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Revision Case Study

Galaxy Games: The Challengers

Every round of revising is different, even for the same manuscript. This is a study of the "final" revision of the first Galaxy Games book. The revision had a hard deadline, since the final manuscript was contractually due on October 15th, 2010. This is actually not the version that will appear in print, because there is still a copyediting process yet to come as well as vetting by cultural and scientific advisors, which I'm excited about.

Many rounds of revision led up to this one. The "compare versions" feature of my word processor says the manuscript had accumulated 2500 changes in just the last year of work, with even more changes during my previous six years on this project! Most of the chapters have been added/deleted/changed at least once but the main plot and themes have never changed.

For this revision I created a progress grid to track my revision progress and remind me of all the steps I wanted, ideally, to complete for every chapter. The most important line in the grid marks my progress through "Stacy's Line Edits" while the rest are just bonus.

September 27, 2010

I received line-edits from my editor, Stacy, who has reviewed of every line and every word in the manuscript. The line-edits are very detailed and include typos and punctuation issues as well as character questions, structural issues, and more.

I went through the first chapter, so that's going to be green in the chart tomorrow morning. I've also made chapters 4 through 27 of the critters line green because my critique group has only looked at the first three chapters.

As of 9/28/2010

September 28, 2010

Two more chapters of line edits and all the critique group feedback I have. I wish I'd been able to send the entire book through the group because they are so helpful!

I also worked a bit on a step I'm calling "Change Log." I'm looking back at any blocks of text that have remained the same while the surrounding story has changed and evolved over the past year. I was able to find one particular sentence that was originally meant to show some personality traits of a character who has been refined a bit more since then, so I needed to tweak that sentence to fit the rest of the book.

Revision status 09/29/10

September 29, 2010

It was my mother's birthday today, so after the celebration I was inspired to revisit the scenes of a birthday party in the first two chapters. The progress I made didn't show up on the chart, but I do think these chapters are better than ever. Revising a story is like playing a video game where there's always another level to work toward.

Revision Status 9/30/2010

September 30, 2010

Somewhere along the line, the opening to Chapter 4 completely changed and my editor now thinks changing back might be a good idea. Luckily, I keep an archive of prior versions and found the deleted scene in the "May 2010" file. That's gotten me thinking about all the other deleted scenes that have fallen by the wayside, and why books don't include deleted scenes and alternate endings like films on DVD often do. I know that's something I'd like to see for many of the books I've read and enjoyed over the years.

Revision Status 9/30/2010

October 1, 2010

Today was the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, which celebrates the completion of a book–or more accurately, the completion of a five-book series called Torah. When we finish the annual cycle of reading, we sing and dance for a while and then immediately go back to the beginning to start all over again with one of the greatest opening lines in all of literature: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…"  The text is the same every year but we as readers have gotten another year older and history has moved another year forward, so there are always new lessons to learn and new situations to apply them to.

Meanwhile in my revision, I've hit some notes about supporting characters who need more differentiation from each other, so I've gone back to the beginning of my manuscript for a character-check. I'm taking an inventory of each character's personality traits and the evidence in the text that best presents those traits. Where there's no evidence, I'm adding it in. Where there's a contradiction, I'm making a change. I expect to go back again for other steps in my revision process, but going back to the beginning is how progress is made.

Revision Status 9/30/2010

October 2, 2010

Today I wrote in the shadow of Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, home of the New England Patriots. This was an inspiring place to work on a sports book, and also gave me a chance to meet up with my family for a harvest festival in the afternoon. When it comes to football, the Patriots are my team because New England is where I am from. When it comes to the Galaxy Games Tournament, I'm hoping that Earth will be the team of everyone on Earth, although I know some people like to be contrary. I met a man today who insisted on wearing a New York Yankees T-shirt under his Boston Bruins sweatshirt, topping the outfit off with a Boston Celtics cap. In his confusion, he seems to have come to the wrong ballpark–the Yankees are in town, but they're playing up in Fenway Park.

This first weekend day of the revision cycle gave me a chance to catch up, although I'm still a bit behind where I wanted to be by this point.

Revision as of 10/03/2010

October 3, 2010

Today I hit a chapter that takes place in Japan with several characters and lots of dialogue. Japanese culture and language have different conventions from the American English in which the book is written, and I've struggled with the best way to be consistent without confusing the readers. In dialogue that's meant to be translated from Japanese, I'm using more formal terms of address and Japanese honorifics (tags added to a name to indicate a person's social status with respect to the person who is speaking). In the narrative, I'm using the same style as in chapters set in the United States. Sometimes in the same paragraph, a given character might be addressed as Shindo-san while being called Daiki in narration–but if I can make all the references consistent, it should work out.

Revision as of 10/03/2010

October 4, 2010

My editor doesn't like anonymous characters. There were two I came across in today's batch of chapters. These are characters who appear out of nowhere, speak a  sentence or two in a single scene, and vanish back into the shadows. My tendency is to not even give them names, to signal readers that these are unimportant characters and not to get too attached. But they are people with names and personalities, and developing them just that much adds depth to the story world–so my editor may be onto something there.

One character now has a name. The other has been conflated with another character who appears later in the story. Now he's introduced earlier, has a tweaked personality, and is in possession of information that will have to be reflected in other scenes. It'll be a bit of work, which is why I was reluctant to make the change at first, but it will be an improvement. My editor is right again.

