Archive for the ‘Writing Mechanics’ Category

Like so many things, revision of a novel takes time. It takes time to read it through and think about the cohesion of it. It takes time to map out the plot arcs and try to match each chapter with its intent and pace. It takes time to review each scene for value and construction.

Revision is the real work of writing.

When we revise, we consider whether the work we’ve generated is adding value to the novel or simply a creator’s indulgence. A good editor can help mark scenes and passages for deletion, but a self-edit takes time.

person holding compass

Photo by Valentin Antonucci on

This year’s goal was to edit one piece per month, in the hopes that focusing on a single work would enable me to make real progress. But after 8 months, I’m still sitting on three incomplete novels and one finished one that’s under a serious overhaul.

The next steps are where I’ve stalled. What comes next?

The unfinished novels are all NaNoWriMo efforts that reached 50k words and then sat back waiting to be revised. Revision, I thought, would finish them.

We now have two months until the next NaNoWriMo and I’ve promised myself I cannot write a new manuscript until these are done.

So I’m suspending the revision resolution and focusing on getting these books to conclusion. That seems like the right next step. Just finish writing. How hard can it be?

The finished book has the best shot of being picked up by either agent or publisher and it’s ambitious and complex and needs an editor. But even an editor right now would have questions about consistencies and structure. So that book needs a revision plan. An hour a day to address a specific problem.

Here’s a list of the problems:

Delivery of the faith structure exposition. Who tells the reader about the brides and their covenants and how this forms the whole basis for vampire culture? When does that exposition arrive and how?

Progression of the Blue-Kate romance. A series of scenes wherein they get closer, the sexual encounters crafted to demonstrate that progression.

The secrets. Who has them? What are they? How does Blue figure them out?

I’ve already decided that the reader will know from the beginning that Blue is a time traveler and watch him, unaware of that knowledge, in Kansas. We already know he and Raven are separated at the end. The blog structure enables a Choose Your Own Adventure approach. But if readers actually do skip around in the book, each chapter or scene must be self-contained enough that it gives only what it needs to. For example, the brides exposition is key. It cannot be in a “skipped over” section if the reader chooses to begin the story in Geneva. And yet, if the reader reads straight through, we cannot repeat brides information.

Terribly complicated stuff.

But then maybe I’m overthinking it.


One strategy during revision is to write the scenes that take place outside of the narrator’s experience. What happened before he entered the room?

Those scenes can help me imagine everything from the posture to the motivation of the various characters when our narrator does arrive.

So here’s a scene that drives action in the vampire novel but cannot be in the novel, because the first person narrator, Blue, is not there.

Byron tells Asta that Blue is a vampire

She hadn’t decided to go to bed with Blue yet but she was having a hard time resisting him. When Byron came into her room she expected to surrender to him, use him as a diversion to avoid thinking of Blue, but instead she felt repulsed.

“Leave me be,” she said. He had her pressed against the wardrobe, his body the length of hers, the evidence of his desire pressing against her.

“Darling, sister,” Byron cooed, his cheek against hers, his breath hot on her ear. “Why don’t you want me anymore?”

“You stink of Polidori. You’ve already been satisfied tonight. Why are you after me?”

His forehead fell into the slope of her neck and he sighed heavily. The heat of his breath moistened her collarbone and the cut of cleavage exposed by her nightgown. He raised his hand and traced the laced edge of the gown running his fingertip over the curve of her breast.

Asta raised her hands, pressed them to his chest, and shoved him away. He staggered a bit and grinned at her.

“You’re drunk,” she accused.

“Very,” he agreed. “And enamored of you as always, dear sister.”

“Enough,” Asta said coldly. “We’ve had enough. I’m no longer yours to command.”

Byron sneered. “No, you’ll be whore to the demon instead.”

Asta raised an eyebrow. “You’ll know a whore when you see one,” she said, “in your mirror.”

Byron laughed then, a harsh sound that filled the room and raised goosebumps on Asta’s arm.

“You’ll not see him in yours,” he said in a kind of singsong voice. “Or any mirror for that matter. It’s a thing about them.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Asta said, pushing past him and circling the large bed in the center of the room. She lifted her discarded dress and carried it further away from him to the chair near the window.

“He’s a vampire,” Byron said. “A blood sucking demon who can’t be seen in mirrors, who will never age and never die. Who would as soon tear into your throat as shove his cock in you.”

“Stop this instant!” Asta said, whirling to face him and glaring at him. “Why are you trying to hurt me?”

