I have the good fortune of being able to teach some of the greatest students that ever were. If you met them, you’d agree. My 5000 Words Class (a misnomer because they write double that) recently participated in a workshop, complete with scribbled-on hardcopy submissions and author silence. The focus of the workshop experience is to get student buy-in on the importance of REVISION. I believe that’s where the true writing magic happens. And while revision can be performed solo, it’s ever so much more exciting when we bring others into the mix.
Sooooo…I asked the students to use the peer critiques to revise their work. I challenged them to give revision their best shot, and I would choose a most-improved story. Below are my findings.
Lucy is my dependable, level-headed, invested student.
Lucy’s Story: Annual Baking Competition
Favorite line: Savannah’s head was now like a car without a break.
Lucy’s story is structurally similar to her original, but the revision is significantly more emotional, the stakes are more clear, and the narrator’s internal landscape is better developed. Foodies, this is for you. I, personally, have made my share of Franken-cakes that taste delicious.
Jack’s command of language shows he’s read a fair share of books.
Jack’s story: Complete Memory Loss
Favorite line: My mind was a blank sheet of paper.
Jack opens his story with the jarring juxtaposition of a serene walk in the woods and a car wreck. The revision, because he is more clear and exact with his description, allows the raw power of the initial scene to shine through. Jack also plays with POV shifts and fits a boldly complex plot into a short story.
Liam is an assured and capable student who asks great questions and gives thoughtful input.
Liam’s story: Excitement, Meet Adventure
Favorite line: We reached a point where we found a substantial rocky spiral staircase, covered with vines and leaves. In the center was a drop leading down to a dark water pool.
Liam’s revisions appear to be mostly cosmetic. His prose was already quite clean. His story reads like fiction but is true!
Ilona is soft-spoken and logical.
Ilona’s story: C’est La Vie
Favorite line: I had been in many chaotic runway shows, but I never experienced something quite so much like a tornado.
The revisions in Ilona’s story underscore why it matters that the main character get what she wants. The added details allow us to root for the character because we know she’s coming from a place of impoverishment, that the expensive clothes she wears are due to years of sacrifice. This raised the stakes considerably.
Logan has an upbeat attitude and makes excellent comments in class. He’s also musically-gifted. Check out the lovely song he wrote (mentioned in his story).
Logan’s story: The Violent Storm
Favorite line: I swallowed so hard it felt as if a pinecone was stuck in my Adam’s apple.
Logan’s revision was a significant improvement because his original story conflated two different storms, and this story mentioned the previous storm, but the progression of (exciting!) events is clear. Add to that the challenge of creating a meaningful creative non-fiction story, and you’ve got a tall order.
And the winner for the most revised story is… Sarah!
Sarah is new to my class. What I can tell you is that she gives thoughtful, relevant feedback.
Sarah’s story: Hell and Back
Favorite line(s): He fell first to his knees, then to the ground. Reaching down, his fingers trailed across the flat surface of his stomach, dipping when they felt the hole where the bullet had passed through, as well as the thick blood oozing out. His whole perception of color was now black and white. The final thing he saw of earth before consciousness defeated his senses was a pair of timberland boots, they seemed to walk away from where he lay on the ground in slow motion.
I chose this story as the most improved because Sarah made sweeping revisions that enhanced the already-complex plot. Her story is didactic and entertaining, and she shows a willingness to put herself into a set of shoes very unlike her own. Sarah isn’t satisfied with a two-dimensional scumbag attorney. She did the heavy lifting of revision and breathed life into him.
That’s a wrap for another excellent 5000 Words Class. Enjoy summer!
*Credit for Unsplash images in order of appearance: Jordane Mathieu, Jamo, Joshua Newton, Laura Chouette, Michael Jin, JR Korpa
3 thoughts on “Revision: Where the Magic Happens.”
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Such a wonderful skill to master–revision. No one better to teach it than you! These young writers are so lucky to have you as a teacher, Kelly. Congrats to them all on the hard work. As we all know draft 1 is only the first step of a long journey!
I think the audio recording you posted here is quite good. It will take some time to figure out how to get optimal audio quality. I have been fiddling around with stuff for days. I still have no clue how to improve things, but I’m sure that it’s possible. I use Audacity to record and edit, which is free, but lacks some features.