_Up From the Blue_: Fresh Take on Revisions

Thursday night I was part of a group of UCF students who had dinner with novelist Susan Henderson after she read from and discussed her book Up From the Blue. I have come to value opportunities like this immensely since most of my professors do not write novels. While novels have much in common with shorter works or with creative nonfiction, there are also some problems unique to the genre. It’s wonderful to be able to pick the brain of someone who writes on the same scope as I do.

My biggest questions are about revisions. Henderson had some great ideas for keeping the work fresh while revising. She told me never to enter the work from the same place twice. In other words, I don’t need to feel like I have to start at the beginning every time I take a pass at revisions. Instead, I should choose one element of the story, a character or an important object for example, and follow it through the entire work, examining each passage where that element shows up. This will give me a chance to see the various arcs within the whole and discover what might be missing or overdone in a new way. It can also lead to discovering important symbols or events that I may have overlooked in my other readings.

Henderson also suggested that I take the pages or chapters of the book and tack them on the wall so I can visually see the balance in terms of page numbers. This is similar to my storyboarding activity, but much more time-efficient. I think it could also work in tandem with the other method. Tacking up all the passages with a character or a particular setting will help me see the balance through the whole book. I am envisioning a sort of bar graph of pages where I tack up passages from Sarah’s story in separate lines according to the elements they contain: a line of pages about her experiences with religion, a line for interactions with the art community, for questions about sex, for specific friendships…

I feel like revisions are starting to make sense. What do you think? If you write novels, or even if you don’t but find yourself plugging in to this idea, what methods would you try for revising? I’d love to hear your ideas in a comment.

If you’re interested in reading Up From the Blue, you can check it out here:

http://www.amazon.com/Up-Blue-Novel-Susan-Henderson/dp/0061984035

Or here:

http://www.litpark.com/


8 responses to “_Up From the Blue_: Fresh Take on Revisions

  • yhosby

    I like that idea of tacking different chapters on the wall to see how balanced or imbalanced the page amounts are. And, I like the idea of not having to start from the beginning every time.

    For me, I don’t even start the editing phase until I’m finished my novel or short story. Then, I have to print it out to revise on paper. Recently, I purchased “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers”, so that’s also helped me look at things with a refreshed perspective.

    Keep smiling,
    Yawatta

    • bethanyduvall

      Hi Yawatta,

      Thanks for your comment. I agree: I have to print out my work in order to revise. Usually I try to finish a full manuscript before revising, as with Sarah’s story (mentioned in the post). Since I entered grad school, I’ve had to take a different tack because I turn in chapters for workshop and then must revise them for a final portfolio grade. I’m finding that when I write in order, this works. But I don’t always do that. If I write a passage that becomes chapter five before I’ve written chapter one, revising along the way is counter-productive.

      Thanks for the book suggestion. I will check it out.

      Bethany

  • Stefanie

    I’m glad Susan Henderson mentioned this on her FB. I’m glad to have found your blog. I, too, am a writer and a painter (although not a professional teacher–I have two young children so am a teacher in that regard.) What a treat to have been able to pick Susan’s brain a bit! I am often encouraged at how we writers can always learn something from each other. Carry on–I’ll look forward to continuing to read!

  • Stefanie

    I have written my whole life, since I was 9 and my parents divorced. My journal was a way to express my feelings through poetry, then short stories, and school journalism programs. I had my first children’s short story published a little over 8 years ago (and that same story has recently been republished.) I’m 4 chapters into writing my novel…and have recently been trying my hand at painting (with acrylics). With young kids, it’s hard to get large chunks of time to concentrate on the writing–so the painting has allowed me to use the smaller chunks of time when those moments come. The creativity has to get out of me somehow or else I think I might burst! (I just had a personal story published on Laura Munson’s blog: http://blog.lauramunson.com/2012/03/17/breaking-point-16/.) I also try to breed positivity on my blog whatsthebestthatcanhappen.blogspot.com. And sometimes I try to sleep. You?

    • bethanyduvall

      I have gone the opposite way. I started writing when I was 13, but also have been painting seriously since then. I had a mural business for six years and was involved showing my easel work around town. In fact, most of what I’ve published has been articles about painting on ehow.com.

      Sounds like we have sleep habits in common: all through that time I wrote slowly and steadily on novels while my family slept. Since last May I’ve shifted the focus to writing full time. I like to concentrate on characters dealing with spiritual or psychological questions.

      Congrats on your recent publication! I will check it out, and your blog, too.

  • Question of the Month: Audio Books

    [...] me close with some thank you’s to LaLaLovely, the Good Book Fairy, WLBZ, Bethany Duvall, Caffeinated College Kid, Shannon’s Book Bag, Central Kentucky News, Bookseller [...]

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