Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Visions and Revisions, with Cheryl Klein

by Kelley Lindberg


Revision. The mere word can strike fear into the hearts of writers. Or hope.

It's where the magic happens. Or the pain.

It’s when everything that isn’t David is chipped away. Or when the whole thing crumbles to dust.

Okay, melodrama aside, revision is a necessary, unavoidable part of writing anything that you want to be good enough to wow editors, charm readers, and stand the test of time.

Cheryl Klein at SCBWI in Salt Lake City, Nov 2012
I know writers who hate revision with a loathing usually reserved for politics, and I know other writers who think the first draft is the ugly, painful part, and who look forward to the revision process as the truly creative act. I think I fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. When I was younger, I thought my first drafts were near-perfect, of course, and once my words were committed to paper, they felt set in concrete. I couldn’t see how to crack open the concrete to make any changes. But with age, comes… well, if not wisdom, then a certain resignation, followed by realization, and finally topped off with epiphany: my writing really does get better with each revision! Hey, who knew?

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of helping out at the annual SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) conference in Salt Lake City, which this year was a “Plot Intensive Workshop” presented by Cheryl Klein, of Arthur A. Levine Books (an imprint of Scholastic). You know Cheryl’s work. She was one of the American editors of the Harry Potter books, to name just one of the feathers in her cap.

Cheryl’s workshop turned out to be one of the most intense, info-packed workshops I’ve probably ever been to. If you ever—EVER—get a chance to see her speak, go. You won’t be disappointed.

In Saturday’s talk, she covered miles of territory, from three separate methods for looking at your novel’s structure and flow, to ways of strengthening your characters, to how to identify your story’s Emotional Point, Thematic Point, and Experiential Point.

Cheryl also had us go through our novels scene by scene, identifying the driving purpose behind each scene, justifying its existence. Seems so simple; felt so hard.

If you were at the workshop on Saturday, you are probably staring at your pages of notes in wonder right now, already picturing how you can implement some of her ideas into your revision. I know I am.

If you couldn’t make it to her workshop, you’re still in luck—she’s written a book compiling many of her talks that she’s given over the years. It’s called Second Sight: An Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising, & Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults, but the info in it applies equally well to adult writing. The chapter called “Twenty-Five Revision Techniques” alone is worth the price of the book. You can purchase the book via her website (and while you’re there, be sure you check out her blog and other goodies): http://cherylklein.com/

Want more? How about podcasts? Cheryl and screenwriter/filmmaker James Monohan produce podcasts about just about every aspect of writing you can think of on their site The Narrative Breakdown (also available on iTunes): http://www.narrativebreakdown.com/

As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday, I’d like to thank Cheryl Klein for planting lots of new ideas and thought-provoking insights into my head (and SCBWI for bringing her to us). Suddenly I’m ready to tackle my revision.

Bring it on!

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