Thursday, June 26, 2014

Revising Gets the Mistakes Out, Right?

My daughter was reading a novel by a popular mystery writer. Quoting to me from a certain page, she said, "The main character says, 'I left the keys in the ignition.'" She paged ahead a bit. By now, the MC was tangling with the villain, had ended up flat on the ground, and was casting about for any sort of tool. My daughter went on, "But here, she says, 'I felt a lump in my pocket and realized it was the car keys.'" My daughter put the book down. "I hate stuff like that!"

I do, too. At best, blatant inconsistencies take you out of the story. At worst, they kill the story and you shut the book for good. No matter how exciting the action or heightened the emotions in a scene, that all goes poof if you the reader are yelling, "You do not have the car keys in your pocket! You left them in the ignition!"

The thing is -- and I told my daughter this -- I get why these mistakes happen. They happen because of revision.

Revision is supposed to fix what's wrong, what's weak, what's not there yet. And, overwhelmingly, it does. I love revision, much more than I love writing the first draft. But the most difficult aspect of revision isn't making yourself change things. The most difficult aspect is performing the microsurgery that's involved in removing all traces of whatever you're taking out, altering all the spots that need to be changed because of something you've added, and then stitching the book back together so seamlessly that the reader never knows you once had story parts lying all over the place.

And why am I thinking of all this now? Because I'm revising, and I got to p. 8, and there's a big, fat inconsistency sitting there. Yes, only EIGHT pages in, and I've already found a "car keys" moment. But why is that mistake there? That inconsistency did not exist in the first, second, or third drafts of the chapter. It's here in the fourth (thereabouts) because I cut something out a few pages earlier, and along with that cut passage went whoops the piece of information that we need in order to not go "Huh?" on p. 8.

Part of the nature of revising anything is that, besides tackling old errors, we can introduce new ones, and we have to get rid of those, too. Now I'm wondering if I should go show this chapter to my daughter. :)  

13 comments:

Dawn Malone said...

I'd say give it to your daughter! My daughter caught an inconsistency in my proof copy, and it was a BIG one. Thank goodness for daughters with a quick editorial eye!

Faith E. Hough said...

Yes! I hate when this happens to me. I'm lucky I have very vigilant readers, but even then I'm embarrassed when they catch those pasted in bits where I didn't line everything up properly.

Marcia said...

Dawn -- Yes, very true! She's good at catching things.

Faith -- Unlike Dr. Frankenstein, we have to get the seams and screws out. :D

Vijaya said...

Drats. I love revising, but ironing out all the little things takes FOREVER and sometimes I feel like I'll never get them all. Beta and theta readers are a must.

Marcia said...

Vijaya -- Alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon, zeta, eta, THETA? *Thud*

cleemckenzie said...

Hate those car keys moments. I had a blazing fire in one scene and few pages later I had someone setting the fire because the room was chilly. In only a few pages I'd forgotten that rotten fire.

Mirka Breen said...

You nailed it in your answer to your daughter, and as a master editor/writer you do know.
My daughter used to have a hobby finding these inconsistencies. She found them in plenty of commercial books, but never in the so-called literary kind. There may be something different in the process or the speed with which they are published.
I know there are dedicated movie-goer who jot down these editorial inconsistencies in films, and you can find their lists of guffaws on the movie websites.

Marcia said...

Lee -- It's scary how easy it is to forget. But I now have a permanent term for these mistakes: a car-keys moment.

Mirka -- Interesting! It does seem intuitive that they'd happen more in commercial books. There's more plot to mess up, perhaps, and I do think many are probably written and put out faster. My DH and oldest son love to find misprints in sports almanacs and the like.

Kelly Polark said...

Glad you caught the "car keys" moment! Good beta readers will help with that too! But the author needs to be on top of this too.

annebingham said...

In my most recent revision I found somebody talking about events that had occurred at a party that didn't happen for several more chapters. I'd be consoled that I caught it but for the nagging worry about the ones I missed.

Marcia said...

Kelly -- This is also why a cool-off period helps so much.

Anne -- Isn't that the thing about catching a mistake? You immediately wonder how many more you're not seeing.

Medeia Sharif said...

The same thing has happened to me. I catch them, as well as beta readers and editors. I still wonder if they make their way in my published work.

Marcia said...

Medeia -- It's probably a wonder that so much gets published without errors.