Tag Archives: revision

Complaints and Revision Notes

Here is a bit of an email that I received on my birthday (which was last week and was loverly thanks to my family and friends). This was my first email of the day. It’s about my book MY ANGELICA and I have pulled out a few choice tidbits for your viewing pleasure.

“No wonder we are having such problems with teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and the like.”
“You should be ashamed of yourself”
“Kissing, Sex (sic) and naked bodies under blankets should be reserved for adult

When I read this email I was so relieved to see that I–me!–held the keys to so many troubles that kids are having. If I hadn’t written this upper middle grade novel about a 14-yr-old who wants to write a romance (it was published in 1999) . . .  well, just think of all the people  I have influenced to be evil over the last decade. If I no longer write then the world’s troubles will be over. I’m seriously considering this. Not writing, I mean.

Then there was this comment on a list serv I read. It was last week, too (I think). Here are a few of the lines from one person:

“ . . . edgy is another name for pollution.”
“Life is too short to wallow in “edgy” scenarios.”
“Happy . . . books don’t get the accolades . . . the “edgies” get, but at least I won’t have that on my conscience.”


I am no Laurie Halse Anderson  or Ellen Hopkins I don’t get blacklisted. I don’t get ‘hate’ mail often. But when bizarre statements are made to me or to others, I am always a little stunned. Not that people think that way–I believe we are entitled to think any way we want. But there is a line that can be crossed and many times these people cross it. “I am right. You are wrong.” “You have sold your soul to the devil.” “You are responsible for this because you wrote that.”

Do I cross that same line going in the opposite direction? That’s something for me to think about.  I try to let people have their opinions, rarely arguing with them to their faces!

However, and I really mean this, I always want to stay true to myself–and to my novels–as edgy as they may be.  I must stay true to them. I want others to think what they want to think, but I don’t want them to impose their belief system on me or my kids or a school full of kids, for that matter.

I believe in getting to choose.

Now, you can choose to read on and see some hints for when you start the revision process. Or you can hang up!

Questions to Ask Yourself as You Revise (1-10)

1. Are you repeating words? Always read out loud so you can hear what you’re saying. Right now I’m going through MILES FROM ORDINARY and I keep seeing the word just. So I’m taking out the extras (I’m a just freak, I think).
2. Are you using so many pronouns that the writing is not clear? This is very important, especially when you’re using third person. Having a friend read over your piece will help you catch this.
3. Are your sentences too choppy? Short sentences can create tension, so you want to remember to vary length so your reader doesn’t end up gasping for air. Unless, of course, you’re writing filth like I do. Then a gasp is a good thing.
4. Are your sentences too long? One thing that always bugs my Caitlynne is when someone writes a super long sentence. “Listen to this, Mom. That was one sentence.” You don’t want to remind your reader that you, the author, are there. So look for problems in your writing that pull your reader out of the story.
5. Is this piece something that you really love? Do you love it so much that the author is coming through? You want to love what you’re working on. Or hate it! Whatever–you want some emotion in your writing. What you don’t want is for the reader to see you peeking around the corner looking at them because you feel so strongly that an old man or woman is now on the page– instead of a kid.
6. Is your character acting his/her age? One of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten came from Jim Jacobs at BYU. This is what he said about my book THE CHOSEN ONE. “No one can get inside the head and heart of a thirteen-year-old girl better than Carol Lynch Williams, and I mean no one.” Yes! I’m bragging! Isn’t that such a nice thing to read about your work???? What Jim means is that the thoughts of my characters are always kid thoughts, not old lady thoughts.
7. Is the vocabulary right for the intended audience? Don’t choose the wrong words. Just because your four-year-old says antidisestablishmentarinism (how is that spelled? Am I close?) doesn’t mean ALL four-year-olds do. Don’t be too young, don’t be too old.
8. Are you trying to tell a story or teach a lesson? I once met someone who wanted to save the world. This illustrator was sincere in her belief that she could and that she would. And she just might–but not through books. Kids don’t want to be preached at. Just ask Kyra who felt she was preached at last night.
9. Are you bringing up things that you never use again? Revision is a great time to find that person you mentioned once and never again, to chop out a lengthy description that has nothing to do with the story and to take out clues you thought you’d use and then forgot about.
10. Is the climax of the novel worth the time the reader has taken? I remember finishing one very popular book and getting to the end and being very unhappy. I felt I had wasted my time, that I had been tricked by the author. What you want is for your reader to close the book, hug it close and wish it weren’t over.

