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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Revision…Painful or Pleasurable?

These days I’m in the middle of deep revisions with my book Very Bad Things due out in September.  This week Kristin Anders, my darling editor, ( and I mean that sincerely) is carefully combing through my MS, looking for potholes, head-hopping, tense changes, blah, blah, blah.  That stuff is easy to fix.

But, the most difficult to perfect is the content editing, where she tells me to dig deeper to find my character motivation and goals, to find the conflicts that keep the reader engaged.  It all sounds terrible and time consuming, yet I think I’m one of those rare people that love to revise and polish my MS until it gleams and sparkles like a shining star.  (By the way, my editor would tell me to delete that unoriginal simile.) 

I want to have the best novel I can and if that means staying up late or even (gasp) delaying the release of my book, then I’m in like Flynn. (And, here again, my editor would tell me not to use that particular expression.)

Revising my own MS got me to thinking. What’s the best way to revise?  Which critiques should I take to heart?  And most importantly, how in the hell could I go any deeper into my heroine’s motivation?  I thought I’d already dug to China when it came to figuring out who she was.  She’d already sucked every ounce of sweat, blood and angst from me already.  I had nothing left to give.  Or did I?  Maybe this could be a whole new beginning.

I came across an article by writer Ann Harleman that might help us (ME) with finding out more about who our characters are and what drives them.  Her idea is called Expanding your MS, not in words necessarily, but on a deeper level, which is trickier. 

For example, my goal in revisions is to write a better developed heroine.  So, it’s not about thinking of better words; it’s about seeing the character better.  How did she look?  How did she feel?  What made her say that?  Why is she doing this?  Expanding is about analyzing my heroine in the entire story: her character, her description, her dialogue, her actions.  Hopefully, we are increasing the intensity of the story when we delve deep inside.

So, how do we do this, especially when we feel like we’ve been drained dry already?  Harleman suggests that in order to Expand, you will need to brainstorm and get fresh ideas.  First have a copy of your MS.  Start at the beginning and read, looking for those nouns, verbs, and adjectives that are repeated.  Make a list.  Next, look over your list and jot down any recurring themes, images, atmospheres, or ideas that come to mind.  This is your second list.  Perhaps draw lines between words and ideas to connect them.  As you do this, try not to use the original story to interpret or clarify.  These two lists will become your Touchstone Lists.

Then go back to your draft and take a highlighter and mark the spots where you feel excitement in the MS.  Highlight in a different color where you feel confused or irked or annoyed.  Highlight in yet another color where you feel desperate, where the writing pretty much sucked and nothing you did make it work.  Hopefully, you don’t have much of those!

These spots are the points where you need to dig down deep and try to re-imagine your story. Read the Touchstone List to refresh it in your mind.  Then read through the highlighted parts and ask yourself several questions:  What can we see?  What can we hear?  What can we touch, taste, smell.  What is in motion?  How does the character feel about the senses she is experiencing?  Why is she doing what she does here?  What will it gain her?  What is her ultimate goal?  

Then consider how can you incorporate or connect some of your Touchstone List into the new MS.  Can you see a new side of your character forming?  Are you seeing a more developed person?  Are you seeing a new theme for your book?

Now write a new version of that scene.  Repeat until you have covered all of the highlighted sections.  Yes, this will take a long freaking time and may make me hyperventilate, but in the end I think my MS will be longer, richer and more complex. Will it make me want to throw my MS against the wall?  Probably.  But isn't my baby worth it? ♥

Everyone does revision different.  What is your process? We’d love to hear your ideas! Comment below and let us know what you think.

By: Ilsa Madden-Mills, new adult romance author

Click on the links for more about me and my editor as well as a fan-freaking-tastic book trailer for my new release Very Bad Things.


  1. Oh, and my awesome editor is Kristin Anders! Contact me if you want more info! ;)

  2. Ilsa! You're going to do *just* fine in this writing business. Deep revisions are hard on everyone (you, me, your family, my family, our pets, our friends...). We can't help but go through the entire thing exhausted.

    We're going to talk about Leo and his struggles and Nora and her issues until we can't see straight.

    And we're going to work our asses off to eventually read someone's review that says, "This was such an easy, quick, fun-hearted read!!"

    Then we're going to smile, trade secret emails, and know we've done well. So revise. Throw that MS against the wall (once for me, yea?). Revise again.

    And in the end you're going to have one heck of a story. (Which says a lot. Because it's already pretty darn amazing.)

    1. Aw, thanks for that little boost! I'm going to read your letter and, well, meditate for a while! lmao