What's your rewrite process?

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Nikky Lee

Nikky Lee
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A couple of people in my local writers group recently asked what my rewrite process is after I read out a couple of rewritten chapters of my WIP. Being put on the spot, I didn't give a very good answer. But after a bit of mulling, I've broken it down into 4 steps.

My 4-step approach to rewriting

I'm curious to know how everyone else approaches a rewrite. Is your process similar to mine? Or wildly different?
 
Some of that may apply, but I like to begin the process with an overall view, starting with the story goal - is it clear, or at least does it become clear that the main character has a reason to push forward in this story, that it matters to that person to reach the end, and that if they don't at least try, the consequences are dire (either physically, intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually - my PIES test).

And the biggest and most important part of the process: each scene must be part of that journey, it must have an aim/result that leads (even circuitously) in the direction of the main story goal, and each scene must be strong enough to stand alone as a necessary moment because of what it does, how it does it, what's learned or lost or gained.
Each section of the story must build from what's gone before.
The endpoints of each section must demonstrate the strongest emotional moments that relate to the genre of the story, and must be believable and inevitable, but also a stun (whether low volt or high, it must impact the brain with a stun session).
And the end must be justified, produce the outcome that's earned its right to be there, strong enough to produce the final emotional response (not the denouement, at this stage), and be satisfying. the denouement must slow the reader's heart or mind without letting them forget the consequences and how the whole thing came together to produce the next stage of life (life goes on).

Often, at some stage of the editing process, I do rewrite the whole ms from beginning to end (double-doc on screen, one pdf or ePub), makes it easier to pick up on little problems, smoothness, etc. It also highlights things that could be motifs or symbols, and I'll note on the rewrite that these could be used better or removed (do they add or detract from the main story?).

The final read-through (okay, it's never final) looks at any weak points that pop up after all that. They're easy to spot when everything else is strong enough. Usually. Often. Sometimes. And that's when critique or beta readers pop into the picture ...

The brainstorming is something I do with each writing session, because it's amazing what your mind comes up with once the story gets started.

However, this is a process I've changed with every creation, and it will keep growing, changing, adapting as I learn ... I hope.
Still learning, will probably always be learning
 
the consequences are dire (either physically, intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually - my PIES test)
Ooo, I have not heard this so nicely summarised before. I love it! And 100% agree.

And the biggest and most important part of the process: each scene must be part of that journey, it must have an aim/result that leads (even circuitously) in the direction of the main story goal, and each scene must be strong enough to stand alone as a necessary moment because of what it does, how it does it, what's learned or lost or gained.
Each section of the story must build from what's gone before.
Yes, I'm with you on this too. It's definitely important to step back and consider the overall big picture and how each scene plays into it. A particular pet hate of mine are plots that as veer too far off track *cough Tolkien's Tom Bombadil cough*. I recently encountered this in what was marketed as a supernatural thriller, and while the characters and scenario were strong enough to keep me reading, the meandering narrative left me with the distinct impression I'd read a mystery, not a page turning pacey thriller. The plot went in a very strange direction (the three acts could have almost been three separate stories) that had me wondering why the author decided to write it that particular way.

However, this is a process I've changed with every creation, and it will keep growing, changing, adapting as I learn ... I hope.
Still learning, will probably always be learning
So much this. I suspect (hope) my process will grow and evolve over time too!
 
Once I am done with the first draft I let it sit for 1-2 weeks. Then I do a read through without taking any notes etc. Read as a reader. Leave it again for a week. Print it out and read it as an editor scene by scene with taking notes. At this point with each scene I know what I was trying to get across with the scene and I can see if its working. Then I write out bullet points for each scene on what to fix and what works.
Take a few days off, begin rewrite. Once that is done then I go do my line by line edit. Getting rid of unnecessary/repetitive words and so on.
From there its put away for a short time and then I read it out loud. Repeat any of the above if necessary.
 
Oh Boy, this is good stuff for someone like myself. Nine months ago I had no idea how to write a novel. I blasted off 120k words in two months and wrote THE END :) Since then I have learnt about stuff like POV, conflict, scene building, sequels to link scenes, etc. Each time I learnt something I went through my MS and applied it. Thing is I am still learning, one thing at a time. I am delighted to say that most of the advice in this thread reinforces my own feelings so won't necessitate another full rewrite but will certainly focus me and strengthen my cutting and slashing. Thanks guys :)
 
After the completion of a full first draft my process is (or would ideally be, if I have the time) this.