“I’m not trying to hurt you,” Byron muttered bitterly. “You want him and you should know he wants you, too. But not how you think.” He flopped onto the bed, laying supine, his head sinking into her pillow.

Asta turned back to the window, laid her dress across the chair, positioning it to avoid wrinkling.

“You’re jealous,” she said. “And so you demonize him.”

Byron laughed, “Figuratively, of course.”

“Of course. You’re drunk. You’re mad. You’re hateful. You should leave me be.”

Byron propped himself up on his elbows and looked across the bed at her. “I’m telling the truth, Augusta,” he said. “He is not a man. He is a vampire.”

She turned to face him then. Her glance showed the slightest doubt but it was quickly replaced with what looked like irritation.

“You’re fanciful,” she said. “You always have been.”

“It’s true!” he insisted, climbing up to his knees and crawling across the bed.

“Really, Georgie, a vampire? You could say he’s a rogue, that he’s already married, that he’s seeking a fortune and will blackmail me for it.” She named these accusations like tabloid headlines, flipping her wrist with each one as if showing them to Byron.

“That he’s my lover?” Byron asked.

She shook her head. “That I wouldn’t believe. He’s already told me it isn’t so.”

Byron laughed again. “You’ll believe him; but I’m lying.”

“You’re telling fantasy. A demon? A vampire? They are not real. He cannot be.”

Byron climbed down from the bed then and tugged his sleeve up, baring his elbow. A long pale scar stretched across it and the remains of a bite mark. It was swollen as if it had only just healed.

“Evidence,” he said, baring his wound for her.

Asta stepped nearer, laid her fingers on the broken skin.

“What did this?”

“He did this.”


“Raven. But they are the same.” He stared at her as she examined the wound. Her fingers traced the length of the scar and pressed into the scab of the bite. Byron winced.

“What is this?” Asta asked.

“He fed on me. He always does. I let him.” He paused then tugged his sleeve down. “I let him,” he said again, quietly.

“But why?” Asta asked, searching his face.

Byron stared directly into her eye then, his amber eyes full of hurt and sadness. “For the same reason you will,” he said. “Because I am broken and when he touches me, I feel whole again.”

Asta reached out and laid her hand on his cheek, first her left and then her right. She pulled his face in her hands toward her and kissed him. She could taste tears on his lips.

Lila-Asta“Oh, my Georgie, so tortured.” She kissed him again. “So very alone.”

“You don’t want me,” he said against her mouth.

She shook her head and then pressed her cheek to his.

“Give yourself to him, then,” Byron said, and pulled away. “Just know you must give all of yourself; he only knows how to take it all.”

“Like you,” she said.

He hardened and backed away. “You’ve been warned,” he said as he turned, dragging his bad foot, and headed for the door. “Good night, sister.”


How does Asta feel about the confession Byron makes? She is intrigued. She does not feel afraid. She hardly believes it and even if she did, Byron has survived what she imagines her own encounter will be like. She considers herself stronger than Byron.

When Asta comes to Blue, she knows what he is. She decides to give herself to him anyway. She trusts Blue not to hurt her. Trust that, as it turns out, is misplaced.

Revising the Past

Posted: July 12, 2014 in Short Story, Writing Mechanics

In a short story I wrote about the last night I lived in my parents’ house before moving to Clemson, I described an encounter with a guy. He is recognizable to almost anyone who was there that night but those people don’t read my work.

Most of them don’t anyway.

He almost became more. He almost became someone significant. Either a significant mistake or a significant investment. Either way, the word “almost” is what matters.

Because he didn’t.

The words used to describe him include “boyish” and “narrow.” I remember him, vividly, in fact a grown-up version of him sat near me in the Washington D.C. airport the other day.

He was a hipster before they were called that. A new hippie. A post-grunge artist-type.

There was a problem with the story, it was twice rejected, and I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. Then my cousin Preston read it and nailed it:

The narrator is sometimes the 37-year-old-Kasie and sometimes the 18-year-old-Kasie.

So there were some lessons learned during revision.

Write Your Stories.

I always say “write your stories,” but it’s not my advice. It’s every writer from Stephen King to Julia Cameron to Anne Lamott. Your stories are the ones you know, the ones you own, the ones whose parameters you get to define.

But not every story you have makes for a good story.

So once your story is on paper, you have to shape it. Revise it. Make it a story.

In my shaping of the story of the last night before I went to college, I had committed to the device of predicting each of the character’s futures.

She would drop out of college and end up stripping in Myrtle Beach; which Justin and Ty defended despite my insisting that it proved she was a whore.


