Revision – A Primer

A dictionary definition of the word revision is to alter something already written or printed, in order to make corrections, improve, or update: to revise a manuscript.

Note that corrections is but one of the goals of revision. It is an important one but just one. Corrections in and of themselves don’t necessarily achieve the second (and far more important) goal of revision. To improve what has been written.

I recently posted a short scene that I used as an experinment between First and Third Person Points of View. That scene was a corrected first draft. Not something that is necessarily the best that it can be. In this post I will use that same scene as an example of a more comprehensive revision process.

I would like to thank @Sirra_Girl for her help in undertaking this.

To do that I first want to show you the current version. This one has been revised, and then revised again. I will also include the first revision. It includes mark up to show what was done. Finally you can see the original version – the starting point if you will.

But before all that here are some statistics which hopefully will provide some further insight.

  Original Revised Current
Word Count 434 609 485
Sentence Count 37 63 57
Average words per sentence 12 10 9
Word ‘I’ used 24 (5.5%) 26 (4.2%) 20 (4.1%)
Word ‘and’ used 8 (1.8%) 12 (1.9%) 5 (1.0%)
Word ‘had’ used 7 (1.6%) 4 (0.6%) 0 (0.0%)
Word ‘was’ used 10 (2.3%) 16 (2.6%) 11 (2.2%)

The reason for showing these statistics is to give an indication of some commonly used words. Being a first person narative the word ‘I’ would expect to be used often. The goal is to mix it up. Don’t always start sentences with it, try and say things in different ways so that the writing doesn’t appear repetative. The same is true of the word ‘was,’ it can make the phrasing boring if it is used too often.

The reason for looking at the word ‘had’ is because it slows down the pacing. Use ‘have’ in place of ‘had’ unless you are talking about something in the distant past. Have is much more immediate.

The reason for looking at the usage of ‘and’ is because it typically indicates run on sentences. It is a particular issue of mine. One that I need to consciously work on. The frequency of the word ‘and’ plus a high word per sentence count is an indicator of this problem.

In all cases the current version has addressed these issues. There are less repeated words, and there are more shorter sentences.

Of course the statistics themselves don’t demonstrate anything in terms of the narrative. It may have been reduced to gibberish. Or completely fail to convey an appropriate mood for the scene. The only way to decide that is to read it.

I would love to get your thoughts on the difference between the original and the current version. I personally feels it says much more with only a few more words, making it a stronger scene.

Current Version

    Dressed in a worn out shirt and tattered pants, I waited outside my parents’ house. Torrential rain fell. My worn out shoes did nothing to keep it from seeping through. It was freezing.
    The thought of running crossed my mind. I glanced at the thick forest that bordered my village. If I did flee, I would soon be caught by the village tracker. If not him, then some wild animal. Or worse, the elves.
    I’ve never felt so helpless.
    I peered through the window at the man talking to my parents. He was tall, like my father, but, unlike him, the stranger was thick, strong, and powerful. They were negotiating. Haggling over the one thing of value they owned.
    Me.
    My father, like most men in the village, was a fisherman. Each day he took his small boat out onto Elgar Lake to cast his nets. Most days he’d catch just enough for us to last one more day. Occasionally he’d return with a haul large enough to support us for a week.
    Then, it all went bad.
    Fish were scarce, and food became a luxury. We weren’t the only family starving, the entire village suffered. Nobody knew why. But, because of it, I couldn’t stay.
    Money was being counted on the table. I’ve never seen so many coins in one place. Father usually received payment in food, or other household goods. Mother cried as my father scooped them up. He dropped them into a purse at his side. When he was finished, the man shook his hand.
    Just like that, it was done.
    I knew they didn’t have a choice. My life here was over. My future now belonged to a stranger. The future wasn’t something I really thought about. Until today, there was no reason to.
    The door swung open, and the man stepped out. I began to shift from foot to foot as my heart hammered in my chest. He drew up beside me.
    My mind raced, it was too late to run. I didn’t know what to do.
    He looked at me, his dark eyes held my gaze. I felt trapped, unable to breathe.
    “You’re mine now, boy,” he said. He didn’t sound cruel, he just stated a fact.
    I nodded.
    With a grunt, he lifted me onto the wagon. He checked that the rest of the cargo was secure then climbed to the driver’s seat next to me. With a flick of the reins, the horses started to move.
    My mother came to the window. She looked upset. I probably should’ve waved or something. The truth is, I couldn’t be bothered.
    I owed them nothing.
    The wagon rolled through the village that used to be my home. As we passed by the small cluster of houses and other buildings, it occurred to me that I’ll probably never see my parents again.
    In the end, I realised that I didn’t care.

