Monday, 26 December 2011

Tip of the week: How to do major rewrites

Major rewrites was something alien to me. I must admit having had the huge task before me for the first time, I had my struggles in the beginnings. I get easily confused if you give me three sheets of paper, let alone doing it on screen. Everyone has a different system and I received some advice which, frankly, didn't help me. I never edit on paper, for it doesn't have a better effect than on screen, at least not for me. I'm talking major edits: deleting huge chunks, moving/rewriting/adding scenes or characters. That's nothing you could do on paper, at least I can't.

Since I'm an editor myself, I often make my clients do the same, but they have an advantage: I tell them where or what to cut or add or even how. So they have guidance. Something I didn't have. Okay, that's not entirely true; I had a few wonderful people reading the book and giving feedback. They confirmed where I thought the book might need work. And I can officially say that, at some point, the book bored me stiff. And I couldn't even blame someone else for it, no, it was all my fault. Luckily, I followed my own advice and didn't touch the book for several months, which results in me reading with (almost) fresh eyes and that again resulted in my deleting an impressive 9k. 

Here's how I tackled the massive undertaking:
First, I copied the complete book into a new document and saved it
Then I read through it and made comments on what to add along the way (highlighted them in yellow) and deleted all the boring bit and bobs.
A few things I wanted to keep to use later, I copied into another document named miscellaneous
When I had finished reading the whole book, I started to rearrange scenes; I had one in the end that I wanted to place smack bang in the middle of the book and did exactly that.
That drastic move meant I needed to iron out the seams so it wouldn't confuse the reader later.
After that I went to find the yellow highlighted comments and added a scene, character or prose, depending on what the comment said. I wrote those in a new document to make corrections easier.

This concept seems to work for me and I will use it in future, if I ever need to do a heavy rewrite again. I'm not finished yet, but I refilled 2k of the 9k I lost. I might not make the 76k I had before, but it doesn't matter. 72k is a good size, too. As long as it's a tight and enjoyable read.

How do you go about it? The same? Completely different? What's your secret weapon?


  1. "I'm talking major edits: deleting huge chunks, moving/rewriting/adding scenes or characters. That's nothing you could do on paper, at least I can't."

    Here, here Stella. Editing on the screen is much better. No more using the scissors and glue to 'cut and paste'. :)

  2. LOL don't tell me you used to do that? I remember writing on an old typewriter when I was 18, almost breaking my fingers doing that. I also remember a lot of paperballs flying into the bin. Then again, I never wrote a novel or a story, it were the ramblings of a teenager and I thought them never to be good enough to keep them.
    But it was a good exercise because I learned touch typing back then.

  3. My approach is to get all analytical. I write first draft from the seat of my pants and then pass that to a victim, em, reader, or two. While they're struggling through my inconsistencies I use an excel to map out what has grown organically - what happens in each chapter, is there tension and conflict, does it move the story along and is there a hook that isn't too overt.
    Then rewrite to add and subtract what I've found needs changing and what the readers have fed back.
    On the last book I used text-to-speech for the final edit and found a load more stuff that didn't scan well. It was a bit weird listening to the Hawkin-type voice describing sex scenes and expletive-laden murders, but I think I'll try the same overall approach again next time.

  4. I think the summeries of each chapter is a good idea in general. Not helpful for this particular book I'm editing at the moment because it doesn't have chapter, but I did it with other books. I also read aloud. I tried the text to speech and, like you, I found it weird, but I might actually try it when I'm done with the rewrites.
    I also use time-lines, should've done it with this novel, too. haha.

  5. If a section seems a little off to me, I've often found that reading it aloud myself will alert me to issues, especially with dialogue. Things that seemed natural when I was writing on the page can become glaringly awkward when reading it aloud.

    I liked your suggestion about creating a whole new document of the book and making notes right into that doc. I've never done an edit that way, but I can imagine trying it and feeling freed by the "new doc" idea.

  6. Yes, it's a great feeling to be able to mess about with a new copy. The highlighted comments are super good, especially if they're really detailed, so I know what I have to do. It gives you the 'freedom' to read it all in one go, then go back and do the changes.
    I also send it to myself after working on it, that way I have it saved in case something goes wrong.

    Reading out loud is a very good tool to find glitches, though I'm the worst person to read out loud. You wouldn't want to listen to me.