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Revise now or revise later?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Yora, Mar 7, 2020.

  1. Yora

    Yora Maester

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    I am at the start of a story that will probably be longer in scope and as I was getting to scene 7 I realized that the first mistery only appears in scene 10. Until that point, all scenes are only exposition.
    So I was thinking about adding a little bit of tension to the scenes I've already written in a first draft and quickly got an idea to slightly spice up scene 1.

    In scene 1 a parent tells a child to do a task and in scene 2 the child does the task.
    In the first version the child says "sure, I got nothing else to do, how can I help?" But I think it will be more interesting by having a little bit of tension by having the child say "do I have to? I don't wanna". It's really nothing great as conflicts go, but it's something. I also think it makes scene 2 a bit more interesting by existing in a context of slight tension instead of being happy to help someone with something.

    Now I went back to scene 1 to make that change, but since the story will probably run into hundreds of scenes I am not quite sure if this is a time efficient approach.
    If I make the change now, it can potentially influence scenes that I have not even planned yet, so that would be a benefit.
    But it's also a common, and very sensibly sounding, piece of advice to not get bogged down in minutia in the first draft and concentrate on getting new scenes and chapters written. And I think I've been at this for two months now and currently have six scenes written (five more I already cut to move the start of the story closer to the inciting incident), so getting used to keep writing regularly without fiddling on earlier scenes for many hours seems like a really good idea.

    What are your personal experiences with this? How much is it worth to make relatively small changes to previous chapters that probably won't change the overall plot, before finishing the first draft? I like to have scenes build directly on what came before. But on the other hand, I probably will get additional ideas for changes as I keep going forward, which could well result in me revising scenes that I already revised before, possibly multiple times. The end product might be slightly better with that process, but is it worth the additional time load? Especially this early when I am not even writing dor publication but for practice?
     
  2. Taniwha

    Taniwha Scribe

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    This is my constant :)
    I can't write and edit. I just have to write then get someone else to edit - check continuity etc. That works best for me
     
  3. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I try to keep going - even if I know that what I've written is in dire need of fixing and/or won't make it into the final story. It's difficult, but I feel like it gets easier with time and practice.

    My thinking is that once I know the whole story, I will have a better idea of what the story needs. If I make changes to the beginning after I've written half the story, there's a fair chance I'm going to have to make additional changes to the beginning after I've written the full story.

    The first 20k words of my current story needs to be rewritten, and probably from scratch. I had a hunch at the 10k mark already that it wasn't working. I could go back and try to fix it, or I could keep going.
    Had I gone back to fix it, I might have steered to story in the right direction, and perhaps I'd ended up in a spot where I don't have to rewrite the first 20k. Might, perhaps, maybe. There's no way of really knowing for sure.

    On top of that, even if things had worked out, and my rewrite had resulted in a great beginning, I don't know that it would last. I still haven't reached the end of the story. I have an outline I follow, so I know what events will be taking place. What I don't know is what it will take to make those events work as a story.
    There's a fair chance I will need to make additional adjustments to earlier parts in order to make later parts work, but at the moment I don't know.

    Once I've written the full first draft, I'll have a much better understanding of what the story needs.

    ---

    All that said, your suggestion that the child shouldn't just obediently go along with doing the chore is probably a good one - just to add a bit of tension.
    Then again, maybe there's more to it?

    I don't know the story at all, but let's say that sometime later on in the story, the kid shows up again, and saves the day because of a special skill they have. What if that special skill is something they could have learned through an everyday chore they have to perform? What if that's the chore they're performing, unwillingly, in the early chapters of the book?
    If it's a big important plot point, you've probably already considered it, but if it's just a minor detail, you might not.
     
    Yora and A. E. Lowan like this.
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Svrtnsse has it right. Hold off on revision; keep writing. The idea you have of adding a bit of tension? Start a side document (or use embedded comments) to guide you when you come back to edit. That way you don't lose your good revision idea, but you also don't lose writing momentum. Even more importantly, you don't break the writing habit. You will have to write steadily for months, even years, to make that a habit you cannot break. So, protect the streak. Use the Seinfeld Method, if it helps. Anything, just keep moving forward.