So there you go! The first few suggestions for revision–along with some preaching thrown in for good luck! Or to save your soul.


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Swiss Cheese or the Beginnings of Revision

The first draft of the DD is done. And man, it’s got some holes. But at least I’ve got a beginning, a middle, a climax and an end. Thank goodness. That was so hard.

Now comes the fun part. The hardest draft, for me, is the first draft. You know, the trying to make-up-the-middle part. The trying to put the bones together in such a way that I end up with a finished project–something that will hold the weight of flesh and guts and emotion. That first draft stuff is awful, as far as I’m concerned.

Okay, so everybody writes differently. And we even work differently from book to book. Ann Dee and I have been complaining about that for some time–that these two novels we’re slaving over haven’t come together like novels in the past.

When I wrote KELLY AND ME, I spent years on it. I was writing short stories at the time. I never thought I could write a novel. And then, in the middle of the night,  years after I started writing what would become a book, I realized I knew the end: someone had to die. (Those of you who have heard me talk know I say that you have to have someone dead and/or naked in every book you write. I did that in my first novel.) Wait! I now had a book!

When I wrote KELLY AND ME, I worried that I might never have another idea. That’s not been the case. I have plenty. What I never saw coming is how I would wrestle with novels to finish them. Some have come quickly, like CAROLINA AUTUMN or MY ANGELICA. Some I’ve worked on for years, like GLIMPSE. Each is almost its own life form, in a weird sort of way, growing the way it thinks it should.

A friend recently said to me, “I’m writing my book and it’s taking a shift. I didn’t think it would go this way, and it is. I’m worried.” “Follow it,” I said. “Let the book lead the way.”

Here, in just a few steps, are a some things I think you should think of when you are following your novel to hell and back in that first draft.

1. The story must start on a day when something is different for the main character.

2. In the first chapter of a middle grade or young adult novel we need to meet the main character and see that there is some kind of problem.

3. Very soon after we get to know our character, he needs to make a choice, or have something that is thrust upon him, that changes his path.

4. We need to see a steady rise in action, driving the main character toward the climax of the novel. Remember this part, it’s important. Everything that happens in the book must drive toward the climax. If it doesn’t, cut that part out.

5. Your character makes a choice that propels her to the climax of the novel. She is thrust (or run) into a situation that doesn’t allow them to go back to their old life.

6. The book winds up in one chapter or its equivalent.

7. The character is not who she started out as, but has changed.

Here are these steps if I’m using a real novel–one of my own–to show you how they work. Remember–this is a basic idea. These 7 steps do not a book make. They are a draft.

1. The prophet is coming to the Carlson home for a visit.

2. On page one we are introduced to Kyra. As the story unfolds, we see her as a little girl and as a young girl. We know there is a bit of a problem when Kyra says, in that beginning part, that she hopes her little sister will sleep through the meeting.

3. Kyra is told she will marry her uncle.

4. We see Kyra’s sins and her family. We see how they all struggle with the decree she must marry Hyrum.

5. Kyra decides to run and does.

6. She talks with Samantha, knows she is alone and what has happened for her to get to where she is.

7. Her life, and she, will never be the same again.

Now, you can see these are just the very, very basics of the book, right? And you can see that there is much more that unfolds in the novel, too. Not everything came to me in the first draft. I did a lot of figuring things out in drafts two and three and four. (You’ve heard me complain about that, too!) What I am showing you here is a way to see that you are headed in the right direction.

If you know these kinds of things should happen then you will know that they need to be in the completed book. Right? That means you can write to some of this or you can revise to it.

Which is what I’m getting ready to do. Rewrite. Fill in the holes. There are lots and lots and lots of gaping holes in this charming DD.

And then guess what?

I have another novel to start. And you know what that means? That’s right–me complaining on this blog for the next few months.


Good grief, that scares even me.


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