On Revision

Continuing my thoughts on Stephen King‘s book On Writing (which began here), I would like to talk this week about revision. King says “I think it’s rare that incoherence or dull storytelling can be solved by something so minor as a second draft.” As with the previous posts, I have a different take.

I think revision can cure almost any ailment in a piece of writing (so long as there’s something worth saving about it, of course). Let me tackle the “dull storytelling” aspect with a specific example from my own writing (which will probably carry very little weight, seeing how little I have published, and with no way for readers to see the result of my current example at present).

I wrote a character who was completely lifeless aside from his sob story. This character was the only person in the story other than the main character for a good four chapters or so. My husband, on reading this part, said he hated this section of the book and wanted the character to die.

I love painful honesty.

I see painfully-honest criticism as the grit that eventually polishes a rough story. Rather than becoming dismal about it, and declaring the book a failure, I cheerfully wrote “Give Thibault a passion!” on a paper I wouldn’t lose and mulled it over in the back of my mind for that evening and the next morning. Then it came to me–a solution which would change everything, reverberating out through the whole story; it would increase the character’s presence in the first part, give him some way to contribute in the second part (and not just be a food-sink who endangers the main character), and would flesh him out into more than just a Person Who’d Been Hurt.

I believe revision can make all the difference–a flat character can gain a whole new dimension and change the whole story, all in “something so minor as a second draft.”


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