Some writers love rewriting, others loathe it. But it’s a process every writer must do in order to get to a publishable standard.
Every piece of work needs rewriting – no writer is perfect, and no first draft is ever perfect either, fact, so any writer that boasts that they don’t need to rewrite is a liar or an incompetent fool.
Rewriting is a fundamental part of the writing process because there will be times when you will want to add scenes, cut scenes, change things around, add characters, remove them and so on. Some writers chop and change whole chapters – whatever it takes to get the scene or chapter right. Not only that, but often chapters overrun, or scenes just drag on, so some judicial cutting and rewriting is a must.
Is there a correct process for rewriting?
The simple answer is that rewriting is an individual process, and writers approach in it different ways; however it’s an important process that every writer should get to grips with.
Beginners, in particular, struggle with rewriting because they’re not exactly sure what it is they have to rewrite – they don’t see what elements need changing and if they do spot something, they are unsure what to do about it.
The correct process, if we could say there was one, is to follow a standard check list when it comes to re-reading through the novel to check for errors. First drafts are always crammed with errors; no matter how advanced you are at writing. A first draft is the bare bones of the novel, where a writer has thrown in all sorts of thoughts and ideas as the novel has evolved, and sometimes writers don’t write in chronological order, so inevitably there will be parts of the story that won’t make sense, things that don’t belong, characters that shouldn’t be there and things that seem out of place.
The main things to look out for that usually mean a rewrite include:-
1. Overly long scenes that have nothing meaningful to say.
2. Overly long chapters that drift on and on.
3. Unnecessary peripheral characters clogging up the story.
4. Gaping plot flaws.
5. Lack of cohesive subplots.
6. Info dumps or long narrative exposition.
7. Secondary characters stealing the spotlight from your main character.
8. First person skipping into third person POV and vice versa.
9. Glaring continuity errors.
10. Some of the story just doesn’t make sense.
Rewriting is all about reading with a critical eye, recognising the problems and knowing what to do about them. Writers who are well read will have an advantage here, because the more you read, the more you become aware of how plot, themes, characters, scenes and chapters all come together in an effortless flow.
By far the best way to spot these is to be judicious – however much you love your work, you have to be objective enough to know that if something can be improved by removing or rearranging something, then you have to do it. This is often referred to as ‘killing your darlings’. But to be objective and to rewrite efficiently, you have to sometimes destroy, kill and obliterate parts of your novel before you can rebuild.
A rewrite can range from minor to major work – sometimes novels change characters, with the secondary character becoming the protagonist, or some of the events change considerably. A writer might change the setting to something that fits the story better. It’s not unknown for writers to change their entire novel from third person POV to first person and vice versa.
Reading is a key ingredient to a good rewrite, especially if you read your novel aloud. You will soon notice if something doesn’t work; if sentences lack rhythm, if there’s no pace, if there is too much narrative and no description. You’ll detect if there is no tension or conflict. You will become aware if absolutely nothing happens for pages and pages. You will notice huge holes in your plot, or you may spot silly continuity errors, such as the bad guy’s weapon changing from a handgun on page 40 to a hunting knife on page 81.
You will instinctively know when something isn’t right, and the more you do this – writing, reading and rewriting – the more proficient you’ll become as spotting the obvious.
Rewriting isn’t a quick fix. It takes time and patience – it should be a methodical process, page by page, chapter by chapter. If something clearly isn’t working, sometimes we have to kill our darlings, as the saying goes, and revise until it works. Starting from scratch is not unheard of. Whole scenes, whole chapters. Whole novels.
So, if it isn’t working, rewrite it. If it still doesn’t work, start over. Sometimes we have to tear our work to shreds to find the very obvious.
Next week: Editing Hacks Part 1