    After you've written your third full novel, maybe then you can think about modifying how you write.
     
    A. E. Lowan likes this.
  5. The Dark One

    The Dark One Auror

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    If I had an idea that changed something early, I would definitely make the change straight away. Otherwise you might be going down dead ends with entire plot threads needing to be deleted or changed.

    Major waste of time and effort.
     
    Demesnedenoir likes this.
  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    If this is the author's first novel, I have to disagree. For the not-yet-a-writer, the most important thing is to finish. Period. Everything else is secondary. For the first-time writer, there absolutely will be dead ends. Entire plot threads will most assuredly need to be deleted or changed. But the novice writer doesn't know how to judge these things, how to tell a dead end from a meander from a brilliant stroke of genius. And they have no way to judge until they themselves have finished a story all the way to the end. By that measure, *nothing* is a waste of time. Everything is an investment because everything is learning.

    On the second novel, the writer applies all the lessons learned, then discovers there's a whole new batch of lessons. By the third novel, though, some of the lessons are ripening into authorial knowledge--what is true for *this* writer. That's why I said then or after, the writer can start to look at maybe revising as you go.

    There are exceptions, writers who can get it right the first time, or who really can revise as they write. These kind of writers are called geniuses. They have names like Ray Bradbury or Isaac Asimov. I do not recommend assuming oneself is among their number.
     
    Yora likes this.
  7. The Dark One

    The Dark One Auror

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    Sure, I agree with all that.

    I said if I had an idea that changed something early and what would ensue.
     
  8. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    Generally speaking, if it's a minor thing, and you have trouble finishing or have never finished, just make a note of it, and proceed like you had already made the change. Go back later and actually make the change. In this situation, it's more important to keep your momentum going.

    Now, if the change is going to affect the story in a major way and will echo throughout the story, I would at the very least pause to make some significant notes on what the change is and how I see it unfolding before proceeding just so I have it clear in my head. Now, I don't have trouble finishing things, so if I deemed the change significant enough, I might write out the changes. But like I said, I don't struggle with finishing. Finishing is never in doubt.
     
  9. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I find it depressing and demotivating to an extreme to work on something I don’t have any confidence in.

    IMO, revise early and often. And keep getting better.

    But I add two important caveats. The first, scenes don’t need to be down pat and perfect. So long as it’s the right scene overall then the details can be fixed later. And second, it is completely fine to work on multiple scenes at a time, even out of order. I can write the bulk of scene C then go back and tighten up problems in scene B and add in that one paragraph I was stalling on with scene A, and consider that a good sitting. Put together work on older scenes doesn’t need to be an excuse to stall or freeze up, and can even help with writer’s block.

    But the big thing is, I want to like my writing, and not just kind of in the abstract or as a thing I tell myself. I want to be proud of it, and that takes a little extra work, and I see no reason to put that off.
     
    Demesnedenoir likes this.
  10. The Dark One

    The Dark One Auror

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    Pretty much exactly the way I work.

    I quite often write scenes out of sequence, especially when there's a killer scene up ahead that I'm thinking about - I just have to write it now, or at least extensive notes / dialogue so I won't lose my vision.

    And it can always be changed.
     
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >I quite often write scenes out of sequence
    Same here and for much the same reason. It may or may not be a killer scene, but if it's a crucial scene, and I can see it, then I get to work on it. This appears to be part of my writing habit, since I did it with my first novel and I'm still doing it with my fourth. It does lead to some retrofitting--less now than with the first novel--but capturing that moment seems important to me. Another angle is when it's a scene I've been puzzling over, not sure what will work, then I get a notion. Maybe this will work. The only way I seem able to judge is actually to write the scene. I don't appear able just to think my way through it, I have to write it--usually because part of what's crucial is how the characters act and react during it.

    Anyway, yeah. Agreement. My path to a finished novel can look alarmingly like a session of Frogger.
     
