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Amalie Berlin On How To Tackle Revisions and GIVEAWAY!

We have author Amalie Berlin visiting today.
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So, Nas asked me to talk a little bit about revisions. I should probably be pretty good at revisions by now, but they are always more than a little terrifying to me because I know how much work they can be. I love what they do for the story. I love the questions my editor asks in order to make me think about my story and characters in deeper ways. I am totally pro revision, but they still terrify me.

I also know there’s a faction within the writing community that balks at revisions. It messes with the act of creation! All that. It doesn’t, every artist revises – it’s just not called that in visual arts. In my art classes, after initial critiques, we just called it ‘go work on that piece some more,’ which probably sounds less creativity butchering than REVISION. But this is not a post about the importance of revision. 

Following are two examples of scenes where I was working in the emotional growth that I needed to get into the story. The first example, the scene took place in a park and the emotional bit—a conversation that ended the scene—was the truly important part of the scene. Sure, going running in the park and having Dasha tackle and nearly pummel Preston for being an asshat was  fun to write… and it showed that they still had that competitive urge between them, but it didn’t advance their stories. It just showed more of what I had already established: They had issues, Preston was a turd-wrangler, Dasha felt guilty sometimes and wanted to punch him other times…. 

Revision from your editor, story revisions, actually are about re-imagining what could happen at this point in your story. My re-imagining centered on a scenario that could lead into this important conversation while also advancing the characters through their issues.)  

BEFORE
"Stop." He jogged after her, and when she didn't stop, he fell into stride beside her. It seemed like he was working up to say something, but Dasha didn't hurry him. Neither did she stop. He could walk and talk at the same time, and there was still a chance she could get out of the park before she punched him and broke a knuckle. Kicking just didn't satisfy the same way. Neither did imagining punching annoying people over and over again.
"Why now?"
The arm that snagged her about the waist, stopping her escape told her he couldn't walk and talk about this. When she stopped trying to pull away, he let go and backed off, giving her space.
"You won't believe whatever I say, so why are you asking?" Really. When you can't win, you don't play the freaking game.
"Maybe not." Right, there was a chance he'd believe her. Like there was a chance she'd win the lottery without playing. "But tell me anyway."
"I promised Marjorie I would try to fix this."
"Dr. Saunders's wife?" He looked confused.
"Yes."
"Why?"
"Because she is important to me." Dasha didn't want to talk to him about Marjorie. She wanted to help him and move on.
"Why does she care about me? I don't know her."
"She doesn't. She cares about me." Dasha pointed to herself, trying to control the helpless feeling that surfaced every time she thought about Marjorie. (cutting the scene here in the name of brevity)

AFTER
Preston did very little the entire morning. Probation didn’t agree with him on so many levels, but he was determined to see it through. Make the impression they required, and right now that wasn’t about what he could bring to the table skills-wise, it was more about being able to sit at the table with everyone without giving anyone grief. Or being accused of being hard to work with. Or being called an ass.
He shadowed Dasha, celebrated a fairly significant five-day weight loss with Angie, and in general tried to be good. But the instant they were back in Dasha’s office, he closed the door and waited.
She took one look at him and started to talk. He liked it that he didn’t have to remind her what he wanted. “We’ve established that I owe you. And you’ve pointed out my new image a few times, but the thing is I don’t think you really understand. Making things right for you is part of what I need to do to clear my books. I screwed you over, and it was probably the worst thing I’ve ever done. I don’t expect you to forgive me. I don’t expect your friendship. I don’t expect anything from you. I’ve lived with it, and every day I am in this hospital I think about it. I don’t want to live that way any more. I want to fix it. “
“I don’t want you to think I don’t hear or appreciate what you’re saying. I do. And for what it’s worth, I believe you sincerely want to make things right.” Preston held up his hands. She said talking about this would make her cry, so he had to go gently. “I just need to understand what brought this decision now. Why not six months ago or two years from now?”
“I promised Marjorie I would try to fix this.” Not crying yet. Good.
“Dr. Saunders’s wife?” Preston prompted.
“Yes.” 
“Why?”
“Because she’s important to me.” Dasha didn’t want to talk to him about Marjorie. She wanted to help him and move on.
"Why does she care about me? I don't know her."
"She doesn't. She cares about me." Dasha pointed to herself, trying to control the helpless feeling that surfaced every time she thought about Marjorie.(*cut*)


