REVISING, IN LIFE AND IN STORIES
by Marsha Diane Arnold
by Marsha Diane Arnold
I thought my life was perfect. I’ve lived on three acres of paradise in the Northern California hills for thirty-five years. I’d even made peace with dying here, overlooking the little forest filled with oak, madrone, and manzanita, redwoods and rolling hills beyond.
But I’ve had to revise. We’re selling our home on McGregor Lane (yes, the perfect address for a children’s writer) and moving to Florida. In the writing world this might be known as a “full rewrite.”
Revising our stories is not as difficult as revising our lives, but the two have much in common.
Change demands a lot from us. We procrastinate, whether it’s our life or our story. So, I am grateful for Meg Miller’s ReviMo challenge to keep us on track.
There are several types of revision. Here are three:
- There’s the revision that comes when you know it’s needed. In life, it might be “I need to loose weight.” In your writing world, it might be “I need to get rid of that character.” To loose the weight you need to physically get moving. To loose the character you need to mentally get moving.
- There’s the revision that your critique partners say is needed. How much we should listen to others partially depends on whether we are a beginning writer or a seasoned author. As we grow, we’ll become more discerning with other’s critiques. Still, it’s always a challenge to know which path to travel in a story. There are so many options.
- There’s the revision that an editor says is needed. If it’s an editor who’s deciding on whether or not to accept your manuscript, that’s one thing. One editor may want you to change your story, while the next would find it perfect as it is. If you’re satisfied with your story, wait until several editors tell you revision is needed before revising.
If it’s an editor...or illustrator...who’s bought your manuscript, that’s another thing. The illustrator of one of my upcoming books requested I cut a number of lines in an already under 300 word manuscript. These are words I thought would make for great reading aloud. But this illustrator is one of the best in the field and I felt her images could tell the story without my words. So I revised, a.k.a. cut, them out.
Besides the usual things writers do - writing, blogging, developing e-courses, and visiting schools - I do manuscript consultations.
Often I find the beginnings of stories need revision. Some beginnings meander the reader into the story rather than dropping him in. Dropping a young reader into a story is almost always more exciting than meandering him in.
Often the endings need revision. Rather than a neat, to the point ending, some writers prefer to go on and on, hanging onto their story like a toddler afraid to let go of a parent.
Often the middle needs revision. Oh, let’s face it! Usually everything needs revision after our horrible, sad, first draft. I often advise writers to look again at the progression of events. Sometimes cutting events or switching them around will make the story smoother. Logical progression can be forgotten in the early drafts. Another thing that always helps is tightening. If there were a rewriting mantra, it might be, “Tighten, tighten, tighten.” (It sounds more humane than, “Cut, cut, cut,” doesn’t it?)
Once you have the basics of writing and storytelling under your belt, always listen to yourself more than your critiquers (those outside or inside your head). And always listen the most to your story because it’s your story that should be in charge.
Whether rewriting the story of your life or the story on the page, listen to the heart of it and take one step at a time. The heart of your life. The heart of your story. It won’t lead you astray.
Would you like to see a master revising? I was lucky enough to attend the brilliant and prolific Jane Yolen’s Master Class last October. Julie Hedlund was also in attendance; she recently posted a blog and short video of the experience. In the first part of the video, Jane is revising lines she’d quickly spewed out of her head. It’s fun and eye-opening to watch a master at work. http://www.juliehedlund.com/jane-yolen-may-2014-featured-author/
Thank you Marsha!!
The media has called Marsha Diane Arnold a "born storyteller" and a "magician of literary innovations." Her literary pathway began with the much-loved, award-winning newspaper column "homegrown treasures." Soon Marsha was writing for kids' magazines and in 1995 came her first book, Heart of a Tiger, for which she won the Ridgway Award for Best First Book by a New Author.
Other awards include Smithsonian Notable Book for The Pumpkin Runner, Junior Library Guild Selection, IRA Distinguished Book, and state Children's Choice awards for Heart of a Tiger, Kansas State Library's 150 "Best" Books for The Bravest of Us All, Notable Social Studies Book for The Chicken Salad Club, and a Family Choice Award for Hugs on the Wind. Roar of a Snore was twice selected for Dolly Parton's Imagination Library and her early reader Quick, Quack, Quick has sold over half a million copies. Her stories have been called "wacky," "whimsical," "inspiring," "beguiling," "heartwarming," "uplifting," "great read-alouds," and "a must-have for all libraries".