First Revision (with mark up)

    Dressed in a worn out shirt and tattered pants, I waited outside my parents’ house. Torrential rain fell, and water pooled at my feet (redundant, rain falls and pools no need to describe here especially given the next sentence). My worn out shoes did nothing to keep it from seeping through. It was freezing.
    The thought of running crossed my mind. I peered in the direction (simplify) of the thick forest that bordered my village. If I did pick a direction and flee (simplify), I’d soon be caught by the village tracker. If not him, then some wild animal. Or worse, the elves. No, there was nothing out there for me.(incorrect statement, there may be no safety out there but there is something, no safety already established so delete)
    I’d (use of had) never felt so helpless.
    There I stood. Unable to run, unable to think, unable to act. (redundant, we already know he was standing there so delete)
    I shivered (redundant, we know he’s cold, so delete) and peered through the window at the man talking to my parents. They were negotiating a price. Haggling over the one thing of value they owned.
    Me.
    My father, like most of the people (does that also include the women? clarify) in the village, was a fisherman. Each day he’d take his small boat out onto Elgar Lake and cast his nets. At times he’d return with a haul large enough to support us for a week. Usually he’d barely have enough to survive a day.
    Then, the normal days became the good days. Fish were scarce, food was scarcer. We weren’t the only family starving, the entire village was suffering.(these two paragraphs are confusing clarify)
    Did one of the villagers offend the gods? Had the lake simply run out of fish? (beware buried dialog) Why it happened isn’t important. (if it isn’t important don’t write it, delete) It did happen, that’s all that mattered, and because of that I was being sold.
    Me. Instead of the fish.(redundant, we already know he is being sold, delete)
    Their decision didn’t make me angry or upset (redundant, angry and upset are similar, simplify). I knew they didn’t have a choice. I was, however, nervous about the future. (this is a telling statement, show don’t tell) The future wasn’t something I really thought about. Until today, my future was to be a fisherman, like my father.
    That was all about to change. I didn’t know if it would be better or worse, but I was pretty sure it would be different.(reads awkwardly, revise)
    I looked on as a sum of money was counted out onto the table. I had no real experience with coins. As such, I couldn’t tell how much my life was worth. With their transaction concluded, the man shook my father’s hand.(unclear what is meant, also it doesn’t sound like the POV of a young boy, revise)
    Just like that, it was over.
    The door opened, and the man stepped out. He didn’t say a word as he approached me. (redundant, we know he didn’t say anything because there’s no dialog, delete) My heart hammered, and I nervously shifted from foot to foot. (use of and, consider rewriting to remove need for and) He drew up beside me.
    I didn’t know what to do. Should I say anything? Are there words that suit this moment? Maybe I should stay silent? He might hurt me if I spoke. (more buried dialog) My mind raced.
    He looked at me for what felt like a long time. (this is a telling statement, show don’t tell)
    The man was tall like my father. But thick, strong, and powerful, where father was thin, drawn, and weak. He never needed to worry over his next meal. (move the descrition of the man earlier when he is peering through the window) I tried to stop fidgeting while he stared. The attention was making me uncomfortable.
    “You belong to me now,” he said. The manner of his speech cut through my nervousness. He wasn’t being cold, or cruel, he simply wanted me to understand. (this is a change of POV, head popping, revise)
    I nodded.
    Seemingly satisfied by that, he grabbed me around the waist then placed me onto the wagon. He climbed onto the driver’s seat next to me and took up the reins. With a practiced hand he flicked the reins to start the horses moving.(repetative use of reins, simplify)
    The wagon rolled through the small fishing village (redundant, we know now its a small fishing village, simplify) that used to be my home. As we passed by the houses and other buildings, it occurred to me that I would probably never see my parents again.
    In the end, I realised that I didn’t care.

Original Version

    I waited outside my parents’ house in the rain. I was dressed in a faded shirt and threadbare pants. My shoes were so worn they did little to keep the wet ground from chilling my feet to the bone.
    The thought of running away crossed my mind. But, truthfully, I had nowhere to go. Even if I did decide to take my chances, I wouldn’t get far before one of the village trackers found me, or I was killed by some wild animal in the forest.
    I’d never felt so helpless.
    The man inside wasn’t yet finished dealing with my parents. So, I just stood there. Cold, wet, and alone.
    I was being sold. I knew that much, I even knew why.
    My parents simply couldn’t afford to keep me anymore. The money my father earned from his meagre catch had never been much, but lately the lake had refused to give up its bounty, so my parents were forced to give me up.
    Their decision didn’t make me angry or upset. I knew they had no choice. But I was nervous about the future. It wasn’t something I really used to think about. Until today, my future involved becoming a fisherman like my father.
    Now, with my old life about to end, I realised that things would be different. Would it be better or worse? I couldn’t answer that question but I was absolutely certain that it would be different.
    The door opened, and the man stepped out. He didn’t say a word as he approached me. He stood there, and he looked at me for what felt like a long time.
    The man was tall like my father. But thick, and strong, where father was thin, and drawn. Obviously this man never had to worry over his next meal. I tried not to fidget while he stared at me. I didn’t know what he was hoping to see but his attention was making me uncomfortable. Finally he reached out with one arm and gruffly loaded me onto the wagon.
    “You belong to me now,” he said. His voice was completely devoid of emotion.
    The man climbed onto the driver’s seat next to me and took up the reigns. With a practiced hand he started the horses moving.
    As the wagon moved through the small fishing village that had been my home, I suddenly realised that I would probably never see my parents again. I thought about that for as long as it took for us to pass beyond the small collection of buildings.
    In the end, I realised that I didn’t care.

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