  12. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I always write and edit concurrently, period. Sometimes I’ll even write both forks in the road until I figure out which one is right, LOL. But when it comes to mid-major plot changes I’d go back and write it because writing it is the only way to know if it actually works.

    But each must find their own way.
     
  13. The Dark One

    The Dark One Auror

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    I quite regularly go all the way back the start, just to re-read and remind myself of what I've done, but I always polish in these forays - and sometimes I'll make the odd amendment based on what I know is coming.

    I also will skip ahead sometimes, as I'm doing at the moment. I've reached a particular point in my story (which is so strong it's writing itself) but I'm not entirely sure of how to get from where I am to about two chapters away. I know some things that will happen but not everything. Going back to revise helps because it crystallises the story better, but jumping ahead helps also because I can forge ahead with the bit I'm desperately keen to write - which may throw up some ideas on how to get to there from where I am.

    Like Skip, I'm also playing Frogger.
     
  14. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Inkling

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    I think these two are the most important pieces of advice in the thread so far.

    You should try a few different things until you find a method that works for you. You get everything from "write from start to finish and revise later" to "write random chapters and try to figure out how they fit together later" to "write a bit, next session revise that and continue writing from there", and everything in between. If you can make up a way of writing a book, there's probably someone successful out there using that method, no matter how silly it may sound.

    But, the main focus, especially for a first novel, should be finishing the damn thing. This goes above everything else. The world is littered with beginnings and half written books. Finishing a book is an art in itself and it takes practice and perseverance. So always focus on that. If you find that you can't continue writing when you haven't edited the previous chapters then go back edit them and continue from there. If on the other hand, you find that you keep editing the same couple of chapters over and over then ignore the editing and just keep writing and fix it later.

    I fall somewhere in between (currently that is, I believe it will change with each book I write). I keep note of things that need changing. For instance, I need to mention the girlfriend of my protagonist a couple of times in the first few chapters before she becomes important to the plot in chapter 12. That's a note and something that needs fixing in the second draft.

    On the other hand, while writing said chapter 12, I had an epiphany that I needed an extra chapter between 9 and 10 where some exciting stuff happens which will show instead of tell some worldbuilding stuff. It will change the chapter that comes after a lot, and the two chapters after that a little. I've added in that chapter (9b I guess), since it's such a big change (and it was a fun chapter to write). I also made a note that the chapters around it need to change.

    As a side note, while it's hard to judge a story on your brief description, I would consider simply dropping the first 9 scenes and simply start in scene 10 where the exiting stuff happens. That might make for a stronger story instead of trying to add some exiting stuff to exposition scenes, especially at the start of a novel. Even more so if the first 9 scenes aren't critical to the story.
     
  15. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Ahh, but the trouble comes in when for some folks, finishing a book will be impossible until they like their writing...

    Me!

    It isn't that I set out to get my writing polished before writing a book, that's just how it happened, and looking back it was the best if not the only way.


     
  16. Hawthorn

    Hawthorn Dreamer

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    There have been some great replies here so far, but I'll add my own experience, in case it's at all helpful.

    I have had many attempts at starting a novel. It always follows a similar pattern: I get so far into it (never more than 10,000 words), then decide I don't like what I've written and go back and try to rework it. It might be a big plot change, or a small change of the type you mention. For me, this is the death of the project. I only ever seem to make things worse, and I never end up continuing the story. It's like going into any part of the editing process too early just causes the whole project to fold and die. I am now 30,000+ words into my current novel, furthest I've ever got and am having to be really strong in resisting that pull to go back and edit. But it's working! If I allow what I've already done to just lie, knowing that once I've finished a full draft I can come back to it and even totally rewrite if necessary, I can give myself permission to carry on writing, stay in the flow. I keep reminding myself that a first draft doesn't have to be good.

    Another thing that I do, is that I write everything by hand (mainly because I find it much easier to be creative when I do it that way - the computer screen seems to be a creativity killer for me). This has a couple of consequences. One is that it's actually really hard to go back and edit something that's handwritten in pen in notebooks. Another is that when I'm having a inspiration-free day and writing just isn't flowing, I type up a couple of chapters onto my computer. This process allows a small amount of editing, reminds me of what has come before in the story, and can renew my enthusiasm for continuing writing.

