Revisions: Working with Different Sets of Eyes/I’s

Collapse of the Veil, by Alison Lohans

Collapse of the Veil, by Alison Lohans

Crossings, by Alison Lohans

Crossings, by Alison Lohans

Post by Alison Lohans

I’ve just finished revising my second previously-published book for re-release by a different publisher. The whole process – seeing my work through yet another lens, after having spent well over ten years working the book to a polished draft, and then going through it with the editor of the original publishing house – has been an eye-opening experience. During this time I’ve also seen good friends working hard at their own revisions in fervent hopes of their creative “child” finding its home in the publishing world.

How do we know when a book is finally “ready”? During this process with Timefall (which is the new title for the combined Collapse of the Veil and Crossings), I was shocked on more than a few occasions by things that had slipped past me during those ten-plus years of work, and had also slipped by the first editor. These different sets of eyes (I’s?) all come to a manuscript with subjective lenses, and these multiple perspectives quickly demonstrate the value of critiquing in a writer’s group. We all laugh when caught red-faced: “But isn’t it obvious? I can see it all in my head!”

I’d always figured I was reasonably good with characters, and their motivations and goals, so it was quite a surprise to see in the Track Changes margin:  “Out of character”. Fortunately this mostly happened with the secondary characters. But it’s a clear reminder that ALL of our characters need to be in our story for specific reasons, each with their own agendas, and flaws, that drive the conflict arc of the character-driven novel. “Out of character!” was a useful reminder to examine what a character’s response would actually be, and how long that response would play out – and working out a more realistic response led me to subtle shifts that freshened the protagonist’s response as well.

And … responses? Oops! Character X said/did something. Why didn’t Character Y respond? Caught up in one character’s point of view, and with the scene goal in sight, umm…..maybe things got rushed ahead just a little too fast, without honouring the perspective of Character Y? Definitely worth thinking about…

The choreography within a scene, again in the Track Changes balloon: “And Tyler is where?” This round of re-revisions got me looking long and hard at the mother-instinct not only in my teen mom protagonist, but also in her mother. The baby is a pivotal character in the book, and needed to be accounted for in all the scenes where he is present. Oops…. And lo and behold, in a high drama scene where (this time around) I caught myself on two giant faux pas that the present (excellent) editor didn’t catch…whoa!

There those Big Issues were, staring me in the face. By honouring each character’s integrity in the height of the emergency, the way unfolded to show both characters in realistic action together; this, in turn, also served to reinforce a tentative reconciliation. The shifts needed to play this out were amazingly simple to work in and, better yet, had all my characters accounted for. It is so easy for characters to fade out of a scene before they’ve actually exited.

So this was another wake-up call:  Characters are in a scene for a reason. If we’ve put them there, they need to have a tangible role to play whether it’s a speaking part or an action part. If they’re a secondary character, their presence has to have some kind of impact on what the protagonist is doing. And if the secondary characters happen to be more articulate/active than a more-reserved protagonist, our protagonist still must be truly “present” in a sensory and mental way, rather than simply to listen to what the other guys are all talking about.

When is a manuscript truly ready? Such a tough question! Sometimes deadlines will get us up and hopping, maybe with a hint of panic. If we stop and second-guess ourselves too many times, searching for the right word, the most evocative image, we can take the proverbial “forever” to get done – and too much of this can kill the spark that ignited earlier drafts. Yikes…we don’t want to do that!

When considering this question nearly forty years ago I used certain criteria, and for the most part I still adhere to them:

  • If it’s as good as I can possibly make it
  • if I still get excited (re)reading it (for the umpteenth time!)
  • if I can experience my narrative through the emotional lens of my protagonist and in a sensory way
  • if I’ve read chunks of it aloud to my computer monitor and the words sound pleasing and have a good feel on my tongue

Then yes, maybe it’s okay to let it go. That is, of course, after careful scrutiny:

  • Are the characters believable, and consistent?
  • Is the plot believable, and the goal worthwhile?
  • Is there strong enough motivation, with further conflict arising from the interplay of the characters’ diverse goals and motivations?
  • Is there a satisfying resolution that resonates beyond “The End”?

Yes? Then maybe it’s okay to hit send.

But maybe a book is never truly finished. For once it’s out there in the world, it will be re-created every time a reader plunges into our story – through yet another set of eyes.

Join the Discussion:

What is your revision process like? How do you know when your manuscript is finished and ready to send to a publisher? What have you learned about your writing style from your revisions?

CANSCAIP Prairie Horizons 2015 Conference

Prairie Horizons 2015

Prairie Horizons 2015

CANSCAIP

CANSCAIP

Join us for the 11th bi-annual

CANSCAIP Prairie Horizons Conference

September 18-20, 2015, Lumsden, SK

Presenters:

For Full information on Presenters, see the Presenters page. For information on events, see the Sessions page. For event times, see the Schedule page.

  • Frieda Wishinsky (60+ picture books, Middle Grades, non-fiction books)
  • Anne Shone, (senior editor, Scholastic Canada)
  • Ted Staunton (performer/humorist; dozens of books from picture books to Young Adult)
  • Dakota McFadzean (comic and storyboard artist/illustrator, author)
  • Alison Lohans (over two dozen picture books, middle grades, YA, fantasy)
  • Gillian Richardson (nonfiction, juvenile novels and picture books)
  • Heather Nickel (owner of  Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing)

Conference Events:

Candlelight Labyrinth Walk: Get in touch with your inner voice as we venture out after dark on Friday night.

Ready, Set, Pitch!: 10 contestants will have 5 minutes to pitch their completed Picture Book or Middle Grades manuscripts for a chance to place their manuscripts at the top of the slush pile at Scholastic Canada.

