Revision is not proofreading or copyediting. Revision is not accessing the thesaurus and subbing in big words. God no.
Revision sometimes involves a restructuring of an entire manuscript. Not just moving the back to the front, or this paragraph to this other chapter, but re-visioning who the story is about, and, for example, from what point of view it should be told.
I asked my client, Jack*, who he really believes his story is about. Who is most important to this story moving forward? His original manuscript contained eight or ten characters, each of whom were just as likely to think, feel, wake up and see, as any other.
But he wanted an unlimited omniscient narrator. “Why can’t I be in everyone’s head?”
According to Janet Burroway in the sixth edition of her Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, there is no hard and fast rule surrounding narration. The key, she says, is consistency. I would add another key: relevancy.
So, Jack, you can be in everyone’s head. But if I’m the reader and I’m in Joe’s head and starting to understand Joe and maybe feel a bit of his anxiety, don’t you want to maintain this? You want your reader to find a character they can disappear into. If you are jumping from Joe into Mary every half page, how will your reader get involved with either of them? Don’t pull away from one character when it starts to get good. This is why many authors use the technique of giving characters their own chapters, their own voices, maintained through a chapter and then the reader can recognize the shift with the chapter break. They can get into many characters. I like Joe. Oh, here’s Mary. I hate Mary. Oh, good, here’s Joe again.
“Is Mary very important to this story?” I asked Jack. We need to know if the reader even needs to know anything more than surface details about Mary. If they don’t, then there is no need to bring the reader in to her thoughts, to try to make a special connection with her only to never bring her up again in the course of the story. The details that should be included are the ones that move the story forward into its conflict and through to its resolution.
Mary can be there, but she is a secondary character. We don’t need to know about how she feels. We need to focus on how Joe reacts to her– If Joe is who the story is about.
The other thing that Jack wanted to do is reveal things to the reader that even the characters themselves do not know. So not only does the reader get the inner thoughts of the character, he gets the inside scoop from the creator himself.
Is this allowed? Well, as long as you’re consistent, it’s allowed. But realize that by doing that, the creator, the narrator, actually becomes a character with a motive for pulling the story in a particular direction. Every bit of inside information that creator shares must have a purpose that is pulling toward the conflict/resolution. Otherwise, why waste the reader’s time? The reader is going to note this information and store it. This must be important, if the narrator is telling us this special information.
“Gee, Joe thought, I wish Mary was attracted to me. I’d love to father her children. But what Joe didn’t know was that his little dudes swam in circles.”
Must. Be. Important. To. Story. Arc.