    But for sure, there are as many different ways to write a book as there are writers, so it's important to find what works for you. I needed to get rid of a whole lot of ideas I had about how it 'should' be done before I was able to just trust in my own way of doing it.
     
  17. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I've tried not to argue with this sentiment for the years that I've been here. But I think I'm in a pretty good place with my writing, and I finally feel comfortable enough to say that if there's a main focus that a new writer should have, it's getting good at this, whether that means finishing a book or not.

    And if it's your first book it probably means not finishing it.

    Writing is a creative endeavor, and the heart of creativity is iteration, trial and error, having many false starts in an effort to find the one that works. I read not long ago that when business leaders get together and brainstorm new products, they determine that only 1 in 70 ideas is worth pursuing, 69 out of 70 ideas are going to be a failure. Identifying and abandoning those failed ideas early is the key to creating a successful product. It's called qualifying.

    If you don't qualify your work in pursuit of better ideas, if you don't qualify your sentences in pursuit of better sentences, if you don't iterate on a level both large and small, then you're not doing enough to improve.

    If your story has problems from the outset, and you realize them halfway through, how is doubling down on a bad story supposed to work out in your favor? If you plow through writing a lousy book, how are you going to suddenly know how to edit it if you haven't been working on that yet? When you've invested in this boring story with bad prose, and you've spent all this time using your undeveloped skills to fix it until your eyes bleed but you've finally convinced yourself it's as good as it'll ever get, how is that supposed to be motivating? How is that going to make you a better writer? How is that going to reward you for your effort?

    Do the extra work. Iterate your story idea until you are satisfied with it. Tinker with your scenes and sentences until you feel confident and capable in your writing. Screw having a first sucky story - focus on learning to write well and do work you can be proud of.
     
    The Dark One likes this.
  18. oenanthe

    oenanthe Minstrel

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    I am a "revise as you go" writer and I always have been, but there's a time and a place. generally I go back and review the story every 50 pages and If I notice something like, "there's not enough tension" or that the story has veered off the path, then I fix it before I continue.

    However. I've finished and revised and edited several complete stories, and I think that experience is a major part of why i'm comfortable going back and fixing it. it doesn't feel like failure or starting all over again. It's more like, "this insight is going to make the story better, so let's do it."

    I'm also not an adherent of terrible first drafts. they're an excellent tool for the beginner, in my opinion, but as I have written more books I have learned a thousand things that make my first drafts solid and shiny, and I use them. I edit as I go. If I see a problem I fix it right away. I read yesterday's writing and polish it up before moving on to the next scene. And this makes sense to me. if the scene I'm currently writing lacks tension, why on earth would I ignore that instead of figuring out how to fix it right away?
     
  19. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Inkling

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    But how would you know? Many writers admit that they are a terrible judge of their writing, especially if they're in the middle part. Carrie by Stephen King was fished out of the trash by his wife and he only finished it at her urging. Neil Gaiman reportedly questions his story every time he's in the middle parts. If these writers have trouble telling a great story from a dud then how will a fledgling writer? I'm not saying that, upon finishing a first draft you should put in the effort of the second and further drafts if the story is terrible. Put it aside for a while and judge it with fresh eyes. If you like it then edit it. If you still think it's terrible then just start something new.

    Also, while writing and writing well is a skill you need to develop, so is actually finishing a story. You only learn about writing plot twists, about developing a character and writing a novel by actually writing those parts. A beginning is relatively easy. You just need a nice premise and some interesting conflict and you can write a couple of scenes. But learning how to turn those few scenes into a full blown novel and bring it to some conclusion is a skill you need to practice.
     
  20. The Dark One

    The Dark One Auror

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    That is true.

    You do have to actually finish a novel to learn how to write a novel. Good first drafts by first time novelists would be about one in ten million.

    All of my comments above are based on where I am now after having finished numerous novels. I have a much better instinct for what works now.
     
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