Whenever she brought her boyfriend they left before we got really wasted. Eight years later he would be killed in action as a Marine in Afghanistan. He was better than the rest of us. At least that’s what we said about him later.

I liked the device because part of my unburdening myself of this story is placing these people into their dismal futures as a contrast for how delightfully naïve and optimistic we were.

But that was clearly the 37-year-old me and that narrator did not need to be almost-fucking the twenty-year-old hipster described as “boyish.”

The fix:

  • Change anything in the action sequences to reflect the 18-year-old’s perspective: people are hot, fun, cool, not boyish, silly, or ridiculous.
  • The moments described by the 18-year-old must have the weight of minor-things-turned-major.
  • The stakes must be raised as well. The drama belongs to the teenager, not to the older woman looking back.
  • The older narrator’s editorializing is okay, but should be limited to only the passages where things the 18-year-old couldn’t know are said.

With some word choice changes and some re-paragraphing, the story found balance between the two narrators.

The 18-year-old gets to be the one seduced. Which, truthfully, wasn’t what I wanted when I wrote the story. I wanted to remember that night and write my favorite version of it and live it again knowing what I know now.

I guess there are limitations to how far our imaginations will let us revise the past.

There is some amount of instinct to revision. You don’t need to know why something doesn’t sound right, you just need to be able to read it and think, “It’s not right.”

That instinct, though, can be acquired. You can cultivate it. To do so you must read. Read read read. The secret to being a good writer is being a good reader.

But it’s not just about recognizing the words on the page. To be a good reader, you must also recognize while you’re reading what works and what doesn’t.

  • Did you finish the piece? Why did you keep reading?
  • Did you click away? Where did you lose interest and why?
  • Are you having trouble motivating yourself to pick up the book? Why?
  • Can you not put the book down? What makes it so compelling?

The more you read and recognize good writing, the more you’ll see your own writing begin to emulate those devices, styles, and organizational structures that most speak to you.

Last night in our #wschat Twitter chat, a number of our writers said they were their own worst critic and that they were jealous of other writers who did good work. They could see something was well done and felt envious that the other writer had created the thing.

A lit mag I submitted to last week posted in its “what we’re looking for” section that they wanted to be jealous of a writer’s sentences.

The envy is great. It means you recognize the good stuff. It means you read enough to know what’s good and what isn’t.

But we have to do something with that envy. We have to be able to recognize exactly how something was accomplished and then be willing to do it ourselves.

My favorite magazine is Runner’s World because I run (of course) and because it breaks down how people were able to accomplish things – get faster, lose, weight, run further, stay healthy – and then tells you how you can do that, too.

As writers we have access to dozens of books that give the same advice: Here’s how that was done, now go and do it. It’s the “go and do it” where we fall short.

I love a really good sentence.

One where you’re not entirely sure of the meaning and if you read it one way it means one thing, but when read another way it means something else entirely. I love those sentences. I needed to learn how to write one.

At the end of “Daylight,” I wanted to imply that the pair had crossed the line and actually had sex. I wanted the reader to think, “did they?”

I used this paragraph:

In my memory he’s desperate for me and I for him. In my memory we know no one will ever have to know what happens in that room. We know the next day I’m leaving and this is the only moment we’ll ever have. In my memory we can’t let it pass.

This paragraph is set up by several other predictions of what will happen to the characters when the night is over, who’s gone off to school, who dropped out, who ended up as a stripper, and who got married. Repeating the pattern tells us the writer is far beyond that night and so “in my memory” is a way to rub out the accuracy of the moment. The third sentence does not use “in my memory” because that sentence is true.

I thought this device worked and when my critique partner faced me and said, “Well? Did they?” I figured it must have.

Self-editing is about intention. Know what you want to say, know how to say it, and then be able to recognize whether your words are getting the job done. The revising part, moving the words around, adding here and removing there, getting them just right is the fun part of writing.

All writers should revise. No one creates excellence on the first try. No one. But being purposeful in revision and simply re-reading for general clarity are two different things.

You must come at revision willing to change.

That may be why it’s taken me so long to revise A Moment When the World is Silent. I didn’t want to change it. Now, though, I am convinced it could be really, really good. If I’m willing to do the work.

Remember that self-editing is never a substitute for a good strong editor. Your readers have so much to offer in the way of insight. Listen to them and be willing to change to address their questions and concerns. Your work will be better for it.

What was your toughest revision job?

Need some help? Register for my Self Editing Workshop at the SC Christian Writers Showcase on October 26th.