Revision status as of 10/04/2010

October 10, 2010

When I was in college, the last week of the semester was finals week. Normal routines of eating, sleeping, and personal hygiene were ditched in favor of study-study-study around the clock. I grew a beard, stopped showering, and resembled a caveman by the last day of the week. The week before a writing deadline is a lot like that. It's been a restful few days leading up to the start of this week. I've been hanging with out-of-town guests, celebrating my wife's birthday, and cracking heads at the company that hosts my website. Now it's time to buckle down and write.

Today I pushed forward into chapter 14 of the line-edits and, technically, those are done–but I also have some character work to do in that chapter. The other main task of the day was the timeline. I have a chapter by chapter chart of where and when each scene takes place, across time zones and into space, and now the first part of the book finally matches my notes!

Revision status as of 10/10/10

October 12, 2010

There's a show out now called The Event. Every week some crazy incredible thing happens that's even more absurd than the week before, and yet still isn't "the event" the show is named after. Someone tries to kill the President of the United States but that's not the event. An alien spaceship crashes in Alaska but that's not the event. A decades-old conspiracy is revealed but that's not the event. Hundreds of dead people come back to life but that's not the event. There are murders, break-ins, car crashes, plane crashes, and mysterious teleportation incidents but what is the event? Nobody knows!

It's a lot easier to figure out in Galaxy Games #1. The Event is Chapter 15. I start building it up in Chapter 1 and keep hammering away as it gets closer and closer: for the greatest event in human history, just keep flipping pages until you reach Chapter 15! Which is why I'm spending more time revising that chapter than most of the others. Chapter 15 is going to pop!

Revision as of 10/12/10.

October 13, 2010

There's a lot of good stuff you learn while fact checking. In one part of the manuscript, I had the Earth spinning in the entirely wrong direction. In another part, I wrote about lunar soil when, technically, that stuff that covers our moon is actually called regolith. And did you know that the SETI Permanent Study Group of the International Academy of Astronautics already has plans and proposals in place in case humanity discovers intelligent aliens who want to communicate with us? As far as I can tell it boils down to: "Make a plan to make a plan to make a plan and then reassess at regular intervals!"

Revision Status as of 10/13/10.

October 14, 2010

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I may not be able to turn the entire grid green by Friday, but that top line is the one that matters and that's looking good!

The line I feel worst about is "Trim & Streamline" because the manuscript was already on the long side of middle-grade fiction. This book has been on a yo-yo diet for years, going from 20,000 words up to 50,000 words, down to 35,000, and back up past 50,000 again. I had wanted the final revision to be wordcount neutral, but I've added another few thousand words. None of it feels bloated or unnecessary but I'm still afraid I may be yelled at because the publisher has probably budgeted for only a certain number of pages. Still, will readers complain if there are more pages for them to enjoy? 

Revision Status as of 10/14/10.

October 15, 2010

Today is my deadline, but what does it mean to say a manuscript revision is due on, say, October 15th? Here's where it pays to be able to stop thinking like a writer and start thinking like a lawyer. If a proper time on October 15th isn't specified in the contract, shouldn't I be able to hit the send button in my email program at 11:59:59PM and still have a comfortable one-second margin to spare? Of course I should.

And because no time zone was given, I should be allowed to keep working for nearly three hours after midnight, here on the East Coast, and still be within my deadline on Pacific Time. Surely the contract wouldn't intend to give one class of authors an advantage over others, just because of the time zone they happen to live in. And if I need more than three additional hours, I should be able to use the ones even further west–Alaska Time, Hawaii Time, all the way west to the International Date Line. As long as it’s still October 15th somewhere on Earth, my submission should be considered timely.

So now let's say it's early morning on October 16th, a Saturday, and I'm still on schedule to meet my October 15th deadline. But consider the fact that my publisher’s offices aren't open over the weekend. For all practical purposes, getting the book in on Sunday night would be just as good as getting it in on Saturday morning. I could even deliver the manuscript on October 18th at 8:59:59AM Eastern Time, just before the start of business in New York on Monday morning, and still be within the practical range of an October 15th deadline.

But wait! All this time I've been assuming that my deadline was set according to the Gregorian calendar. Friday the 15th of October by the Gregorian calendar is also October 2nd by the older Julian calendar, which means I can work for almost two more weeks and still have my work in on October 15th by somebody’s calendar.

Revision at October 15th

October 16, 2010

Every time I finish a revision, I feel like my manuscript is perfect. Then I send it off and immediately start coming up with additional changes. A much-improved line of dialog might pop into my head five minutes after the book is out of my hands, instead of the clumsy thing my protagonist actually said upon confronting an alien creature for the first time in human history. Or I'll wake up the next day with a new way to extend the book's theme, or become aware for the first time that the book actually has a theme, and now it's too late to properly work it in.

Today would normally be that "day after of regret" after submitting my work, except for a lucky combination of procrastination and extra-temporal logic (see October 15th entry for details). I am especially thankful to have some extra time to write because a plot breakthrough that came to me this morning in the shower–I'm convinced that ideas time themselves for when I don't have pens and paper available.

The scene that is now the climax of the entire book started its life in the middle. I moved it during a restructuring revision, and it's done a serviceable job ever since. The problem I didn't realize was a problem until now is that there are even more events that build toward this scene than before, but still the same old payoff. In the middle of the book, squidlike aliens were new and exotic. By the end of the book, the human race has had three whole months to become jaded, so we need other ways to provide a shock to the system.

Today and tomorrow will be my overtime days to work on the ending and add in some new foreshadowing tricks. Plus that theme thing, new lines of dialog, and everything else that wouldn't have made it into an October 15th edition. By Monday morning, this book will be perfect again.

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