Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Faculty Voices with Marsha Chall: Micro-revision Madness

Marsha Wilson Chall
For those of you working writers, this blogpost might come as nothing new. For those of you just dipping your quills, you may want to refrain from reading. Unless you are very courageous or enjoy schadenfreude.

My new picture book about Figgy, an adventuresome doggie, is nearly set to go to production. In a casual gesture, I recently handed the layouts to my husband, John. “You haven’t read this for a loooong time,” I told him. “Want a look with final art?”

Expecting nothing beyond “cute,” I was shocked when he asked a pivotal question about the story. “Why is Figgy so tired if all of his adventures take place in his dreams?” Sounds logical if you didn’t know better. Figgy does dream the adventures, but he also relives them in real time. John had somehow missed the words, “When Figgy woke up…”. No one in my writing or retreat groups or in the publishing office had missed that Figgy woke up and carried out his adventure for real. Could he have uncovered a subtle wrongness in the text?

I panicked. This was too late to change any art; was it too late to recast the words to show with no uncertainty that Figgy was awake when he reenacted his dreams? Writing my editor late that evening, I queried possible solutions, even hoping she’d say that I was too anxious or that my husband was a bad reader. Well, she didn’t. She told me we could change the words if I liked.

The words in doubt say, “WOOF! When Figgy woke up, he knew his dream had to be a sign. So he made one of his own: FREE ROCK CONCERT. I wondered if the introductory clause, “When Figgy woke up,…” is too easily overlooked and could be revised as such: “Figgy woke up. WOOF! He knew his dream had to be a sign. So he made his one of his own: FREE ROCK CONCERT.”

Do you have an opinion, dear reader? Or have your eyes glazed over like a pond in November?

I’ve revised at every level, from punctuation (
“I'm exhausted. I spent all morning putting in a comma and all afternoon taking it out.” ~ Oscar Wilde) to pages. These are the rantings of a writer mad in the midst of micro-revision. My profound apologies and appreciation for your insight.


  1. Okay, I'll bite - er, write. Yes, the new version is stronger. The sentence begins with what you want the reader to know about Figgy's state of being. Also, if a fast reader tends to skim lines or jump from one all-caps phrase or word to the next, then "Figgy woke up," is up front and won't get lost in between "WOOF" and "FREE ROCK CONCERT."

  2. Okay... Maybe start with "Figgy knew/sensed his dream had to be a sign..." Also, "sensed" would show that Figgy is an animal of some sort. More importantly, this would eliminate the need for the "When Figgy woke up" clause. We know he woke up because that second clause shows that he realized his dream was a sign--since he made this realization while awake. So, I'd delete that first clause. Doing so would change the text to: "Figgy knew his dream had to be a sign. WOOF! So he made one of his own: FREE ROCK CONCERT." OR, and bear with me, this book (and wine) are damn good... Maybe, the full revised line could read: "Figgy's dream had to be a sign, yet he made one of his own: FREE ROCK CONCERT." The "yet "shows a purposeful action on Figgy's part rather than his receiving a dream. #Eyesareglazing #coordinatingconjunctions #Bonnechance

  3. p.s. Using "yet" would also imply that Figgy's thoughts while awake were different than what he dreamt..., which is good for a pro-active protag-pup. #roomfortension/conflict

  4. Woof! Figgy barked himself awake.

  5. Without seeing the rest of the text, I think the new fix works great!

  6. The revision is stronger. And if you can eliminate the filter of "knew," it might be stronger and more obvious still. You might try a combo of Mell's and Jackie's and Maggie's suggestions: something like "Figgy barked himself awake. WOOF! His dream had to be a sign. So he made one of his own: FREE ROCK CONCERT." (But I'm not sure that this is what you're asking for! If not, ignore all but my first sentence.)