Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Revision Cave

Don't ask me what the picture means. I just typed "give me a good picture" into Google and this is seriously the first thing that came up. :P
So I just finished my copy edits on book 1 of the Lotus War, and I'm back doing revisions on book 2, and according to Mr Sidebar, posts this week are supposed to be about revisions. Serendipity? Or did Future Heather Anastasiu travel back in time, visit herself three months ago and say “Jay will be just finishing his copy edits on 26 September and you can TOTALLY blow his tiny mind.”? 
I know what I’d like to believe. 
I tend to go back and revise as I write - I know this is a golden rule of the "DO NOT DO THIS" variety, but the obsessive compulsive in me can't leave a scene alone until it's at least semi-functional. As a result, my first drafts tend to be reasonably polished in terms of plot, and revising is more about achieving clarity and sharpening language.
First step: I go back and try to chop 10% of the word count. I go over every sentence and demand that every word explain why they shouldn't be cut from the team. Setting an arbitrary figure like 10% makes me ruthless, and if the figure is good enough for Stephen King, it's good enough for me.
Second step: Let my wife read it. She is like unholy lovechild of Ming the Merciless and the Evil Queen from Willow. She can spot Suck at fifty paces and has no qualms about lighting it up for the world to see. She's nice about it, but only sometimes. I'd rather not talk about the other times... excuse me, I have something in my eye...
Third step: Enter the revision cave and remove the highlighted suck with pliers and a blowtorch.   
The revision cave is where I hopefully get some magic happening, and end up with something good enough to show to my agent. To enter the Revision cave and emerge alive, I require:
·       Stimulants. My poison of choice is Red Bull. I don’t drink coffee, never have, I know this makes me totally unhip and extremely unlikely to marry a Starbucks heiress, but it’s something we’re all going to have to live with. Moving on.
·       Absolute silence. We are talking perfect vacuum here. An ice-cold void. One in which the sound of a child practicing her clarinet five houses down sends me into outbursts of profanity so intense that they rip holes in the fabric of space/time.
·       A dog. A cat won't do - I put them in the same basket as coffee. The dog is there to make me feel less like a mad person. See, I spend a lot of revision time reading aloud to help get sentence flow working right. There’s nothing that will help me spot a rogue comma (fear them) stray adverbs (hate them) better than reading aloud. It's a matter of public record that talking to oneself is something a crazy person does. But talking to a dog? Even if it’s the same sentence 20 times? Perfectly sane, I assure you.
·       An awesome place to sit, because I’ll be doing a lot of it. I usually settle for the couch, but one day I hope to be rolling on something like this.

Jay Kristoff is the author of STORMDANCER, a dystopian fantasy set in steampunk feudal Japan, out in Spring 2012 through St Martin's Press & Tor UK.
You can watch him rant some more here and here.


  1. Love this, Jay. btw, I sat on the Iron Throne at WonderCon... Not very comfy. Keep the couch. And is perfect silence even attainable in this world?

  2. That throne doesn't look comfortable enough to endure hours of writing without your ass going numb. :)

    So glad you have that dog to keep you sane. Where would we be if you were nuts? Most likely I would not be laughing at this post right now.

  3. @Veronica - you sat on the iron Throne? And George RR Martin hasn't killed you yet? *kneels* My LIEGE.

    @Jenn Yeah, but it's a THRONE, yo.

  4. You know, I can send you some dogs if you ever feel the need for more. Some days, they even come dressed in tutus. =D

    My butt is in spasms just looking at that throne (why do I feel like that was over-share?)

  5. I dunno if talking to a dog in a tutu would be very helpful in delaying the onset of my revision madness, Deb. Unless... what kind of dog is it?

    When you become Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, your first edict can be to get a nice cushion for your royal behind :)

  6. We have Rhodesian Ridgebacks. Oh, also foster Labs at the moment--they get tutu'd as well. My daughter is an equal opportunity dog dresser!

    (and I think my first edict should be for me to get OFF my royal behind! :)