Excuse me. Extra?
Is icing on the cake extra? Is the glaze on the donut? The butter on the bread?
Finishing touches may feel like extras, but they are the difference between stories that are OK and ones that sing.
Note that revisions must come when the loaf is out of the oven, not while you’re still mixing the dough. The first draft, in all its glory, must sit with “The End” predominantly marked either virtually or actually on the last page.
The end, of course, means the end of that first stage–the getting-the-story-down stage. Now comes the part that many writers hesitate to take. Now it’s time to pretty up the story.
Let me pull up that icing on the cake analogy again. I worked for a time in a boarding school. The woman in charge of the kitchen and other domestic affairs made a big deal of each child’s birthday. One of her specialties was to create cakes that were masterpieces–artwork related to the interest of the particular child whose birthday we celebrated.
I remember watching her work from time to time. After the cakes came out of the oven, her creativity took over. She carved off pieces of cake here, shaped it there, frosted, strung lines of licorice, popped in M&Ms, and before long, or sometimes after long, arduous work, from sheet pans of ordinary yellow cake emerged trains or space ships or puppy dogs or … you name it. Her creations were masterful.
Extras? Not to the child at the center of the attention.
All that to say, revising a story takes it to the next level. Writers, therefore, would be wise to embrace the process, not shy from it.
But what exactly goes into the process? Are we looking for typos, spelling errors spellcheck didn’t catch, punctuation problems? Not at this stage. How about word choice or repetition or sentence structure? Not yet. Not that it’s wrong to fix those things as you find them, but the focus needs to be on big picture issues first.
This is the stage where you look at the foundation of your story and see if it has what it needs to stand on its own outside that cake pan.
Author Kristina McBride, writing a guest post on revision for Writer’s Digest said one of the key steps in the process is to question everything:
* Does the book start with an inciting incident that will force your MC [main character] to act, and challenge your MC to grow?
* Is there enough emotion, tension, suspense, etc.? Or too much?
* Is something too obvious? Does something come too easy because you need it to advance the plot?
* What can you do to make each scene stronger?
* How can you weed out your cliched sentences and/or ideas?
* Is there a motivation for each event? What about a purpose?
* Are you keeping your MC from attaining a goal? This is a must until the ending.
* Will your reader wonder about or hope for something pertaining to your MC as they progress through the story?
Well, yes, it will be work to ask all those questions about the entire story and go in and fix every single page where you find something lacking. Writing is, despite all the fun parts, still work.
For someone satisfied with plain, unadorned sheet cake, I suppose this revision business seems like fluff. But for those who want to give readers the full experience of laughing, crying, hoping, fearing right along with the protagonist, for those who want readers to become immersed in their storyworld and to walk in the shoes of the main character, then revision is really the best part of writing.