In the second version, Preston doesn’t have to badger Dasha to get information, which kept him from being his usual annoying self(something else that needed paired down. As annoying as he can be in the final version, the first drafts of Preston were so sarcastic that he almost had no other personality traits. So it also saved him from getting punched in the junk.).

Having her get on with it, stop protecting herself, also changed her character. It was a very important first step in her character arc(since she didn’t just need to make amends for the past, she needed to grow up some too over the course of the story). In early drafts, she wanted to help Preston without getting her hands dirty. This revision allowed her to come to the conclusion that she needed to put her cards on the table, she had to make an effort to be as good as she’d always wished she had been in order to show him the way to do it.

This was the hardest book I have written so far. It was harder than my debut was in it’s two major rewrites…Those rewrites were more about showing what I already knew about the characters. The rewrites on this story, the REVISIONS on this story, were about learning how to show those baby steps that all characters take to defeat their inner demons. And when you love messed up characters as I do, that 50K word limit is tight. All scenes have to do as much to advance the plot and subplots as possible.

I could probably write a book about all the things I learned while revising Uncovering Her Secrets, but I’m already on a deadline.  So three things I learned from revising this scene:
1.      If a scene you love is not pulling its weight, cut it. Just being entertaining is not enough to justify its existence.
2.      A little negative personality trait show-and-tell goes a long way. And sometimes being open and up front about your motives causes a deeper conflict than being evasive and fighting to get at the information.

3.      The shorter the word count, the more you have to make sure that the story you’re telling is about the characters CHANGING, not just about how they fight the need to change. That’s important too, but pretty early on they have to give in and start growing or your pace will grind to a halt. And your reader will probably get mondo annoyed with your messed up characters J

Amalie's latest release is UNCOVERING HER SECRETS and she has giveaway for one commenter! 

A chance to make amends…
Hiring her ex, the irresistible Dr. Preston Monroe, is Dr. Dasha Hardin's secret atonement for her unforgiveable past. A plan suddenly complicated by his touch, which still makes her heart zing! Preston must reluctantly trust Dasha and soon wants to discover more about this new feisty, vulnerable woman—the only woman with the strength to fight for his irredeemable soul….











Buy it on Amazon.


And there is a fantastic opportunity for medical romance writers or all writers wanting to try their hand at medical romance. You will get feedback within 24 hours. Read here.


Amalie's latest release is UNCOVERING HER SECRETS and she has an autographed paper copy for one commenter! She's also running a raffle until 4-28-14 at www.amalieberlin.com

27 comments:

  1. Ugh, revisions!! Yes, they are TOUGH, but I'm with you - they're essential. When I read about writers who don't do them, all I can think is that I really doubt that anyone, no matter how talented, can produce something perfect on the first go. Thank you so much for these great tips!

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  2. I keep hoping that one day I'll grow up and be able to do it! But really I'd be over the moon if I could just produce a first draft that didn't have major structural issues :) If I could cut down one of my requisite 4 drafts... I'd be totally stoked!

    Hope the little tips help. Learning to cut a whole scene you love when it's not pulling its weight or is detrimental to the story mood/theme/character growth... HARDEST THING EVER. I always just want to put more in those scenes and make them do a lot. But that isn't always going to fix them.

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  3. Amalie, thanks for sharing.I got a lot from your tips and the before and after paragraphs. xx ms

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    1. You're welcome, Margie! I hope they help someone. I wish I could have posted that whole first scene. Dasha tackled Preston, and then there was wrestling for an mp3 player, and the security guard got involved... I had way too much fun writing it. Was so sad to see it go.