Step 1 - Forgetting: I put the story away in a file for several months and work on something else. The purpose of this is that I should "forget" the story. I don't mean forget the whole thing but forget the intricacies so that I can engage in step two as near to a "new reader" as I can be.

Step 2 - Read through: I dig the file or print out from it's hidey-hole and read it all through, from start to finish. As I go I make lists; characters, scenes, locations, objects. If I read a section that I think is not relevant, I mark it. If I think a section is too thin or conversely over written, I mark it.

Step 3 - Shape: I take my list of scenes and look at the sequencing, are the right things happening at the right times or would it be better if a certain scene took place later or earlier in the novel. At this stage I'm look at the overall shape, the climaxes, the falls, etc. Is the pace right? Is the first scene, that vitally important opening, the right one, or is there a better one available? Here I am really looking at the outline story as a whole thing.

Step 4 - Details: Having now manipulated the story into the right sequence, possibly lopped off a few dead scenes or added some missing bits. Maybe I've culled a character or two in favour of others. But it is now the story I want to tell. So now I go through it scene by scene, tightening it all up, looking for bad grammar, duplications, irrelevances and any plot holes that need filling. Examining my word choices and style of phrase. Do all the Characters sound alike or does each have their own voice? Are the locations sufficiently described and glowing with "feeling"? Are the reveals surprising and well handled or are they all too predictable?

Step 5 - Polishing: This is where I get to the nuts and bolts. I go through it all with a fine comb. Checking every comma, full stop, capital, speech mark, spelling, etc.

Step 6 - Done: Breathe a sigh of relief and have a well earned holiday.
 
Everyone has a different approach and there's no 'right' way, however, I would say gaps between drafts are vital to give you the objectivity to analyse the text properly in the next draft.

I also think it's a good idea to (as @Tim James has suggested) write something else in between drafts to give you more distance from the last draft.

I'd also suggest that you plan more at the outset, but I know some people have to 'pants' their way through.

In my current novel I've found it very useful to separate the plot points from the narrative points. What I mean by this is that the plot is often a series of cascading cause and effect where one character learns particular piece of information which causes them to act, which causes another event, then another event and so on. The narrative is how this information is learned and what the character does in response.

E.g. A plot point may be that your protagonist learns that his wife is having an affair. Whereas the narrative may be that he sees a text from his wife's lover on her phone whilst she's in the shower. Ultimately, this narrative is not particularly exciting, so on a redraft you might decide that instead he walks in on them in bed together as this still satisfies the original plot point but achieves it in more intriguing way.

This makes your novel more fluid and it makes it easier to conceive developmental edits when you're not tied to a fixed series of events.

In my first novel I really struggled with this and rewrote my chapters to death, but changed very little of 'what happens' as I developed a very fixed idea of what the story was about and failed to see that my plot was a series of random leaps forward that didn't make complete sense.

Whereas, partway through my current WIP I realised that I didn't need to introduce a new POV in the second part (as I'd originally planned) as a minor character that had appeared a few times in the first half, could satisfy all the plot points that my new character was going to have to get through in the second part. Using a character that the reader is familiar with is easier than trying to introduce a whole new character to carry the plot forward.

I've also found that after I've done any developmental edits and once I'm on to cutting the text down that printing the text off (I'm sorry trees!) and reading the text on paper is easier to spot filler words and excess sentences, which I can cross out on the paper version then change on the digital one.
 
I also find I can spot filler words, typos and grammar glitches more easily in hard copy. I noticed this when printing some of my work for a writing workshop. To avoid printing and spare a few trees I sometimes the text to a different font style and size before reviewing on screen. Making it look different helps me see it with fresh eyes.
 
I can't print (too hard to turn pages), but I find having the computer read outloud helps spot missed words, grammar etc. But that doesn't help big picture cuts. I keep honing my synopsis and that helps me focus on what needs to go in and what to delete. I also am constantly on the lookout for characters I can cut.
 
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