Monday, May 2, 2011

Making Books Richer

Okay, maybe not that long
People complain about revising, but I kind of like it. Learning how to polish my work helps me grow as a writer more than anything else.

Revisions are only frustrating if I feel lost. Then I’m not sure if I’m doing the right things or making the book worse. I also hate it when I don’t understand why I have to make the changes. What do you guys think? Why do you hate revising, or when do you like it?

During this round of revisions, I've added a whopping 8,000 words.


Going from 87,000 to 95,000 words has been a thrilling experience. My book is richer and more meaningful. I had no idea I could give it this much depth.

Some authors write too much and have to cut their books down by thousands of words. Other authors get impatient with their work and speed through it. I am of the latter. I always figure I could save hours of my life summarizing a large scene into a short paragraph, and it’s hard to resist the temptation. But I shoot myself in the foot when I do this.

Here’s what I’m going to do from now on: every time I say something happened without describing it in-scene, every time I say a character is a certain way without showing it, and every time I revert to an event in the past that I didn’t write out, I’m going to stop and say, “If I turned this into a scene, what would it look like?”

I almost always like how a full scene would change things. More often than not, the new scene opens up opportunities for me to develop the story and the characters.

If you’re curious about this, I posted an example below. It’s long – about 1,000 words – so my feelings won’t be hurt if you don’t read it. It’s just a good example.

Here's an article to counterbalance what I said to keep you from getting wordy: Streamlining

Short Version

Postumia hated sleeping, and she often persuaded Tuccia to stay up with her. They talked late into the night and snickered over Postumia’s often crude but always amusing jokes. Their chats started at an innocent whisper, but they quickly grew into uncontrollable laughter that woke the other vestals. Calpurnia came down from her room repeatedly to ask the girls to stop being so loud. “It’s immodest to be so rambunctious,” she said. “This place is large enough that you shouldn’t have to talk right outside our rooms. Go somewhere else.”
They had to go to some far-off corner of the house to continue their discussion, but Calpurnia still always had something to complain about. On the roof their voices could be heard in the forum. In the courtyard, each word echoed against the walls, making more noise than ever. Eventually they had to resign to stifling their laughs as best they could before Postumia inevitably roared with laughter and Calpurnia had to scold them all over again. Tuccia always felt bad, but as soon as Calpurnia left, Postumia choked with laugher and they started all over again.

