The Deadly Act of Revision

The Butterfly EffectDuring the past week I took the plunge and switched a novel-length manuscript from 3rd person limited omniscient over to a 1st person point of view. I knew I needed to do it, but I wasn’t looking forward to it because it meant a lot of changes.

A change in narrator means not only a change in personal pronouns but (in this case) subtle changes in voice, phrasing, and vocabulary. It can change the way you describe a scene. It can change the values you place on various elements of the story. It can change the past and it can change the future. It can change everything.

It can mean throwing out a significant amount of good writing. But as painful as this whole process can be, it is also a great teacher. And I shall not presume my learning days are done just because I’m long out of college. (Oh my, it has been twelve years.)

You know the butterfly effect? One tiny event in one spot causes untold numbers of events that would not have happened, or would have happened differently, had it not been for that one tiny event half a world away? That’s the kind of thing that happens when you replace the word “she” with “I” in a novel.

Big revisions are not for the faint of heart. You lace up your boots (or, for those of you write historical romances, your corset), take a blind leap into the fray, and hope that with persistence and intelligence you will come out on top. And a little luck probably doesn’t hurt either.

In the meantime I am also writing and taking notes on a new series, coming up with story arcs and subplots and characters. Lots of planning, planning, planning. Very different in process and in tone from my first finished novel, but it is something I started thinking about doing a decade ago and now I’m finally ready to start bringing it into reality. I love brainstorming and throwing a ton of ideas out there, ready to be plucked later. It has me excited and feeling rather happy. Which is a nice relief when the revisions of earlier pieces gets tedious.

What are you working on?

2 thoughts on “The Deadly Act of Revision

  1. My first reaction upon reading your opening paragraph was to utter, “Ouch!” POV change is no small revision– especially for the entirety of a novel. But I’m sure the butterfly effect will also bring about all manner of interesting ideas that never would have been unearthed otherwise. Best of luck!

  2. Absolutely! It is a HUGE change if your 3rd person narrator was fully omniscient. Luckily, for me it was less destructive since I had a very limited narrator (limited only to my protagonist for the most part). I think the most interesting thing about my experience with this revision was that I found two or three spots where my previous narrator had “cheated” a bit and told more than the protagonist would have known. Those parts had to go entirely or they had to be witnessed by/explained to the protagonist when it was changed to 1st person. Quite an interesting exercise and I don’t recommend it for everyone!

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