Saturday, August 21, 2010

Revising: Learning from Lewis Carroll

I am fascinated by how different writers revise.

Lewis Carroll wrote two versions of a book. He wrote (by hand) and illustrated Alice's Adventures Under Ground in 1862. (The link takes you to the book at
This book was expanded, revised, and published as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (illustrations by John Tenniel) in 1866. (The second link takes you to an 1866 copy of Alice which can be downloaded in most formats or read online at Internet

The first chapter of the Under Ground book is almost identical to the beginning of the Wonderland book. Carroll only changes a couple words, such as "nosegay" into "fan."

There is a noticeable word change in the middle:
The ostrich changes to a flamingo!

Illustration by Lewis Carroll
I wonder why Carroll made this choice when he revised.
What is the difference between playing croquet with an ostrich or a flamingo?
Did he make this change because of the size of the bird?
The color of the bird?
Maybe flamingos are more docile.

Large scale revision is shown in the final chapters of the book. Three pages in the Under Ground book expand into two chapters in the Wonderland book!

When I write an initial story, I write an "exploratory draft." This is where I discover plot and characters; it is later when I revise, that I flesh out the scenes and find the best way to tell the story. This type of loose exploratory draft is what I see in those 3 pages of Under Ground.
It was a delight to discover (without access to all of Carroll's notes) how Alice Adventure's Under Ground was revised into Alice Adventure's in Wonderland. It is worth the time to read the conclusion of both versions and think about Lewis Carroll's revision choices.


Anne M Leone said...

This is interesting! In working on my revision at the moment, I've found I've done the most revision on the first quarter of my book. I think it's because it took me writing that first quarter of the book to figure out what story I was telling. The latter chapters are much more consistent with each other and the story I want to tell. How interesting that Carroll's writing pattern seems to be the opposite?

Kathy Cowley said...

Reading both versions definitely sounds like the type of thing I'd both enjoy doing, and get a lot out of. Ostriches are definitely bigger...and a little scarier. But both ostriches and flamingos seem exotic.