Open Mic: Got something to share? Sign up to read or perform a 3 minute piece on Saturday night.

Q & A Session: Spend an hour getting your questions answered by the entire group of presenters.

Workshops: Learn about humour, performance, graphic novels, writing non-fiction, history and fantasy, author-publisher relationships and self-publishing.

Saturday Night Events Open to the Public:

  • Keynote Address by Frieda Wishinsky
  • Performance by Ted Staunton

Book Table: Sell your books and CDs, and sign up to help at the book table.

Registration Information

Full Conference (including accommodation and meals):

  • Full conference Early Bird. $285.00;
  • Regular Registration. $315.00.
  • Other options available. See Registration page.
  • CANSCAIP Members or Friends, deduct $45.00 from the registration cost.
  • After Aug 31, 2015, add a late fee of $25.

Final Registration Deadline: Sept 9, 2015.

You can register online or by mail. Complete registration details and instructions are on the Registration Page.

To join CANSCAIP: http://canscaip.org/JoinCANSCAIP

Need More Information? Email  prairiehorizons@gmail.com 

Online Registration & Payment: http://canscaip.org/EventsCalendar

Thank you to our Sponsors!

And thank you for donating door prizes:

Prairie Horizons 2015: Presenters

Frieda Wishinsky (Keynote Speaker)

Frieda Wishinsky

Frieda Wishinsky

Frieda Wishinsky is the international award-winning author of over sixty trade and educational books. She writes in a variety of genres: picture books, novels and non-fiction. Her books have been translated into many languages and her picture book, Please, Louise! (Groundwood) won the 2008 Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award.  She is the author of the popular Canadian Flyer Adventures (Owlkids). Frieda’s latest books are Avis Dolphin (Groundwood) and Colossal Canada (Scholastic).  Frieda loves sharing the writing process with students at all levels. http://friedawishinsky.com/

Ted Staunton

Ted Staunton

Ted Staunton

Ted Staunton is the author of many books for young people, from long-time picture book Puddleman, to the young adult novel Who I’m Not, winner of the CCBC John Spray Mystery award in 2014. His most recent book, Coda, is part of the popular SEVEN series. Over the years he’s also performed and led workshops everywhere from Inuvik to Addis Ababa. When not writing, Ted plays music in the Maple Leaf Champions Jug Band and in 2014 toured the prairies on the Home Routes folk music trail. Born very young, Ted is now older and lives with his family in Port Hope, Ontario. http://www.tedstauntonbooks.com/

Alison Lohans

Alison Lohans

Alison Lohans

Alison Lohans is an award-winning, internationally-published author who has been writing since childhood. She decided at age 12 that she wanted to write YA fiction, and to date has 9 young adult books to her credit, as well as 17 additional books in four other categories of young people’s fiction. In her YA novels Alison has worked intensively in realistic fiction (both contemporary and historical) as well as exploring the realm of fantasy with her Passage Through Time Series (Collapse of the Veil, and Crossings). Her historical novel This Land We Call Home won the 2008 Saskatchewan Book Award for YA fiction. In recent years Alison has turned to self-publishing in addition to her work with commercial and educational publishers. Alison Lohans lives in Regina, and is one of the founding members of the CANSCAIP Prairie Horizons Conference.  http://books4kids.ca/alison-lohans/ and https://alisonlohans.wordpress.com/

Joshua Rosen

Joshua Rosen

Joshua Rosen

Josh Rosen is a cartoonist/illustrator from Toronto, Ontario. He has previous experience providing comic and illustration work for clients such as Slate.com, the University of Iowa, and Dartmouth College, among others. He likes horror movies and soy sauce and thinks that drawing things is neat.

For more info, go to http://www.joshdraws.com/

Gillian Richardson

Gillian Richardson

Gillian Richardson

Gillian Richardson is a former Saskatchewan resident now living in BC. She has published 18 books for children that include nonfiction, juvenile novels and picture books. She has written educational books for Scholastic and Weigl Publishers, and her nonfiction books with Annick Press (Kaboom! Explosions of All Kinds and 10 Plants that Shook the World) have earned multiple awards. Her work includes numerous short stories and articles for children’s magazines such as Cricket and KNOW. As an instructor for The Institute of Children’s Literature (2002-2015), she taught adults through correspondence courses in writing for children. She writes reviews of children’s books for CM magazine.

Anne Shone

Anne Shone

Anne Shone

Anne Shone is a Senior Editor at Scholastic Canada. She has worked in book publishing for close to twenty years, concentrating on children’s books for the last fifteen. In that time, she has worked with many of Canada’s top children’s book authors and illustrators. Anne edits in all genres, including picture books (recent highlights include Fox and Squirrel Make a Friend by Ruth Ohi, Goodnight, Canada, by Andrea Beck, and The Duck Says by Troy Wilson, illustrated by Mike Boldt); novels (The Opposite of Geek by Ria Voros, and Vikki VanSickle’s Love Is a Four Letter Word); and myriad non-fiction titles, including the recently released Colossal Canada: 100 Epic Facts and Feats by Elizabeth MacLeod and Frieda Wishinsky. http://www.scholastic.ca/

Heather Nickel

Heather Nickel

Heather Nickel

Heather Nickel is the founder and operator of Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing in Regina SK, a company that helps authors to self-publish their books. YNWP publishes 15-20 books a year. It was established in 1998, and has been a member of SaskBooks since 1999. Heather holds a B.A. in English from the University of Saskatchewan (1989), and attends industry-related seminars and workshops hosted by SaskBooks, the Saskatchewan Writers Guild and the Editors’ Association of Canada, Saskatchewan branch. She has served on the SaskBooks board since 2007 and is its current president.