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SCBWI Digital Workshop #1: Revision Tools

My Big Take Aways from Kate Messner on Revision Tools

· Writing
SCBWI Digital Workshops

I'm going to be focusing on editing tools for a while, and SCBWI is offering some awesome ones. If you're a SCBWI member, you should be taking advantage of the COVID-19 Digital Workshops being offered on a variety of topics, free to members.

For distance-learning reasons, I can't attend the workshops live. I've got two kiddos and a husband online, every day, on multiple devices, and teens doing some serious freaking-out over the AP exams coming up, so I have to wait to view these when no one's busy.

Last week I watched children's lit giant Kate Messners' tips for editing your manuscript, Big Picture Revision for Middle Grade and Young Adult Novels.

Here were my big take-aways from her talk. I will say -- I've done all but one of her suggested "edits" to DL, my MS, and I think it's worth taking a shot at it.

1. Summarize your book. She suggested you do a brief exercise writing your elevator pitch, "My book is about" (one sentence - be super brief!) and a 1-2 sentence exploration of your MS's theme, "But underneath that, it's really about..."

2. Find your character's knot. When you have that, she suggested you "find your character's knot" and write down what it is. It's whatever your character is all knotted / conflicted / upset up about. Then look for ways to poke and prod that knot as you rewrite / revise. It will also help you cut anything that doesn't poke or prod that knot, especially if you're running long.

3. Evaluate POV. Figure out why you wrote the book in the POV you wrote it in, then ask yourself if changing that POV lens would serve your story better. (This is one I haven't done yet, but I plan to.) What I found most encouraging was when she said she "almost always" changes the POV the story is written in, during her revision process. One editing strategy she suggested for this POV evaluation is to try writing your first page, or even first chapter, in a totally different POV. So if you wrote the story in 3rd limited, like I did, I'd rewrite in 1st POV.

4. Use a Mentor Text. I flipped when I heard she does this! This is exactly what I do, when I'm starting a WIP. For DL, I started with one of Stuart Gibbs' books in his Fun Jungle series.

She recommends you list 1-5 titles you admire and want your MS or WIP to be like. Read them. Pick one and make a plot chart of it -- exposition, source of conflict, rising action peaks and valleys, climax, falling action / denouement. Study it. Then compare it with a plot chart of your own MS. I once proposed we do this in a critique group, and people looked at me like I was nutty. It was soo gratifying to hear another middle school teacher / author proposing this as a writing / revision tool.

It was also heartening to hear her say, when she wrote a thriller, she did this and discovered her own draft didn't have enough rising action peaks along the way. So she rewrote. It works, folks!

Also with the mentor text, she recommended highlighting internal and external dialogue. Study it. What makes it natural? How does it push the story forward?

She also suggested retyping the mentor text, just a few pages, to get a feel for the style of writing and how a book is written.

She also mentioned you can use different mentor texts as examples of the different genres and types of books you want write, and you don't have to stay in your audience when identifying a mentor text. For example, if you admire an adult mystery, and want to write a YA mystery, you can use an adult one for your mentor text example / analysis.

5. Spreadsheet the book. Now, Messner didn't call it this, but that's essentially what she offered -- a simplified spreadsheet, chapter by chapter, character by character, plot element by plot element, to be able to chart your story after you've written it. I did this (or rather, my husband did) and it does work. It can help you identify plot elements you don't follow through on, elements you mention too many times, or even places / things / characters that aren't developed well enough to keep and so you can cut.


I posted about this, Cutting with Spreadsheets.

Spreadsheet of Dragon's Leap, by Anita McDivitt Barrios

Finally, she offered advice on how to know you're done. If you've used your collection of tools and even invented a few new ones, you're getting good feedback from beta readers, when you're out of big picture problems to solve and people are saying, it's probably ready to go -- hands off.

And immediately start working on a new WIP!

Thank you SCBWI, and thank you Kate Messner for this free digital workshop on editing and revision.

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