Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Stranger Eyes – Muse’s Secret Formula for revising your story.

As you might have gathered, my author has just come back from holiday. She has been catching up with all the emails and letters that arrived while she was away, so I have come over here to blog because she always tells me to get lost if she’s stressed. But the bemused (be-muse-d, get it?) look on her face when she opened her front door reminded me of my Secret Formula for revision, so this might be a good time to tell you about it.

You know how, when you’ve been away for a while and just come home, your house or your bedroom seems strange? It has all the same things in it that you left there (assuming you haven't been burgled!) and yet it almost seems like someone else’s place. Well, my author had just this feeling when she walked back into her house on Sunday. She immediately saw several things she had not noticed before… like a hole in the curtain that needed sewing up (it was Tara’s claws, not my horn – honest!), like the ash in my incense burner that she had forgotten to clean out (can’t blame me for that), and the mistake she made when she painted her bedroom wall bright orange. But she also saw good things like her sunny kitchen, the first primrose in her garden, and how handsome my picture looks on her study wall.

Writing is a bit like this. When you first write a story, it feels fresh and exciting, rather like moving into a new house or room. Then you fix it up the way you want it, and after a while it starts to feel familiar. By the time you’ve finished writing it, your story seems older and a bit grubby round the edges. You might even be bored with it. DON’T PANIC! This does not mean your story is boring! It simply means you have become too familiar with it, and can’t see the good bits (or the bad bits).

At this stage, it is a good idea to take a holiday from your work. You don’t have to go skiing like my author did… though it’s a good excuse if you have the opportunity! You don’t even have to leave the house. Just put your story away in a drawer or a file on your computer and leave it there for a few weeks. Try not to think about it, and definitely don’t read it. Work on something else if you still feel like writing. Do your maths homework if you’re really bored. Then, when you pull out your story again at the end of those few weeks, you should see it with different eyes… “stranger eyes”.

With these eyes, it is much easier to spot any bits that aren’t working (like my author’s orange walls), spelling mistakes, and plot holes. You can then fix these things. Very few authors get things right the first time, but just occasionally you might see with your “stranger eyes” that your story is brilliant and needs no further work. In that case, treat yourself to a drink from my enchanted pool and relax, because it’s done!

Muse’s Secret Formula for revision:
1. Finish your story.
2. Hide your story away for a few weeks (My author says six weeks is good).
3. Read your story again and mark any spelling mistakes, bad grammar, etc.
Think about the ending. Does it still work for you? If not, you can change it.
Think about the characters. Do they still seem like the people you invented? If not, you can change them as well, maybe give them some extra dialogue to make them more real?
4. Rewrite your story, fixing any mistakes you spotted.
5. Go to step 2 and repeat this process as many times as you like. (My author usually does this three or four times before sending a book to her editor, and then does it all over again when the editor suggests more changes.)

Another way to improve your work is to ask an actual stranger to read your story. They will see it with “stranger eyes” immediately, rather like showing someone your room for the first time. This can be a bit scary because they might say something hurtful about it, but they can help open your own “stranger eyes”. But beware! If you show your story to your mum, she will probably say she likes it because she doesn’t want to hurt your feelings. This is not very helpful. The same might happen with a close friend. You need to find someone you trust to give you an honest opinion. My author relies on her editor, and most editors are excellent because it’s part of their job. If you don’t have an editor yet, you might try a librarian or a teacher. If you are on a creative writing course, your tutor will help. Or you could try publishing your story online and asking other writers/readers to comment on it. But always remember you can’t please everyone all of the time, and in the end the most important opinion is your own… after all, it’s YOUR story.

If you don’t believe there are such things as “stranger eyes”, go back and re-read the first story you ever wrote. If it seems like someone else’s story, then you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Do you wish you could change it? No story is perfect, so feel free!

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