RWA Nationals – Lisa Gardner on REVISION

8 Aug

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to hear Lisa Gardner speak, well then, you’re pretty darn lucky. 


There was a ton in her workshop, and because there was so much, these are only my notes and impressions – I highly recommend that if you’re having trouble revising and my notes seem to scratch the surface, get the RWA mp3 of this session.   

Lisa (I’m going to just call her Lisa, since we’re so tight in that imaginary world in my head) started her career writing for Silhouette Intimate Moments as Alicia Scott. When it came time to make the jump, she wrote The Perfect Husband – and it got picked up by Bantam.  One of the best parts of Lisa’s talk was hearing about her “overnight success” – it was amazingly encouraging to learn that an already successful author, one who writes so amazingly sharp and clear, had to learn new things too – and was willing to pass them on.


Bantam gave her some direction on the book and she worked on it and then they redirected her and she worked on it and this went on until they liked it — two years after they bought it.


So, Lisa talked for most of her time about learning to analyze everything – not chapter by chapter, but scene by scene. Look at every sentence, why does it exist, does it earn the right to be in the book.

I loved that idea – the idea of being so right, that it EARNED THE RIGHT to stay in my book!



Is this the most dramatic opening?

Is it going to push the reader forward?

Is it too big? —- Yes, she really asked us “is it too big” — you didn’t think you could open too big, did you.  Don’t open so big that everything else is a let down, that the tension is almost impossible to ratchet up, that everything, no matter who tense feels like a let down.  Even the ever over-emotional Twilight opens with a very normal scene of a girl moving from one parents home to another.



A plot point is the discovery of something you didn’t know

Don’t take too long getting there OR between them

If it’s the logical thing, just get to it without killing time.



Something happens so the readers understanding of the character or world opens up

The story turns in an unexpected direction

There is a fundamental change in the novel

More is at stake

It changes the action of the novel (such as moving geographically, character is seen completely differently, the world shifts)



This should be your key moment of tension almost to the end of the novel

It MUST have emotional power

They need to be able to rise out of the ashes

And it needs to set you up for your climatic ending



This is where the MC’s overcome the Black Moment and close out after all that rising tension

Do all the sections above do what they’re supposed to?


Lisa threw a TON of amazing information at us and I’m sure more than an hour would have been welcomed by the people with their butts in the seats, and on the floor, and standing in the foyer, and listening from the hall (yes, the hall – hint to conference groups – if you get LISA GARDNER to speak at your conference, praise your stars and DO NOT PUT HER IN THE SMALLEST ROOM YOU HAVE)

The points from here, are questions and comments she made that I scribbled down as quickly as possible in hopes of looking at my stuff with them in mind later.


Are you discovering new layers of information?

Emotionally, is there more at stake?

Variety – tension is good, but there is such a thing as Tension Burnout. Make sure to have lighter moments so the reader can rest and the contrast is more noticeable.

Come up with the Right Way to communicate info to the reader:

She discussed how she kept giving important information over the phone and it often lost its impact. 

Make sure you know how/who/when/what medium you use to give info. Is it that person’s POV or an outside POV (as an aside, I do several scenes that have surprised people by taking the outside POV – play with new things!) Maybe discussion isn’t the way – what should we actually watch happen?

Learn when to tell and when to show.

Don’t change POV to often — or not enough.

Do you stay in the POV to long? Sometimes considering keeping the scene and breaking the POV

Scene and Sequel

Make sure the last line of your chapter is a WHOA! and the first line of the next chapter is an OH! –> that’s an immediate hook

Track them – see where your ‘ah-ha’ moments are

Sweat EVERY scene

Cut the 2 sentences that just reviewed what happened (it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who has to do this!)



Do you write long and edit? Do you have to add something: detail/dialogue/action/description/etc? Do you write too big/small? Do you need to analyze with index cards? Plot out ahead of time?

Knowing what’s going to happen in your process lets you embrace it and it won’t surprise you. Don’t convince yourself you’re a plotter if you hate plotting 🙂


Lastly, she mentioned Syd Field’s “Screenwriter’s Workbook” twice – hey, Lisa Gardner mention it once would have been enough for me!


So, Revision Hints? What are yours?

One Response to “RWA Nationals – Lisa Gardner on REVISION”

  1. Kaige August 8, 2008 at 11:44 am #

    Thanks! I’m definitely gonna check out the audio for this one. Some great stuff in there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: