March 3rd, 2011

Revising vs. Polishing

I used to consider the difference between 'Revision' and 'Polishing' to be be primarily one of scale. If I was rearranging large chunks of text, that was revision. If I was fiddling with words, that was polishing.

I no longer see it that way. Somewhere during the past few years, I've begun to adopt Orson Scott Card's adage that the story in your head is never the same as the story written on the paper. There's Story -- the series of events that occur, and the reasons behind them. And there's Manuscript -- a chronicling of the Story which may or may not depict any given event.

When I am changing the Story, then that is Revision. For me, at least. So if I decide that the protagonist received his Magic Ring of Perception from his uncle rather than from his long-dead cousin, that's Revision even if I only have to change one sentence. A Story event has changed, and so the Story itself is different.

Polishing, on the other hand, is a matter of restructuring sentences and paragraphs so that the beauty and power of the Story can shine through. Sometimes this is a simple as dropping a few adverbs. Sometimes it requires the complete rewriting of a paragraph or a chapter. But if the underlying Story has not changed, then for me it is still Polishing.

I'm not sure whether this little taxonomy of mine has any significant repercussions. It's kind of interesting to poke around in my brain, though, and figure out what I actually mean when I use words like 'revise' and 'polish'.