Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Making sense of Rewrites

Revision process series, Part 2.


Rewriting is about focusing, improving, and trimming your story into an actual novel. That’s a pretty natural, hands-on part of the process. But rewriting is also about finding the story itself.

As I’ve said before, when you start writing a novel, it’s with some kind of vision in mind. Maybe it’s an idea of the kind of story, a sense of where it’s going, or a certain feel to aim for. It could be vague or concrete. And as you write, it changes. It develops and evolves until you finish the first draft.

By this point, you usually have a whole new idea for the story, different avenue to explore. If you’re lucky, you will have found what kind of story you want this to be ( or in other words, the novel’s focus.)

This is where rewrites come in.

Step One: Focus & Improve

At first, you’ll be working off your new vision. You’ll be improving your old story: paring it down, bulking it up, shaping it around your newly discovered focus. It’s a very natural and intuitive part of the process, but to be safe, here’s a breakdown.

First –Print it out a hard-copy and read it in one or two sittings. Note what you love most about the story, which themes, plots, and issues seem to pop up the most or have the most prominence.

Second – Find all your “main’s.” There’s the main story goal, the main theme, the main plot, the fundamental genre, and the main audience. If you had to name a core story goal, what would it be? If you had to pick an audience, who would actually read your book? And so on.

This could take a couple drafts depending on how complicated your story is and how much you figured out beforehand.


After one or two drafts of focusing, you’ll have a great little novel that is somehow…lacking. This happens to me, anyway. Maybe you notice it? The point when everything should be working, but still seems flat? You’ve improved, clearly. So why does it feel wrong?

When I begin rewrites, I focus my story based on my newest vision of it; not on my original vision. The spark. The sense. Whatever it was that really got me writing – an enchanting scene, a first line, a single question – I’ve lost sight of it.

Our weakness is that we loose the core of the story through bouts of rewriting. We tried to focus our story based on our second vision, because we had forgotten there was a first.

Author Ian Friazer said, “If the part you love is not there, it doesn’t matter how much else you did. I’ve witnessed battle between writers and editors that you can’t believe the intensity of. But the writer knows that if the point came out, the book wouldn’t be his.”


Step Two: Revive the Spark

After a couple drafts of improving and focusing your novel, you want to take a step back and remember why you began in the first place. Try to pinpoint the exact elements that brought your ideas together as a single story.

You are going to remember (and cringe!) at how unrealistic, childish, and bizarre some of it was. That’s okay. Some of it wasn’t worth salvaging then, and still isn’t now. So when you create your final vision, you want to realize which bits simply aren’t worth saving – and then you want to make the rest of it as believable, realistic, and captivating as you can. Your new vision needs to remain your old vision, just better

This has a lot to do with dreams: we give up on our dreams slowly, piece by piece, as we try to face reality. We give up on our core story, piece by piece, as we try to make a novel of it. You have to get back some of that core story. Make it fundamental to your story once again. Until you do, the novel will always feel unfulfilled.

Also, at this point, I like to get the opinion of a few beta-readers. They can act as a sounding board while I do my soul-searching. The best ones are betas I know, like old friends and close family – people who can tell when the novel is or isn’t “me.”


Writing this post, I’m aware that many writers won’t be able to relate. David Isaak said that methods change from writer to writer, even story to story. But there is a certain part of the process where each person’s methods overlap. That’s the point I tried to touch on. And from now on the process gets more concrete: revision, editing, and polishing. In following weeks, I hope to talk about those topics as well.


- Creative A


Similar Posts:

Drafts and Revision (revision process series, part 1)


usman said...


Essentially, that is what happened in my recently finished WIP. I lost the core. I focused on other sub-plots, leading to development of secondary themes and losing my focus on the main theme.

Creative A said...

Have you been able to do anything with it since then? I ask because while I can identify where I went wrong in my story, I can't seem to recover from it.


Jo said...

this is EXACTLY the method I use, LOL! I just go nuts and write and write and then go back and try to shape it into something coherent and cohesive ;D

Annie King said...

I've just discovered your site, and added a post about it and a link on my blog. I hope that's okay. Your goals are admirable. It's always good to read another writer's process and relate it to your own.

Creative A said...

Hey Jo, and welcome! Man can I relate...that's how all my first drafts are; I go nuts and write, then try to pull it together later. Obviously it takes me a lot of "laters" before I get anywhere with it.

If you have a blog, I would love to check it out :)

Hello Annie! Welcome, and thank you. I think it is hugely beneficial to hear other's stories, because it can help you make sense of your own.


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