a basic rundown of what the differences are, this Wikipedia article is useful. It lists some examples of books written in each narrative mode.)

Rita also gave examples of books that use first person AND third person in the same novel:
The Bartimaeus Trilogy, by Jonathan Stroud (middle grade fantasy)
Skin Hunger, by Kathleen Duey (YA fantasy)

Linda Sue Park's advice on this and other dilemmas is to write scenes BOTH ways, if you can't figure out which way to go. Her point is that, “The price of good writing is time.”

We also shared a few highlights from a talk given by Firebrand Literary agent Michael Stearns at SCBWI-LA Writer’s Day, this past April 18th, titled "The Plot Thickens: 13 Questions to Ask of a Way Too Wimpy Storyline."

1.) Do you have a clock in your story?
2.) Have you buried the ends of your chapters? (End chapters on cliffhangers!)
3.) Have you structured your story to create suspense?
Is the straightforward telling the BEST way for your story?
(Check out Michael's blog entry on ABDCE: Action, Background, Development, Climax, Ending.
5.) Have you taken full advantage of using subplots?
Subplots provide camouflage for your main plotline, to distract the readers from what you’re really up to.

Rita expanded on this, sharing the Using “B” Plots and “C” Plots concept Kathleen Duey spoke about at the summer conference years ago, on how to use subplots to solve pacing issues and deal with “the sagging middle.”

10.) Have you taken advantage of how everybody but everybody lies?
12.) Have you followed through on every consequence of your characters' acts?
13.) Have you been as mean as possible to you characters?
Michael quoted another author's idea of always asking, while writing, “Does it hurt yet?”

(For a full summary of Michael Stearns's talk from Writer's Day, check his blog, where he promises to post the material soon

More than half-way through the rodeo...
And look, people were still smiling!

When we got to the CLOSE-UP, Line-Editing portion of the night, still more great suggestions abounded, including:

Another great article by Jennifer Jensen, titled Structural Support and Line Editing for Novels (© Jennifer Jensen Oct 8, 2008), which you can read here

LEE mentioned the idea (from many authors) of recording yourself reading your manuscript aloud

And Lisa Yee's revision advice to change the font and margins, to make the story Look new to you, so you can see it fresh.

Finally, Rita also shared the idea of the One-Pass Revision, from an article by Holly Lisle. This author suggests you can make all levels of changes at the same time--from big-picture themes and characters to line-edits and word choices.

Holly Lisle also wrote a helpful article on scenes, titled “Scene-Creation Workshop—Writing Scenes That Move Your Story Forward," which you can read here.

Specifically, she defines a scene as containing these basic elements:

a place,
a time frame,
and a change that moves the story forward.

Robert McKee’s book on Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting--which you can also get as audio CDs--also talks about how to analyze scenes. (This book targets screenwriters but is a great resource of all of us.)

In this, he brings up how every scene should be able to be defined as bringing out a change in some Value. For example: a character goes from happy to sad, or from no knowledge to knowledge, or from being an outsider to an insider, etc. (Other examples, as provided by Holly Lisle, included hate-->love, fear-->trust, etc.)

This led us to our

WRITING EXERCISE #2 - and go ahead, you can grab this one by the horns now!

Write a scene in 5 sentences or less where some value changes. Where something unexpected happens. (After all, if what you expect to have happen does happen, you don’t have much of a story, right?)

As adapted from “Scene-Creation Workshop

Thanks for riding into the sunset with us on this review of our night talkin’ ‘bout revision!

Oh, we started the night with a *disclaimer*, which we'll end with here:

Just as there are lots of ways of writing a first draft, so there are infinite ways to tackle revision. Everyone works differently, and not EVERYTHING is going to work for everyone — but we hope the ideas discussed inspire and help everyone on their revisions!

We hope to see you next month, on Wednesday June 10, 2009, when our Schmooze topic is... How to get the most out of the SCBWI Summer Conference – including tips for doing your homework, networking, and having a blast!


Lee and Rita

All photos by Rita Crayon Huang

p.s. - While we didn't put up a separate post for our April Middle Grade and Young Adult Critique Night, as you can see below a good and productive time was had by all!


  1. Wonderful post! Thanks so much for the inspiring, informative links and tips.

  2. Beaucoup de thanks to you, Lee, and to your most generous LA SCBWI Schmooze Group for sharing what might very well constitute a Revision 101 Workshop!

    The variety of proven exercises and models, the breath and depth of the questions writers need to ask, the additional contributions of conference and retreat speakers, will help all of us refract our eyes to successfuly re-vision the work at hand.

    All I can say is, "Wow!"

    Esther Hershenhorn

  3. Esther, coming from you that's high praise indeed!
    Hope to see you at this summer's conference,

  4. The night was wonderfully helpful and fun...and this recap is so complete that the next time I think I'll forgo taking notes and just eat cookies.

  5. This is a great resource, Lee and Rita! Thanks for posting. I'll be sharing this with my writing group for sure.

  6. Thank you for sharing these notes, LA SCBWI. How generous of you all! Lee, I LOVE the "shrunken manuscript" concept. Can't wait to try it.
    Barb Santucci

  7. Thanks providing so many wonderful revision resources in one place!

  8. Very good wishes for the new year while the share