Better Version

Tuccia had just undressed for bed when Postumia came in without knocking. “You aren’t going to sleep, are you?” she asked.
Tuccia raised an eyebrow and looked out her window. The sky was already dark blue. Lamps had been lit through the house and torches glowed throughout the city, so Tuccia thought the answer was obvious. Before she could answer, Postumia said, “Let’s go downstairs. It’s a beautiful night and I want to watch the stars from the atrium.”
“Aren’t you tired?”
She scrunched her nose and shook her head. “I hate sleeping.”
“You’ll be tired tomorrow,” Tuccia pointed out. She didn’t know about Postumia, but she was always sluggish when she didn’t get enough sleep.
“I never get tired,” said Postumia with a careless sweep of her hand. “It’ll be fun. Don’t make me go down there by myself.” She gave her such a somber look, as if saying no would break her heart, that Tuccia couldn’t refuse.
When they got to the atrium, Postumia laid on the stone edge of a flower bed and put her hands on her stomach as she watched the sky. She was right; the air was slightly warm and smelled of fresh night and recently bloomed flowers. Tuccia sat on the stone floor and wrapped her arms around her knees.
Postumia fingered some yellow flowers hanging above her head. “So, what’s wrong with the Pontifex Maximus? He looks like his face was frozen in snow and it stuck that way.”
Tuccia’s wide widened. At first she was appalled that Postumia would dare make fun of Licinius, but she appreciated the joke so much that couldn’t hold in her laughter. “I can’t believe you said that,” she whispered.
“I’m sure everyone thinks it, but no one says it. I’ll tell you something else no one says: his hair is so greasy. I wonder if he’s washed it once in his whole life.” Her body shook as she tried to hold in laughter.
“Shhh,” Tuccia warned with a giggle. “You’ll wake someone.”
She had barley said it when a door opened from upstairs. Tuccia’s smile erased and she hoped it wasn’t Calpurnia. Postumia needlessly shushed Tuccia and bit her own lip to keep herself quiet, but her shoulders bounced.
It was Calpurnia. She leaned her shrewd head over the banister and her white hair shone in the moonlight, making a soft halo around her. “What on earth are you doing?” she demanded with a loud hiss she attempted to keep low.
“She couldn’t sleep,” Tuccia said before Postumia could answer with an impertinent joke.
“That’s no excuse to be noisy. It’s immodest to be so rambunctious.”
Luckily, she didn’t force them to go to bed. Postumia pretended to be scared by sucking in her teeth and touching her fingertips to her mouth. Clearly, she didn’t care as much as Tuccia did about getting in trouble.
“Calpurnia makes me think of a raisin,” Postumia decided. “All shriveled up.”
Tuccia pressed the palms of her hands against her mouth, but laughter overpowered her. Their giggling gained momentum and they soon forgot what they were even laughing about, but they still couldn’t stop. She was grateful they were able to keep relatively quiet.
When they calmed down and Postumia wiped tears from her eyes, she asked, “How old are you?”
“I’m twelve. I’ve been a Vestal Virgin for six years.”
Postumia whistled through her teeth. “I can’t imagine being a vestal so young. I’m glad they didn’t initiate me until I was ten. What do you dislike the most about being a Vestal Virgin? Besides sacrificing the cows.” She shuddered.
Tuccia was stunned by the question. “I don’t dislike anything about being a vestal,” she stammered. This of course wasn’t true, but she didn’t want to tell her about the wound she never spoke about that was still fresh.
Postumia's casual eyes scrutinized her. “You can be happy, you know.”
This shocked her more than anything else Postumia had said that night.“What do you mean?"
“You’re not a happy person."Postumia shook her head at her with both affection and pity. " It’s okay to be happy. Life is better than you think.”
When Tuccia answered with silence, Postumia’s smile faded. She sat up. “Did you lose someone in the war?” she asked.
Tuccia knew she meant to ask if a family member had died on the battlefield. All the same, Tuccia nodded.
Postumia tapped her foot on the ground as she tried to think of something to say to break the sad mood she had created. Finally she pat Tuccia on the knee and grinned. “The Feast of Fools is coming up. Why do they call it that? There’s something wrong with the Rex Sacrorum. He always looks like someone just died or something. Oh, and the priest of Mars, what’s his name? He’s so fat! Whenever we’re in a procession, I’m afraid he won’t be able to carry his weight anymore and his tiny legs will crumple under him and send him flat on the street.”
This time, they couldn’t giggle; their laughter burst from deep in their stomachs and echoed through the house.
Calpurnia came back and scowled with a magnified fury. “Be quiet! I’m not going to tell you again. If I have to come back out here, I will drag both of you to your rooms by your ears.”
This sobered Tuccia again. She was embarrassed enough to want to go to bed, but Postumia felt no remorse and kept laughing between her tightly closed lips. She closed her eyes and leaned forward with her arms around her stomach, fighting to hold it in, until she roared with laughter. Calpurnia’s door opened again and she marched downstairs to act on her threat. Tuccia felt bad, and it hurt her ear terribly, but Postumia winked at her and grinned the whole way to her room.


  1. Honestly, I've never had revisions add to the length of my novel. Usually my word count ends up about the same (i.e. I have to add/expand some things, but I also have to get rid of/trim down others). The only times I really find revising frustrating are 1) when my CPs tell me I have to axe a scene I think works really well, or 2) I don't know how to fix a problem (I had this happen on my last round of revisions for Penitence, and I wanted to shoot myself; once I finally figured it out, though, I was really happy I'd changed it.)

    P.S. I always feel like I don't paint a very vivid picture of the scene, other than what the characters are doing. I'd love to hear more about how you do it.

  2. I love revisions too! I tend to do the same thing, not giving enough in the first several drafts. I almost always add words to revisions, making scenes linger for more impact. Though in my most recent revision, I chopped out 1,000 words just through sentence tightening!

    And I love that you expanded that scene. :) Great way to show the characters and their relationship in more detail!

  3. I actually like the shorter scene better. The style feels closer to the genre you're writing and somehow I feel is shows more in some ways.

  4. I've got the opposite problem - saying too much. And yet the stuff I say needs to change, to be more worth saying :P

  5. The second version is definitely better. Glad the revisions are going so well. Can't wait to read the book.


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