I’m nearing the end of my second pass of novel revisions. For a little fun, then, I thought this might be a good time to adapt a cherished Christmas carol to the editorial process. Thus, with pride in my heart and tongue firmly in cheek, I give you Puddintopia’s Twelve Days of Novel Revisions.
*Everybody sings* On the twelfth day of revisions, my new draft gave to me…
12 Shots of Liquor – Seriously, you don’t mean for it to become a drinking game. Every day, you approach your manuscript with a sense of sober propriety, trusty red pen in hand. But then you find another place where you gave a thug with a 3rd grade education dialog like, “perhaps we should characterize this in a somewhat contrasting manner whilst I rearrange several facets of your facial structure.” And you don’t even want to think about why you wrote your diabetic antagonist into that candy shop.
Little by little, oopsy tidbits like these build up in your fevered brain and get your irked up. So you need something to calm your nerves. Maybe take the edge off. Help you fix those silly mistakes without calling yourself an rambling witless, slack-jawed, bonehead every 30 seconds. But then, you know, one thing leads to another and…bad dialog? Take a shot! Run-on sentence? Time for a shot! Switching Tenses? SOCIAL!
11 Pointless Adverbs – No, you doddering woolhead, your hero shouldn’t “walk slowly”, “step quickly”, or “think pensively”. He or she “crept”, “dashed”, and “considered”, respectively. Unless you’re planning to submit your manuscript for amateur hour, you enjoy when agents return your query with a laughy-face emoticon, or you’re writing for 2nd graders, it might be a good idea to learn some more descriptive words.
10 Wasted Pages – Dude, readers aren’t interested in your 2000 word-long flights of fancy. They want conflict, action, and characters they can relate to. Those six paragraphs you drafted detailing the intricate beauty of a Fabrege egg? Not really all that necessary in your YA Werewolf adventure. And yes, sure, you can describe the pizza parlor where your protagonist gets a slice of pepperoni down to the crosshatched artificial wood grain on the buffet table. But no one cares; cut it. All of it. It’s stinky word rubbish.
Oh, I know what you want to say: it’s part of the “soul” of the story. It’s necessary for your artistic vision. Without it, the world you’re pouring yourself into will never be realized fully. Sure. I get it. But seriously, listen carefully: no, it’s not. It’s a zit. A pus-ridden boil of festering oozy nonsense. Pop that mofo. Get it the hell out of there. No, I’m not joking. Remember that huge section in “Moby Dick” about how the whalers went about the process of whaling and all the different types of whales? No? Yeah, me either. Nobody does. You know why? Because nobody ever friggin’ reads it. It’s useless filler that means nothing to the story.
For real, Melville needed an editor. Don’t be a Melville.
9 WTFs – “he can sang a short tune”? WTF does that mean? “The noses swept through a the vast attic like price of winds?” Seriously, is that even English? WTF? Were you whacked out on a cocktail of speedballs, NyQuil, crack and smoked salmon when you wrote the first draft? Who let you near the word processor, anyway? Stop drooling. And really, how is it you got the salmon into the crack pipe, anyway? WTF?
8 Useless Flashbacks – Look, we all understand that those flashbacks about the antagonist’s tortured middle school years and accidental brush with the protagonist at the Sadie Hawkins dance might seem like a good idea. It’s not. Trust me. Also, see #10.
7 Empty Pepto Bottles – Two weeks into revisions, all the stress, self-flagellation, and liquor is going to take its toll on your digestive tract. You’ve got two choices: get a hobby that doesn’t make you loathe yourself more than you do the average cockroach or swing by Costco and get a case of the pink stuff.
6 Jealous Rages – Remember how thrilled you were when you finished your first draft? Proud as a new parent, right? But then, just like a new parent learns with nuclear green diapers and 3 AM feedings, you start revising and that shine wears clean off. And just when you’re standing in a pile of steaming manuscript revisions and beginning to question whether humpty-drafty will ever be put back together again, BOOM!, six of your online debut writer friends – who aren’t really your friends, but so would be if you ever left the house or managed to produce a version that wasn’t the equivalent of something a monkey flings at passers-by – announce new agent signings, story sales, book contracts, movie deals, etc.
Deep down, you know they’ve worked their respective tails off, so you’re happy for them. But that’s the reasonable you, the part currently buried beneath layers and layers of neurosis, self-hatred, and oh, yeah, bourbon. Reasonable You doesn’t get to come up for sunlight until you send a revised draft to beta readers. Revisions You, on the other hand, is better suited to Shatner-esque screams of “KAAAAAHN!” and weeping inconsolably into dingy fingerless glove about how unfair it is that the Industry Gatekeepers hate you. Of course, they don’t really, because they’ve never even heard of you. But again, Reasonable You? Buried.
5 Procrastinating Naps – You have two choices: pick up the pen and try, for the third time, to get rid of all the places you used the extraneous words “obviously” or “really”, or your characters said “seriously” in your 100,000+ words of manuscript, or you can take a nap on the couch while your daughter watches “Barbie Charm School Princesses” for the 87th time. *yawn*
4 Gaping Plot Holes – So, you pitted a handful of heroes against 30,000 mutants ogre-unicorns. And they’re pissed. And eat heroes whole. Or did you send your air-breathing protagonist into the same dark cave where sad victim #2 died of poisonous gas seeping out of the walls, yet somehow protag magically made it through? Yeah, now might be a good time to apply some of Cherie Priest’s patented LogicSpackle(tm). Liberally.
3 Erratic Characters – Your vegetarian protagonist probably shouldn’t become embroiled in the main conflict because she happened to be powering down pork shoulder at the Korean BBQ at the wrong time. For real. And that supporting character can’t hate puppies and kittens in chapter 2 and then suddenly be a beagle puppy foster in chapter 17. While you’re at it, make sure Bubba doesn’t start talking with an accent in Chapter 31, since he’s had dialog in every other chapter since 10.
2 Screaming Migraines – See above. All of the above.
And a tall stack of paper in flames – At least you can take solace in the knowledge that while your writing might never pay the bills, at least it can keep you warm. For a few minutes, hopefully. After that, the shame, rage, and bourbon will get you through.
Exaggerated? Maybe a little. Somewhere in all that there’s a nugget of truth, though. First one to find it gets the Golden Ticket into Puddin’s word factory.
But I wouldn’t look too hard if I were you.
That place is scary.