Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Revision Process, Part One by Cynthea Liu

Okay, people. We have the fabulous Cynthea Liu here with us today. Her series on the revision process will be posted in three parts over the next hour just so you know, you have some breathing room. Ha!


When I evaluate manuscripts with The Snooper at, we usually look at the work from two vantage points: the writing (how you use your words) and the story (character, plot, etc.) When you’re creating your book, you may find you either a) get lost in the writing or b) get lost in the story development or c) both. Then when you go to revise, you might have difficulty determining if your writing is messed up, the story is the culprit, or it’s a combination of the two.

To help sort this out, we strongly suggest following these three easy steps when you revise your work. 1) evaluate your writing to determine your weak points and tics. (Everyone has them!) 2) evaluate the story according to a few tried-and-true principles. Only after you have done both 1 and 2, should you embark on 3) revising the manuscript based upon what you learned from Step 1 and Step 2.

1. Evaluate the Writing
• Don’t rely on the lessons you learned about writing in junior high or high school alone. Few schools had great programs for creative writing, so DO read SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Renni Browne from front to back so your brain is primed to look for common pitfalls. You won’t be able to tell you have a problem if you can’t recognize the symptoms. This book applies to all fiction, including children’s and teen books. (The picture book is a special beast; you should learn what’s here and THEN SOME to understand the principles of a concise picture book text).

• Snoop and I also came up with dozens of issues that we kept finding in children’s and teen book manuscripts. They are listed in the Revision 9-1-1 section of Writing for Children and Teens: A Crash Course by Cynthea Liu, and include common problems such as weak sentence structure, difficulty with flashbacks and narrative, play-by-plays, -ing abuse, echoes, point-of view-glitches, dislocated and mislocated tags, and hammerhead. It’ll be worth the 90 minutes of reading! TRUST ME.

• DO sweat all of this small stuff. If you don’t, suboptimal writing could affect the flow, pacing, and clarity of your story. Ultimately, you may lose the interest of editors and agents who have higher than suboptimal standards.

Here are a few more common problems writers often ask me about …

How do I know when I should tell and when I should show? If the information is more important than background knowledge, you should consider implementing the content as live action (dialogue, a full scene, etc). Even if something important has happened in the past, you can still flashback to that point in time and tell the important part in real-time. Anything else that is supporting data (stuff that can easily be scanned but not crucial to retain should be a perfect candidate for narrative.)

How do I know when I should end my chapters or create a scene break? If you’re having trouble knowing when to start and end your chapters and scenes, check each scene and chapter for emotional arc. The beginning of each chapter or scene should start at point A and move the character development and plotting to Point B, where the emotional value of A is less than the emotional value of B. Who knew there was so much math in writing? In other words, like your overall story, there should be a rise in emotional value and tension within a scene or chapter. Also make sure each scene is working to drive your next plot point further and that each chapter DOES drive a major plot point forward. Once you have this concept worked out in your head, you will realize that scene breaks and chapter breaks do not always occur when there is a break in time. If you are strictly using breaks to indicate a passage of time, there’s a good chance you might be ignoring this concept of emotional arc.

Stay tuned for Part II in this series: Evaluate the Story, coming right here in 20 short minutes!

Cynthea Liu left a career as a technology consultant to become a children’s book writer, proving that anyone, no matter how inexperienced, can write for children if one has the drive and patience to learn. She obtained a literary agent within her first year as a writer and sold two novels soon after at auction to the Penguin Group (PARIS PAN TAKES THE DARE, Putnam, 2009 and WHAT I DIDN’T TELL YOU, 2012). Her third book sold to Penguin on proposal (THE GREAT CALL OF CHINA, Speak, 2009). Cynthea is also the woman behind www.writingforchildrenandteens, a top ten website on the subject.  She has critiqued over a thousand writing samples and has seen some of her most devout critiquees go on to sell their manuscripts, ranging from picture book to young adult novels to major publishing houses.

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