Can You Revise Your Story Too Much?

Can you revise your story too much? Based on my previous experience with a screenplay I had written, I would say yes. I ended up wringing all the juice out of my story because I visited and revisited what I had written over many years, trying to please any critics that had commented on my work. I wanted perfection and there is no such thing.

Revisions

Pablo Picasso At Work – from Sothebys

I ended giving up on the screenplay, but I then used it as a framework to write my second novel, The Rubber Fence. So not all was lost, but I could’ve got there sooner.

Pablo Picasso once famously said, “Woe to you the day it is said that you are finished! To finish a work? To finish a picture? What nonsense! To finish it means to be through with it, to kill it, to rid it of its soul – to give it its final blow; the most unfortunate one for the painter as well as for the picture.

REVISIONS

I’ve just finished my sixth serious revision (or is it seventh?) of my historical novel, inspired by my mother’s tales around the kitchen table. It’s a hybrid novel (historical fiction/family saga) about my baba’s time in Russia, 1915-1929. By serious revision, I mean reading the whole novel, (88,000 words) and tweaking, deleting and adding sentences throughout. My next step will be to find a good editor. And then, yes, more revisions.

READING YOUR WORK OUT LOUD

Revisions are best helped through reading your book out loud. It helps you find sentences that aren’t as clear as they need to be. You can pick up on dialogue that doesn’t ring true. And since you are hopefully reading your novel right through, from beginning to end, stopping only to make those corrections, you get a good sense of the whole. You can pick up on any problems in continuity or story sense (what’s working, what’s not) or character behaviour.

WHEN TO STOP REVISING

I think Picasso said it best. Basically you stop when you are sick of it and/or you feel you’ve done the best job you can and it’s time to put it out in the world.

I’d love your thoughts on revisions. How much do you revise? Do you revise as you go along or write it all out first and then go back to revise? And when do you stop?

 

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4 thoughts on “Can You Revise Your Story Too Much?

  1. JP McLean

    Good question, Diana. I’m one of those writers who revise as I go along, re-reading and editing the previous day’s writing before carrying on with the story. When the story is complete, I let it rest for as long as I can before doing exactly as you suggest: reading the entire story, out loud, from cover to cover. It’s astounding how much you can pick up on and correct doing that style of an edit. Six to eight edits is my norm for each story, reflecting cold readers’ feedback, the story editor’s notes, and the copy editor’s input. I keep fine tuning the story until I recognize that the edits I’m making are simply different rather than an improvement. Terrific post!
    JP McLean recently posted…Water Babies, Snow Babies and Bonfire AficionadosMy Profile

    1. Diana Stevan Post author

      Jo-Anne, I’m glad you mentioned ‘cold readers’ feedback’. It’s so helpful to get fresh eyes looking at our work. Honest and objective thoughts from beta readers can make good work stronger.

  2. Julia Barrett

    Some authors I know do indeed believe that you can revise your story too much. They stop re-reading after 2-3 times. The truth is, every single time I re-read a story I find something I want to change. My general rule is no more than 4 re-reads.

    1. Diana Stevan Post author

      4 re-reads sounds reasonable, Julia, but for whatever reason, I end up doing more than that. Still, my six is a lot less than what I ended up doing with my first work. I think I beat that one to death. 🙂 So yes, I have to agree that you can revise a story too much. You can wring the passion right out of it if you’re not careful.

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