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Arcana Revision Hell: The Plan

While reviewing my notes last night and this morning, I thought I’d made a dreadful mistake.

As I’ve mentioned, I have a huge binder full of notes.  The first draft was finished as a Fast Draft (ala Candy Havens) back in March, 2007, and ever since I’ve been overwhelmed at the prospect of revising it.  Literally, I’ve been unable to comprehend how I can possibly complete this project. 

While I’m glad I attempted a Fast Draft (and succeeded), the lesson I came away with is that draft is an OUTLINE, not a foundation on which I can build a story.  I can’t open that file and begin revisions — I have to start FRESH.  The first draft doesn’t contain all the story threads I decided to add later (when I realized I only had “half” a book), and the characters are two-dimensional, again, because I wrote the blasted thing so fast.

It’s a fantastic story premise, though, and well worth the work, if I can decide how to tackle it.

About a year ago, I bought Karen Wiesner’s First Draft in 30 Days because of its revision chapters.  I cut the first draft apart like she recommended, made notes for each section, did tons of worldbuilding and new character development.  All good work.  But when I started the revision, I quickly became overwhelmed again.  I was afraid.  I got it into my head that I’d never be a Regency writer — which is true.  I’m a FANTASY writer who wants to write a Regency-based fantasy.  I lost sight of that and allowed myself to skip off onto a new project.

My fear beat me a year ago.

So determined to conquer this fear, I reviewed everything and found many incredible notes.  I also found something sadly lacking.  While I had 3 spreadsheets outlining the scenes, I couldn’t find any DETAILS about those scenes.  Now a year later, how the heck am I supposed to remember what a section title of “Somedays….” means?

After building up my mental reserves to tackle this revision, I sat here this morning sick to my stomach.  Had I really been that stupid to spend so much time outlining and planning — only to never create any kind of outline?  Usually I create notecards for each scene and jot a few notes.  It doesn’t have to be formal — just enough to help me remember what that section title was supposed to mean.  Was I so afraid that I’d wasted all this time on “planning” and “research” only to subconsciously sabotage myself?

I went through all my secret drawers, looking for a baggie of notecards.  Nadda.  I decided to go through my laptop files one more time.   Maybe I’d done something different that I couldn’t remember.  After all, I was using FD30D documents.  Maybe…

With a huge sigh of relief, I found a document called “Capsule Outline” — a glorious 97 page outline, one page for every single section in my day sheet.  WHEW.  I was really sweating bullets here, people! 

So now this week I’ll read my outline, review each character’s biography (yes, I have that much detail!) and make sure they’re tightly tied to the premise, and make any revisions to my notes that I come up with.  Then hold onto your butts, because May 1st, I’ll start the second major re-VISION draft of Arcana (RHP).

6 thoughts on “Arcana Revision Hell: The Plan

  1. Ooo…have fun! 🙂

    Do you find FD30D useful BTW?

  2. Nadia, maybe I’m just an oddball, but I’ve never actually used the book for a “first draft.” I used the daysheet idea for both revisions to Letters (now Dear Sir) and the Maya story. Without that daysheet, I couldn’t see how to blend in new story threads into the existing scenes and keep track of the revisions themselves. As you know, those seemingly innocent new scenes always end up affecting the main story line more than planned.

    Now that I’ve found the capsule outline, I’m ecstatic. That’s one of the best outlines I’ve ever managed to write! If I never get anything else out of the FD30D, I’m very thankful for the daysheet and capsule idea, even if I only ever use them for detailed revisions.

  3. Another option, if you don’t know it yet, is this one: It may or may not take one try; the thing I’m doing it with currently requires research so there’s other variables to be thought of. I heard about this method from a writer friend I know from Critters workshop, and damn if it hasn’t weeded out a lot of gunk (and here I’m only trying it on a novella first).

  4. JA, I looked at that option, but the method doesn’t work for me. This story needs to go from 50K to 100K with many new subplots. A “one pass revision” just isn’t going to smooth the edges, beef up the worldbuilding, and add new subplots at the same time.

  5. One pass revision never worked for me either.

    It’s interesting you only use bits and pieces. I tried using it for novel projects. It worked okay for a short category, but it was harder to use it for a very complex novel.

  6. Nadia, I think I only used pieces that presented information in a “unique” way that I hadn’t seen before. If you’ve studied the three-act structure or hero’s journey, a lot of her plotting advice seemed rather basic. I skipped all that — I know how I want the main story to evolve. Where she DID help me was keeping track of details, especially in a large story. With the Maya story, for example, I couldn’t see how to hold all the threads in my head. I had the “original” first draft story line, but then I added two separate ones. How did they weave together? How could I keep track of the days and times across two countries? (Joke: they ended up all being in the same time zone!) How could I know if a scene was done, and how “done” it really was, e.g. first draft only, or had I smoothed it to fit into the new draft with any implications from the new story threads added. It was a mess, but the Daysheet really helped.

    With Arcana, the Capsule Outline has been a God send. The daysheet alone did not have enough detail for me to remember what I planned to do. I’ve seen a similar outline presented before, but combined with the daysheet, I find it really powerful. It’s too easy to get lost in the forest of trees when looking at an outline — but the daysheet gives the overview “map” to help keep track of just the high-level details. Of course I color-code everything too so I can more easily see POV flow. I’m anal that way.

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