Friday, February 26, 2010

Revision Test Results!

Revision Test Results!

In my previous post, I ask you to consider which of two versions of the same scene was better. Here are the results:

  1. Which version did you read first?
    Everyone read #1.
  2. Which version interested you more in reading the whole story?
  3. Which version would you say is better? Why? (briefly)
  4. #1-8
  5. Which do you think is the revised version?
  6. #1-6

And now for the dramatic reveal:

You were (mostly) right! #1 is the revised version!

Here’s the story. I wrote this originally about 15 years ago for a creative writing class at the local university. So when I looked at it again, I had very fresh eyes. #2 is definitely not first-draft, but it reflects kind of “where I started.” I wrote the revision from scratch, creating a new outline and throwing out the old story. Here is a list of things I changed between the two versions you see:

  1. Deeper POV. Even in first person, you can still distance your readers from your characters. There’s a difference between a character explaining, “oh here’s something that happened to me that might be interesting” versus “you have to hear this. You won’t believe what I’ve been through. I want you to really understand what I’ve been through.” It really comes down to the old “showing vs telling” maxim. In version #2 he seems annoyed. In version #1 he’s enraged.
  2. Sparse description. In #1 I have maybe 4 adverbs, and looking at it now I can probably remove at least 2 more. I have 7 in #2. Adjective counts are similarly slanted. In fact, the one line of description, about the sky, needs to go as well. I’m thinking I want him to shade his eyes against the sun instead of just noting it. Then the harsh glare becomes more important, but I still get in the hint that we’re not on Earth.
  3. Almost no backstory. Instead of explaining why the narrator doesn’t like androids isn’t as effective as him railing against them. I have even less explanation of who Nancy is as well. It’s not that important.
  4. Inner dialog. It puts the reader into the narrator’s head, instead of hearing his impressions almost second hand. This makes everything more immediate.
  5. The character acts. In every paragraph, he does something. In #2 he’s just an passive observer.
  6. Other style changes. Variable sentence length, smaller focused paragraphs (that second paragraph in #2 actually goes on for  ~150 more words), voice, etc.

Here are some additional things I did to the story that aren’t evident from this small section:

  1. Reduced word count from 10K to 8K words. There was a lot of backstory in there, as well as either unimportant scenes and/or unnecessary exposition.
  2. Eliminated four characters, added one. He interacts with a lot of people, but I thought that was too much for this length of story, so I combined a few of them into one character.
  3. Reduced scene count from 19 to 13. Combined redundant scenes, eliminated some “traveling” scenes.
  4. Added new ending. The original story really had no Dénouement so I figured out how to tie everything together in a way that hopefully will elicit some OMG’s from my readers.
  5. Added conflict everywhere. Every page, every scene, every paragraph. This is a man who is struggling to avoid the Stockade himself, so there’s a high level of tension throughout.
  6. Story Structure. I’ve used Hero’s Journey and other structures to ensure that the story flows nicely.
  7. Better world building. I added a few twists in there to give the reader pause. But I dole out the world in dribs and drabs, and I try not to explain everything. I want people to want to re-read the piece to find all the clues/breadcrumbs I left for them.

One comment I have about the original version #2: a couple people noted that they like a couple things about #2, but those elements don’t really work in the revised version, so they’re left out on purpose. The lesson here is to not get too attached to any version or concept in your work, and feel free to kill your darlings, to eliminate things that don’t work anymore.

Thanks everyone for your input, you’ve given me hope that I really am improving my craft! And now for some XKCD love.



  1. Interesting test. It's nice to see how others revise. I've learned a lot from the revision process! Thanks for sharing ;o)

  2. What a great hands on test sample of revision. I love the break down of what works and why. Isn't it interesting how we learn so much over the years (yes, years) of our writing experiences?

    Thanks for sharing this process.

  3. The results are very interesting : )

    And I'm about halfway through my first reading ... loving it : )

  4. Thanks for sharing, I couldn't come over yesterday though I saw it on google reader. I also thought the ist was the revised.

  5. This was interesting, Andrew! Like one of my experiment lit lab posts, hehe. So much fun! It's amazing what we learn over time. :)

  6. Wow; that was a lot of energy and thought into the revision. It shows you know exactly where you are going with, and what you want from, this story. The comments here, and on the last post, also confirms you are definitely getting the plot across.

    Thanks for sharing your process and your excerpt with us. It was a most intriguing exercise.


  7. Interesting test, great idea to do this! (I would do this myself, but um, I don't think it would be fair to subject people to anything of mine before revision...


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