12 More Revision Prompts: Teaching Revision 14



This is a continuation of my posts on teaching revision. The first 22 revision prompts are here. Another 7 are here. If you’d like to contribute a guest post or response, please contact me at m [dot] salesses [at gmail etc.].

  1. Research something fact-based or theory-based or historical, etc., and add at least 10 “facts” (or statements of information) from your research that seem relevant to the thematic content of your story. Maybe one of your characters is interested in this subject, or your protagonist goes to a museum or gets an information flyer or mysterious phone call or email, or whatever. “Nonfiction” information, or a researched topic, can help get across the theme and give your audience the sense that they’re learning something–they can create interest and investment through a kind of backdoor. Think of the novel, The Quick and the Dead, by Joy Williams, which uses environmental facts and theories to get across the theme and character and to immerse its reader in the obsession of its protagonist. 10 “facts” is a low number–maybe shoot for more? Think about how they’re related or could be related and how they could be related to your story’s theme.
  2. Restructure your story so that it starts at the most recent event and moves backward in time. Think about the causation here. Also think about the character’s possible paths and how those paths narrow by the choices they make.
  3. Add interpretation and rumination/consideration from your narrator to the story so that the narrator (from a later point in time or a more understanding position) can tell the audience what the events in the story mean. Add this all over, but then cut out what is too much explaining or is too obvious, etc. Then try to let these additions help you rediscover what the story is about and how characters act in certain situations–what they know and don’t know about what is going on at the time and how that knowledge changes.
  4.  Go paragraph by paragraph and try to get each paragraph to answer at least one question that the story has already brought up, and also pose at least two more questions, until the climax.
  5. Introduce a symbolic and/or magical premise and begin the story with that premise, in the very first sentence. Now revise to make the story work with this new premise. Make sure the premise speaks directly to your themes! (Don’t choose this one if you already have a symbolic/magical premise, unless you feel you aren’t foregrounding it well enough and need to refocus the story on the premise, maybe.)
  6. Revise your story so that it is only 3 big scenes (and maybe also narrative summary). Maybe you need to combine scenes. Maybe backstory moves into dialogue. Do whatever you need to do to make this work as a story.
  7. Add a scene to reveal more about a minor character. What is the minor character doing while the rest of the story is going on? How do these actions or action affect what the protagonist must do or decide?
  8. Add a clock to the story–something that starts at the beginning of the story and counts down to the end; for example, Suzy has two weeks to live.
  9. Tell the story from two alternating perspectives, a la “Seven.” Think about secrets and the differences between what the two characters know and how the two different perspectives add to and build on each other. Make sure to give both characters an arc, and to have both arcs contribute to the same theme. Now cut back to one if you need to. How do you get the information in?
  10. Increase the resonance in your story by adding three things: rhyming action, motif, and objects.
  11. Increase the outside conflict by at least 2x the page-space it takes now. Make sure it works thematically with the character arc. Raise the stakes! Then cut so you have the same number of pages as before, but with more outside conflict.
  12. Work on grounding your story throughout. Use the list we talked about in class, which included setting, staging, not switching perspective or time or place too much within paragraphs, using space breaks, introducing characters fully when they come up, introducing characters by their relationship to the protagonist, within sentences being careful to start with grounding information instead of burying it later, thinking carefully about the order in which information is revealed, making sure information that doesn’t need to be withheld is given upfront, etc.

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