When I think of revision, I think about cutting back – deleting sentences, shortening word count, streamlining the plot, making the story as tight as possible. But revision isn't only about cutting. It's about consistency, language, conflict, character, and congruency. And many of these qualities involved adding to the story in addition to taking away.
This is what I've been working on this week: adding to my story. Writing new bits of dialogue, new scenes, new details. And so far, it hasn't been too bad. But that's because I've left the hardest parts for last. See, I have this big, long checklist of revisions I have to make to my novel. It's nine pages long actually. But after about a week of work, I am very happy to say I have successfully crossed off at least half of those bullets. Perhaps more like two-thirds even. But the remaining third holds the harder bullets. The things that my brain hasn't quite come up with a solution for yet.
One of my problems is that I need to introduce one of my characters earlier — the king. The reader knows about him from the beginning, and gathers lot of information about him along the way through the dialogue of others and general exposition (for if a story has a king, he is inevitably known about on some level). But these methods are more indirect. The reader doesn't get to see the king directly; she's not forming a judgment based on her experience of watching the king, but only through the perspective of others characters.
So I need to insert the king into earlier scenes. I need to allow the reader to see who he is, so that later, when he plays a pivotal role in the action, my readers have a strong background that will contribute to the reading of his actions. The reader needs a foundation; a preparedness of sorts for the moment when the king becomes important.
This has not been the easiest of tasks for me, hence why I've left it for the end of this revision cycle. But it's something I must tackle this week, for sure. And here are some of the ways I plan on doing so:
• Making a timeline. Having a succint visual of all that happens in the story allows me to see a map of the storyline that isn't spread out over almost three hundred pages. Viewing scenes side by side, I then have a better idea of the gaps that exist, the breaks in the action, and the scenes where I can insert key moment to expand my reader's understanding of my character.
• Character maps. I am sure this could be a called a wide array of things, and that this term might actually mean different things to different people. But basically, I am going to track all the scenes where he appears throughout my novel, and what he reveals in those scene, or how each of his appearances function. Then, I came see a collective picture of what I have revealed to the reader, helping me see both the strengths and weakness of his presentation within the narrative.
• Establishing character goals. What do I want the reader to know about the king? What expectations have I inherently established through the indirect descriptions of him, and how does his presence deliver (or not deliver) on these? Knowing how I want him to appear is half the battle. Then I actually have something to compare the represented character against the intended character.
In the end, revision isn't just about cutting. I know my strategy for dealing with the king may leave me with more work to do in the end, but coming up with a game plan is half the battle, and it brings me that much closer to the polished work I am hoping to achieve.
Revision is about looking at the big picture and seeing how each little details fits, making sure that everything within the story adds to the quality rather than subtracts. And revision looks as different from day to day as it does from project to project. So as I cut and add and map out characters, I am going to continue to take it step by step, and try remember that in the end, thinking and mapping and planning and adding all have their place. All of the work matters.