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  4. Good advice, really useful to see this approach.

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  5. Revisions aren't easy but are so worth the trouble. Great advice!

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    1. They probably would be less scary if we just called them 'Go Work On This Some More' :) Definitely worth the trouble.

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  6. Love this Amalie! Thanks for sharing. I have not had extensive revisions like this and what all is involved in it has been a mystery to me. Not so much now... :D Turd wrangler, huh?

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    1. She tackled him because he pulled a 12 y/o maneuver: snatched her mp3 player and ran in order to try and wear her out so he could wear her down(she really wasn't talking) and get some answers. So Turd wrangler totally fits :)

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  7. I enjoyed Amalie's guest post about revisions. It certainly saves time to get a editor's opinion in the beginning. Wishing Amalie much success with her new book. :)

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    1. Thank you, Lexa. It really does save time. I hope to one day get to the point that I don't always rewrite the first 3-4 chapters(again) right before I turn it in. My partials are not worth the paper they're printed on until I've reached the end. But my editor is really good at pointing out problem areas from synopsis.And it's really good for my confidence to know I'm writing a story they want to see ... before I start writing it.

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  8. I think I may start calling my revisions just "working on that piece a little more"--it certainly sounds nicer!

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    1. haha yes! It might be a little misleading if someone says that... without saying what to work on, but it does sound much nicer than REVISION...

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  9. Revisions are when we really form our ideas into something great. That's usually not easy to do, but it's so worth the effort. It looks like you learned some great things revising this book. Best of luck to you, Amalie.

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    1. Thank you, Kelly. I'm always hoping that the lessons I learned I can apply in the first draft at some point... which of course would mean there would just be something else to revise :D

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  10. I had to cut a major scene from my book, which hurt because I loved it. But when an agent said it didn't fit with the rest of the story, I knew she was right.

    The "After" revision Amelie wrote here was much better and emotionally made sense. Brava!

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    1. Thanks, Helena. It is hard to cut scenes. And somehow it always ends up being the one you love!

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  11. Revisions are a part of life...and once you're published, you end up revisiting the manuscript so many times, you have it memorized! Stephen King mentioned that in his book and he was right. By the time it's on shelves, you're sick of it!

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    1. I"m pretty sure I get sick of the books before they are on the shelves! By the time I get to my AA's, I am sure it's irredeemably awful and want to revise some more(Which is a weird turn...)

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  12. Creativity butchering, yes indeed, but necessary. If I can say something in one sentence instead of two, I need to say it in one. I'm deep in the revision trenches right now, and I'm cutting like crazy. I'm happy with the tighter results so far.

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    1. I really don't think it butchers creativity, though I have heard that argument a number of times. I think it shapes creativity. I tried to find the quote, but since I can't and I have brain fog as to who said it, I'll paraphrase. I believe it's true that if you don't allow yourself the possibility of writing something really bad, it would be hard to write something really good.... Which is why there's always stuff to clean up :)

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  13. Great to hear from Amelie. I liked seeing the clear example of what she was talking about in the before and after scene. I am currently working on revisions from my editor. It is wonderful to see the way things start to shape up, but it is lots of work for sure! :)

    Best of lick to Amelie!

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    1. Thanks, Jess. Revisions were always such a mystery before my first revision letter, I'm glad to get a chance to share even a meager amount with others if it helps! Good luck with your revisions!

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  14. Revisions are something I think most authors dread, but certainly something that must be done to make your work the best it can be. Excellent post!

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    1. Thanks Sherry. I like to tell myself that some day I will turn in a manuscript and my editor will find it perfect JUST THE WAY IT IS.

      I also like to tell myself that some day I'll be able to move stuff with my mind and live on nothing but chocolate.

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  15. I have a paperback for Miss Meradeth Houston! Contact me via http://www.amalieberlin.com/contact.html, leave mailing and I shall pop into the post directly :) Hope you enjoy!

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