Revision scorecard: FWQ

I thought PJ’s’s post about her revisions for THE EMERALD TABLET was so interesting, I was inspired to take a similar look at THE FARWALKER’S QUEST. It’s been one of my more extensive revisions, and I can see common themes in the notes.

Elsewhere, I’ve detailed a few things about reducing the length, which was the most important (though hardly only) issue raised by my agent prior to editorial submissions, so I’ll mostly skip that here. But I did have to tackle length over and over again.

A few revision stats:

  • Time to write first draft – about 6 weeks, a big chunk of it scribbled by hand, including on hotel notepads during a vacation in Mexico
  • Length of first draft – 121 K in 479 ms pages (once into Word)
  • Length of published novel – 93K in 357 ms pages
  • Biggest single cut: A scene in the final third that was less than 3 pages long
  • Time from first word written until publication – 3 years, 10 months
  • First line: Did not change. Zeke’s tree wouldn’t speak to him.
  • Last line: Did not change for the book itself Ariel hummed her song as they went. — but a planned epilogue in the ARC was whacked late in the game.

Other than length, my biggest revisions on this book could virtually all be described as moving information forward. Because I’m a pantser, my plots often entail little mysteries that I don’t know the solution or backstory to yet. Those show up in the first draft when my subconscious figures it out or reverse engineers what I’ve already set up. Examples in this book include everything from the large (what the telling dart’s message for Ariel says and what or where is the Vault) to the small (where Scarl takes Ariel midway through the book).

I used to think I could leave such information where it fell out of my head and that would make great suspense for the reader, but I’ve come to accept that suspense does not equal confusion, and that even once they know all my secrets, a reader still might be willing to find out what happens. (This took some convincing by my editor, believe me.) I almost always need to let the MC, and therefore the reader, out of the dark about something sooner than I want to. The one exception was that my editor thought Scarl’s true colors should be slightly less obvious, so I cut a short scene before the midpoint that revealed him the most.

Adding info and explanations felt tougher than cutting. I was trying hard to avoid info dumps,  so I had feather in information a half-scene here, a line or two there, finding some reasonably organic reason to bring up such info where it had not been before.

Examples of the changes

Ariel first hears the word Farwalker: Draft: p. 134; Final: p. 100 (the same scene, reflecting how much the first 100 pages shrank)

First mention and description of the Blind War: Draft: p. 61; Final: p. 11

Ariel first finds out what a Farwalker is or does: Draft:  p. 297, Final: p. 125

Ariel learns that the dart’s sender is unknown*: Draft: p. 220; Final: p. 107

*This is actually not resolved until nearly the end of the sequel. I can’t break some habits, I guess.

I just read a blog post somewhere by author Jody M. Roy about saving editorial notes and reviewing them again once the revision is done so improvements can be internalized and applied to future first drafts. I’d like to think that the sweat shed over the revisions themselves might have the same long-term effect! But I do know that trying to identify things I repeatedly find myself fixing, across manuscripts, is giving me a clearer idea of weaknesses to work on and things that should get special attention from me before my “first” draft (ha) is ever read by somebody else.

— Joni, who misses the tide pool and the ghost carrots in her first draft, even if they weren’t important

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Filed under Joni Sensel

4 responses to “Revision scorecard: FWQ

  1. maybe there will be room for the lost Ghost Carrots in a future book…I am looking forward very much to the second Farwalker book, which is in my pile waiting!

  2. Parker Peevyhouse

    Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    I’ve run into the same issue you have–I plot as I go, and I’ve had to learn the hard way to go back and reveal information much earlier. It’s hard to figure out how to keep the reader intrigued instead of confused.

  3. There are some serious lessons for me in this post. Thanks, Joni. My first drafts tend to have lots of little mysteries that I quite often forget to resolve soon enough or at all. And sometimes when I revise, I stare at the page open-mouthed. Now what was I thinking when I wrote that?

    I’m going to lay my hands on Farwalker next!

  4. …ghost carrots.
    Now, I’m going to have to think up some way to work that into all of my conversations today…

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