My ANWA Lesson on Rewrite Heck

Earlier tonight I gave the lesson at my ANWA chapter’s internet meeting. I went a bit nuts and wrote a lot–so it was kind of information overload to copy and paste it all the chat room. I said I’d post the lesson here if anyone wants to have another look. 🙂

While this isn’t a masterpiece in writing style, I hope it was at least a helpful lesson. I wrote the whole thing really fast to make the deadline. I didn’t edit it very much, and don’t really feel like it now. We’ve had some drama tonight, and Momma just wants to finish posting this, then eat some comfort food and take a hot bath!

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Okay, I’ll be quoting advice from How to Write a Damn Good Novel, by James N. Frey.

Since a lot of us are at various stages of rewriting, I thought rewrites would be a good topic. I’ve been in rewrite heck for about 3 years now! Mainly because I didn’t know what I was doing when I did my first rewrites, and I got stuck.

I loved this book, because it was a fast, interesting read, instead of a dry writing manual, like a textbook. I still use it as a reference book often. “When you read someone else’s work, you see the faults, errors, and dead spots; poor characterizations, flawed metaphors, and so on…Read someone else’s first draft; its faults will fly off the page at you.”

Frey says it’s very hard to see the faults in your own work, but to rewrite effectively you need to find the parts that need to be changed or deleted. Writers’ groups are great resources for this. I’ve belonged to a local group for almost 4 years, and haven’t stopped going because all of the long-time members are talented, honest, and not afraid to be brutally so when needed. We meet every week at Barnes & Noble. It’s a good meeting if the members don’t laugh so loudly we’re in danger of getting kicked out! (Actually, sometimes that makes for an even better meeting.) I learned things about my book from the members of this group that I never would have seen on my own.

It’s important to find a good writers’ group that has at least a few members who aren’t afraid to be honest, bonus points if they’re well-read in your chosen genre. You often find either fluffy critiquers who are afraid of hurting your feelings by offering even the slightest bit of advice (I fall under that category a lot), or literary types who look down their noses at anything that even remotely resembles genre fiction. The fluffy ones aren’t helpful for obvious reasons, and the snobby types won’t understand what you’ve written, and will have negative things to say about bestsellers. And I think most of US would love to be bestselling authors! We’ve had both these types come and go in my local group.

I’m also glad I joined ANWA in part because you can get some extremely helpful critiques from our members! Since we’re all LDS, I’m more comfortable sharing work on a more spiritual nature with ANWA than with the members of my local group–who know I’m Mormon, but they love to tease me good-naturedly about it. (Which is fine, because it’s friendly teasing!)

When you get into analyzing your story on your own, you should set it aside for at least a month, take a break, or work on something else, so you have a fresh eye when you go back to rewrite. This is when I find the really bad parts. (I don’t give my stuff to a beta reader until I’ve gone through it at least once, it’s less embarrassing that way.)

This is when you need to look at your scenes and characters under a magnifying glass. Frey has a huge checklist here, but I’ve narrowed it down to a scene-by-scene analysis. For each and every SCENE, not chapter, you have to look at the characters’ motivation, feelings, dialogue, and whether they learned anything, achieved a goal, or grew in some way. Ramp up the conflict, or add conflict if there isn’t any at all. (That doesn’t mean your story should be nonstop action, though, or it’s exhausting to read.) If nothing happens in a scene that advances the story, DELETE IT. I deleted 10,000 words out of The Moongate that way! They were good chapters too, I loved them, but in the end they didn’t advance the story. Like a novel, most scenes need conflict, climax, and resolution–unless you’re replacing resolution with a cliff-hanger at the end of a scene or chapter, which is even better.

What makes a rewrite easier to tackle is breaking it up into scenes and taking them one at a time, so you’re not overwhelming yourself with the whole picture. Also, we all know the rule about reading each scene aloud, because you can catch awkward writing better when you hear it.

I’m at the end of Frey’s chapter on rewriting, so I’ll add what I learned from Stephen King’s book On Writing. He says rewriting is taking your first draft and deleting 10%. I didn’t think it was possible, but with The Moongate I ended up deleting just over 10%, a huge accomplishment for me! 10% isn’t going to work for everyone, but his point is that you NEED to find the scenes that don’t advance the story and cut them. I also ended up deleting 250 adverbs–I did a search for anything ending in “ly,” then decided with each and every one of them whether I should keep them or not. I’d say about 90% were deleted. It was a huge pain in the butt, which taught me an important lesson for writing Blood Moon: Decide while writing the first draft whether an adverb is necessary!

A lot of people rewrite out of sequence, so they don’t get caught up in their own familiar writing and miss things that other people would catch. I did that with The Moongate and found both advantages and disadvantages to that method. It was true that it didn’t catch me up, but I also missed some important plot problems that would have been revealed if I’d gone through it in order. Luckily, I had my daughter read through it and she caught them for me (Lia turned out to be an excellent editor; she should consider it as a career, seriously). This taught me that if I’m going to rewrite out of sequence, I should go through the book in sequence at least once.

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And so, that was my lesson on rewriting, which was probably quite long enough for a chat room discussion! I’d love to read any comments on what works for you in rewriting. After querying, it’s my least favorite part of the writing process.

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One thought on “My ANWA Lesson on Rewrite Heck

  1. Hi, just stepped over from ANWASocial to see your blog. I completely agree with letting the MS rest for a while between drafts. It makes awkward sentences literally jump off the page when it's time to edit. Keep up the good work!

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