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16 Truths about Revision

Things I have re-learned from this round of revision on The Bone Trench, my manuscript about Mother Mary and Jesus called back Memphis by a private prison project:

Description must flow from the character observing it

Description works best when in motion (e.g. She wore a tight skirt vs Her tight skirt tugged as she bent to pick up the skull)

Too much description inside the course of dialogue clots the flow

It’s a fine line between creating atmosphere and suffocating the reader

The setting must be interesting—move the setting from a support group on folding chairs to one where the members are painting a brick wall and see what happens

Unless you are writing a novel about food, avoid every time you can having your characters sit around eating a meal

Your central character may slowly disappear if he is constantly following action directed by others

You can take the information from a scene that’s not working and transpose it into another setting, providing the needed information in a more interesting way; the novel will survive

If you have a scene that’s not working, study the scenes that are working and discern why they appeal to you as a reader

When stuck in a revision, open a new blank page. Take off writing and wait for the image/symbol/alive connection to be made with what you’ve already written

Trust your subconscious, a corollary of the above

Don’t use the “I’ve got a secret” approach, slowly meting out the facts of the past in a literary striptease; get on with it and then let the reader read to find out how on earth that came to be

Write it in, then go back through and rake two-thirds of it out

Remove as much explanation as humanly possible, another corollary

If at all possible have your characters engage in an activity while they talk

When you reach the point where the manuscript is an unholy mess and you believe you will never emerge from the other side of the brambles, keep working

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

16 truths about revision, choosing your settings, description in dialogue, description in fiction, revising your novel, stuck in revision, the importance of setting

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