by Teri Terry
On Saturday I attended a SCBWI Masterclass: Sara Grant's Revision Game. Sara is a writer and senior commissioning editor at Working Partners. Her first YA novel Dark Parties will be published in the US (Little, Brown), UK (Orion) and Germany (Droemer) in 2011. At Working Partners she has helped plot, write and revise more than fifty books for children of all ages, and she is a founder and editor of the amazing Undiscovered Voices.
So there I was: all set for a nice relaxing lunch, a pub, a little learning and conversation, right? I was feeling a bit fragile after a legendary garden party with the neighbours the previous evening, but it isn't like I've never revised a novel before - though my answer to problems has generally been to write the next novel better, rather than go over and over and over the same ground. And I'd even done my homework, so figured I should coast through the day quite okay.
Wrong! This was boldly revising where I have never revised before.
Sara set us straight right from the beginning:
'I'm a born again revisionist, and I'm here to convert: so watch out!' - Sara Grant.
I stuck with one of my Slushpile resolutions: I took a camera, and actually used it. But although I tried to photograph Sara many times, most came out like one of those cartoons where the superhero zooms so fast all you see are an outline and a vapour trail.
A Born Again Revisionist: Sara in Motion
Hard at work!
Revising can be colourful
My top five take-away points for the day:
- revision is all about knowing the difference between what you thought you've put on the page, and what is actually on the page;
- don't do micro-editing to avoid macro-editing! Fix the big stuff - plot, POV, tense, characters - before you worry about the picky details;
- I love word cloud: you can paste your whole novel in, and see your most used words; you can display them in lots of colours and patterns and fonts! Pretty, but it also lets you see if the things you think are important are there, and if the things that aren't, are (I am embarrassed to admit how prominent the word 'just' is in all of my novels. Not that I've been compulsively checking them. All day. I just can't help myself....);
- read Robert McKee's Story! It has been sitting on my shelf, beckoning, for quite some time, but I have resolved to dust it off very soon;
- finally, for me, the thing that resonated the most was the homework Sara set. I'll go into this in some detail, below.
When Sara sent the email with our homework around in advance of the masterclass, I must confess: I GROANED when I saw what we were asked to do. I protested; I wailed; I procrastinated. Then, I did it.
I'll paraphrase what we were to do to my own understanding, with a little help from Robert McKee. We were asked to look at our novel, and come up with the following. The heart of our story: why we were writing it, why it is important to us, why it is our story. Then, the story's premise: the 'what if', the idea that inspired the story. Next, the controlling idea: a concept from McKee's Story: 'the story's ultimate meaning expressed through the action and aesthetic emotion of the last act's climax.' Finally, the pitches: a one line pitch, a paragraph pitch, and movie style pitch.
For me this was a seriously valuable exercise. Even though it was painful, I felt I had a much clearer vision of my story, where it was going, and why it should reach that destination.
Sara slows to normal human speed at the pub afterwards,
her superhero tasks done for the day
We all survived! Me and Mo