Monday, December 8, 2014

Rainbow Revising

November is dead and NaNoWriMo is over, and now you're probably left with a lumpy, shapeless manuscript that you're not sure what to do with. I hear you. I've been there, and I'm still there now.

The answer is color-coding. (I personally think the answer to everything is color-coding, but whatever.)

I've recently started doing something I call Rainbow Revising, in which I read through the manuscript and tag or highlight portions that relate to a certain aspect, and then go back and change them in the order of the rainbow. (I also like to be passive-aggressive and tell my manuscript to "TASTE THE RAINBOW" when I'm doing it. It's good to get the feels out.) The whole system is effective, and has cut my revision time in half since I started using it. Here are the colors you're looking for:

Red: Main Character
Orange: Secondary Characters
Yellow: Plot
Green: Setting
Blue: Tension
Indigo: Word Choice
Violet: Grammar, Spelling, Punctuation

1. ROYG-ify your manuscript. Read through as many times as it takes to highlight or tab the first four colors only. Those are the big points you're trying to hit and that need to be taken care of before you start worrying about the cool colors on the spectrum. So when you're looking for main character, highlight the thoughts, beliefs, and actions that influence your manuscript's direction. The same goes for the secondary characters, the ones that are essential to the story. Then thread through and find important plot points, and when your setting is described.

2. Red alert! Out of all these colors, red is the most important and the one that needs to be sorted out first. Your character should be directly influencing all other elements of your manuscript, so you need to be clear about how she thinks, what she believes, and how those two things influence her decisions. Go back through your red tabs/highlights and ask yourself if every action and choice make sense based on what your character wants and who she is. You'll find as you do this, how your secondary characters see her (orange), plot points (yellow) and how she uses and sees her natural surroundings (green) will also change. This is awesome; less work for clearing up one color! Once you think you've got red covered, take a few more passes through orange, yellow, and green to make sure they still line up.

3. BIV it up. Now it's time for the silky blues and deep purples of the visible light spectrum. Here's where you do your nitty gritty micro-writing. Take a look at each chapter, and then each scene, and check for tension (hint: there should be some in each one). One question you can ask yourself during each scene is: What's at play here, and how can I make sure the stakes are apparent to the reader? After that, go back and polish those pronouns and punctuation and make this thing sparkly.

I'm not saying this is the end-all, be- all to manuscript revision. In fact, you may need to make your book taste the rainbow in another pass after this one. But it's a concrete system that give you something to start with, which I think is important when you first get going.

How 'bout you, Secret Lifers? Do you color code when you revise? Or what are some of your favorite revision techniques? Share the wealth in the comments!

Andrea Hannah writes about delusional girls, disappearances, and darkness with a touch of magic. When she's not writing, Andrea runs, teaches, consumes epic amounts of caffeine, and tries to figure out how to prevent her pug from opening the refrigerator (unsuccessful to date). She's represented by Victoria Marini of Gelfman-Schneider/ICM, and her debut novel, OF SCARS AND STARDUST, is out now. You can add it on Goodreads here!

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