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Writing Right: The Blog

RETAINING YOUR NOVEL'S ESSENCE

Can a person make revisions to a novel without destroying its essence? That's a question someone asked online recently, and the answers were eye-opening. I mean, they were horrible, if not outright harmful. Here's how I responded to the writer:

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I'm constantly amazed at the bad, offtrack, and irrelevant information people disguise as responses to serious questions. Contrary to what one respondent wrote ("Don't give editing a lesser weight in your efforts than the writing"), you didn't ask that nor did you imply that's what you intended to do. And, it's absurd that he said you can't revise a novel without changing its essence. I know it's tough to use such big words correctly, but that's what dictionaries are for, and he should buy one.

 

Ditto to another respondent who advised you, "The whole purpose of revising a novel is it isn't working as it is. If your novel isn't working, revising the essence of it may be exactly what you need to do." In addition to being at least partly erroneous, I don't see how that answers your question at all.

 

A third respondent, talking about art school and "one shot" prints, missed the mark by a country mile.

 

Here's the real deal:

  • You can revise your novel without losing its essence. More on that in a moment.
  • You don't have to have a novel that "isn't working as it is" to justify making revisions. Contrary to that brilliant advice, the "whole purpose" of revising a novel is not exclusively because it's not working as it is. More on that in a sec, too.
  • Finally, novels have nothing at all to do with art prints--either "one shot" or otherwise--and assuming they do is potentially harmful. Writing is a communicative arts form; prints are fine art. While there may be similarities in that they're both creative processes, there are far more distinctions, both in the finished piece and in how the artist gets there.

Here's what I mean by those statements.

  1. Revisions of novels obviously take place all the time and occur for any one of a thousand reasons. A section needs bolstering; it needs tightening; you thought of a new character that might be fun to introduce; you thought of a new incident that might add some allure to the overall work; you decided to lengthen or shorten the work for whatever reason, even though there was nothing wrong with the novel to begin with! How do you accomplish this remarkable feat of literary legerdemain, balancing a revision while maintaining the essence of a work? By asking yourself a simple question: Does revising help or hurt the novel as a whole? To answer that, you need to take into consideration your plot or storyline, your characters' motivations, and the conflict and resolution. If making the revision helps in one or more of these three areas, do it. If not, don't do it. If making the revision neither helps nor hinders the novel, well, that call is yours. My own feeling would be, "If it ain't broke, why fix it?"
  2. With that said, a novel obviously doesn't have to be flawed for you to decide to make a revision. Often, we think of things after the fact that we wish we'd thought of sooner. But, hey, it's never too late, right? Don't ever think that making changes is necessarily bad for a novel. Just keep in mind those three elements above, and keep asking the question, Does revising help or hurt the novel?
  3. Although novels have nothing to do with art prints, neither are they always salvageable, as the same respondent also wrote in between the typos. Some novels are stray dogs with nowhere to go for food or water. If that's the case, by all means, take them to a shelter, and recognize that some novels really are unsalvageable. In the event that yours is one of them, put it aside and move on to something else. But, of course, that's not what you asked or implied, either, so I'd definitely ignore that gem.

So, there you have it. Keep in mind the goals for your novel, and make revisions if they help advance the story and reject them if they don't. But ask yourself. Always ask yourself: Does revising help or hurt the novel before, during, and after making any revisions. Sooner or later, I'm betting you'll come up with the right answer!

 

In fact, I have five bucks just burning a hole in my pocket. Would you care to take that bet?

 

Smoke if you've got 'em.

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