The Revision Process – Part 2

March 21, 2011 By: Christopher D. Eldridge Category: Writing Craft

When writing a novel, the revision process never ends, unless your manuscript gets published, or you throw it in the trash and never look at it again. And nothing tends to cause a writer more fits than the opening of a novel. Here is one of the earliest versions of my first book that I wrote years ago.  I cringe just reading it.


“Huh? What? Who’s there?” I yelled half asleep, lifting my head from the table.  “Oh my neck, my back,” I cried out as I sat up from the hard wooden chair.  Damn, fell asleep on the chair again. Must have dosed off when the candle burnt out. I looked over to the bed and began to make my way over to it, when I heard a sound at the door. I immediately froze. Had they finally come for me? Had Nemgar revealed my dark secret?  It was late and the room was dark.

I slowly made my way toward the door being as quiet as possible, when I realized the journal lay open on the table, and the deciphered manuscripts lay strewn across the floor.  I turned back to gather them up when I heard a small knock on the door.  Slowly I approached the door and grabbed hold of my sword.  Unsheathing the blade and fearing for my life I called out, “Who’s there?  What do you want?”  But I received no reply.  Slowly I opened the door, looking out into the open field and the tall grass that rose as high as a man.  I saw nothing.  Then a voice, muffled and faint came from the grass.  I jumped and the blade grew warm in my hand, igniting the steel in blue fire.

“Who’s there? Show yourself!”

“Be quiet, I’m a friend,” replied a soft voice.

The grass was speaking to me.  Was I mad, or was I dreaming? Then in the faint blue light I saw the shape of a figure and two eyes.

“Who are you?  What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I am Telfar, Nemgar’s assistant.  I have an urgent message for you.”

“Oh, thank God!  I feared you were someone else.” My heart pounded in my ears.  “You nearly frightened me to death. Well come in then.”

There’s a few problems with this scene other than its less than stellar writing. For starters, the novel begins with the protagonist waking up. Always avoid this when possible. In addition, there are a few words that are repeated several times, which can be distracting, and our protagonist’s fear isn’t fleshed out enough for the reader to feel his terror. Telling the reader he’s afraid isn’t sufficient. Furthermore, there’s very little build up of tension, and even the action is a bit stifled. In truth, there’s a lot of problems here. So let’s take a look at the scene after revision. It’s still not perfect, but certainly an improvement.


My eyes darted across the words of the ancient journal, my mind working to translate the obscure language and piece it together. Hand and quill moved with furious speed. I paused on the damning words contained within, then flipped open the Zenitonian Tomes. A sound at the door stopped me. I blew the candle out, closing the room in darkness. Only the faint blue light of the third moon shining through the window allowed me to see.

Had they finally come for me? Had they tortured Nemgar until he broke? Forced him to reveal my dark secret in a babble of screams?

Heart thundering in my chest, I jumped up and ran to the door, ripping my sword from the mantle.

I took a bracing breath, unlocked the door, and swung it open

Nothing moved in the open field, but a voice, muffled and faint came from the darkness, startling me. I gripped the sword tighter, adrenaline pumping heavy in my veins. The blade grew warm in my hand, igniting the steel in blue fire.

The grass swayed. Someone was there, but still I could see no one. Vendria was known to hire assassins. Had they sent a Son of Night to cut my throat while I slept, then slip away with the journal?

I moved into the mind-master technique, the Mind of Compromising Perception, powering my sight at the cost of my other senses. In the sword’s faint blue light the shape of a figure appeared.

Had to move fast. No time to think. I dropped into the Body of Accelerated Force. Power and speed surged through me.

I leaped into the grass, flaming blade in hand.

The figure’s eyes grew wide. His arms started to rise, but in the mind-master my body moved many times faster than a normal man. My hand found his throat, fingers pressing hard into flesh. I lifted him into the air with ease, holding the blade inches away from his face.

He screamed out. “Don’t kill me! I’m a friend.”

My body weakened, and I fell out of the mind-master, dropping him. The Body of Accelerated Force was extremely taxing on the body, and I was too out of practice. A wave of exhaustion washed over me. I braced myself with the sword to keep from stumbling.

“Who are you?” I demanded? “What are you doing here?”

Lying on his back he held his shaking hands out before me. “I am Telfar, Nemgar’s assistant. I have a message for you, Valcor.”
“Oh, thank God!” Exhaling, I extinguished the magic of the sword. “You could have lost your head prowling around my house like that.”

He blinked but said nothing.

“Well, come in then.”

Although this rewrite is longer,Valcor’s fear is more evident as is his desire to act fast. There’s also some build up of tension, a bit of action, and right from the get-go we’re treated to a taste of the mysterious powers our protagonist wields.

While this scene has a fair amount of changes in it, many revisions are more subtle and difficult to pin down as to why they’re not working. That’s why it’s important to get outside help from others with different perspectives. Beta-readers as well as a critique group are invaluable for this. They’ll help you to see your mistakes and give you insight to what your story might be missing. My story certainly wouldn’t be where it is without them.

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