How do I Rewrite my Novel?

by Struggling
(North America)


I finished writing my manuscript one year ago. Since then, I have made almost no progress with rewriting it. I don't know how to begin, or where to begin, or how to do it. I've also had trouble finding the inspiration to work on it.

How can I begin the process of rewriting my novel, which really badly needs rewriting? How can I motivate myself to get to work? Any help would be highly appreciated.

Thank you!

Answer: Rewriting can be a big subject, but here is a general approach to the topic...

First, put the manuscript aside for a time, so you can approach it again with fresh eyes (sounds like you've already done this).

Next, most people do at least three rounds of editing.

1. Substantive Editing. This editing for story and character arcs. Write an outline of your story, if you haven't already, that summarizes the important stepping stones of the main plot. Do the same for any subplots. Then do the same for the arc of your main character's inner conflict and growth, the arc of other major characters, and the arc of the major relationship(s). Make sure that each of these plotlines and arcs evolve. Make sure they unfold in a dramatic pattern that looks like...

setup --> complication --> crisis --> resolution

Look for any plot holes that may need to be filled with additional scenes.

Look for any scenes that are not important to the story, not part of any arc, and cut them. (Be ruthless.)

Look for any scenes where nothing happens (no clear change) and either cut them or rewrite them so that something does happen in each scene that carries the story forward. (Note: "something happens" can mean either an external change or an internal decision
or realization)

Pay special attention to your opening chapters. Do they grab the reader's interest right away and make them want to keep reading?

Does the tension build to a crisis (a big change)?

Do you tie up all the loose ends in the final chapters?

Once the story is sound, you can move on to...

2. Line editing. Here you look at each sentence and ask yourself if you could make it better. Can you choose better telling details or more active verbs? Can you cut unnecessary or redundant words or sentences? Can you make the dialogue crisper? Can you replace cliches? Etc.

3. At some point, you may need to do some checking of any facts in your manuscript that you didn't check before, whether these facts are historical scientific, geographical, etc.

4. Some people use beta readers. They show the manuscript to a number of people whose opinions they trust and get feedback. The best feedback simply tells you where the reader's attention waned. Those are the parts you may want to revise. Remember that many people are good at telling you what they didn't like, but are really bad at telling you how to fix it. Figuring out how to fix it is your job, not theirs.

5. Proofreading. Once you've done all the above, the last pass is to proofread for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. Also, look for continuity errors that might have been introduced during all your revisions. For example, if you changed a character's name, did you change every instance where the name occurs, even places where you misspelled the original name?)

For more help on this, I recommend two books...

Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

Revise to Write by Kim McDougall

Best of luck.

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