Rewriting. What to do and when to stop.

I love rewriting better than writing the first draft of my novels.

  • First I’m much more relaxed because I know the hard work of getting the storyline on “paper” is done.
  • As I rewrite I find mistakes and have a feeling of satisfaction when I fix them.
  • I find little treasures like a paragraph that I can rewrite using dialogue rather than boring narrative, and I’m pleased with myself for figuring that out.
  • I can’t believe I fell for the use of other words as dialogue tags instead of “said” and “asked” and I fix those, reaffirming that I can make the dialogue do the job of expressing the emotion rather than relying on the dialogue tag to provide it. Fancy words like “inquired” and “replied” just slow down the action. “Said” and “asked” are more like punctuation—necessary, but meant to be glossed over. This is also the place where I look for “ing” words and get rid of them if possible. (For example: “I’ll be right there,” she said, putting down the phone.) If she was putting down the phone when she was speaking into it, I wonder if the other party even heard her.
  • I look for repeated words and try to avoid using the same words or expressions in one paragraph. Repetition becomes obvious immediately when reading your work out loud.
  • Speaking of repetition, character names are often overused, especially in dialogue. Have you ever noticed that when you’re talking to someone, you rarely speak their name? The other person knows you’re talking to them and you and that person both know his or her name. Why would you keep on saying it? So for natural conversation, use the other person’s name sparingly. I often have to take out names in dialogue, and in narrative sections I replace them when possible with he or she.
  • In dialogue, the sentences should be fairly short. I need to check for long sentences that give a lot of information. People just don’t talk that way. Often they use only one or two words or phrases. Besides, short, snappy dialogue heightens the tension and that is what every author is striving for.
  • In the rewrite, I can also add little tidbits of description of people or places, but I try to be careful to do it in small doses. Long descriptions have a huge “yawn” factor.
  • When someone speaks, they may have some physical or emotional reaction that should be added, usually before the quotation. This is a good time to add that information.
  • As I reread my first draft, it’s important that I remember which point of view I’m in. I’ve made some awful POV mistakes that my critiquing buddy or I have found. For example, if I’m telling the scene in Andrea’s POV, I can’t write a thought that is happening in Jim’s head. Andrea has no way of knowing what he is thinking. I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to fix POV problems before publication and save myself some embarrassment.
  • Now that I’ve mentioned my critiquing buddy, I have to say that my writing efforts are made so much easier because of her. I try to do the same for her and it makes us a great team. If you don’t have a writing buddy to exchange files with and help each other out, it’s very much worth your while to try to find someone who is willing to work with you. I find my buddy’s help invaluable! Oops! She’ll say not to use exclamation marks unless it’s for a one- or two-word expression, but in this case, I do want to stress that her help is invaluable!

 Most authors are perfectionists and they tend to rewrite over and over. I’ve heard it said that an author can tell that they’re finished rewriting when they end up with what they originally wrote in the first rewrite. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but sometimes you wonder ….

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21 thoughts on “Rewriting. What to do and when to stop.

  1. “Long descriptions have a huge yawn factor”
    That’s for sure. I’ve ditched many books back to the second hand shop because of three page descriptions when all I want is story.
    Regarding your POV switch, sometimes that can work, if your main character voices what the other is thinking, you could have the second character ask “how did you know what I was thinking?” then move on to “I’ve known you very well for years, your thoughts are an open book to me.” Of course if that doesn’t fit the story, it won’t work.

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    • About the POV, yes, your idea can work (good thinking!), and there are other ways around the problem. The horrifying thing is when you don’t realized you’ve head-hopped and it’s in blatant black and white, throwing the reader for a loop. This is when I’m so grateful to have a very good writing buddy who spots these things in time.
      Good to know you agree about the yawn factor. We don’t want the reader to start skimming.

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  2. Such great advice…. now if I could only decide when to stop on my rewrite / edit / what am I actually doing? I don’t know!…. ready to toss the whole project to be quite honest….

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  3. I can’t agree with you about the second draft. When I get an idea, it’s a sort of ‘something’ going on in the back of my head. I MUST not bring that thought to the fore, or it may go away. Then when everything is right (ie no disturbances possible) I sit down and write, and I just write. I don’t try to edit or anything like that. Sometimes when I do this, I come back and amazed at what I see, others, the ‘plan’ didn’t come out like I wanted, but it was OK anyway. If I have to come back and make big changes to a scene, then I have to leave it a long long time, because to me – it actually happened to my characters – and I have to wait long enough without reading, to get it out of my mind/story. What I am describing here, is not editing of the words spelling etc. But major changes to the sentences etc such as you describe I can’t do. I have to get it down the first time.
    I also am not sure about the POV changes. I have read about this before and yet writers such as JD Robb do it very successfully. It makes me, the reader, feel that I am part of the scene, somewhere up there watching both of them and feeling what they feel. (Of course, that is not in the first person scenes – it wouldnt work there.)
    A agree with you about the descriptive scenes – but then I have been accused of not having enough????
    I don’t have a critique buddy, I wish I did.

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  4. I think you may have misunderstood what I meant when I said “rewriting.” I don’t mean you should change the events and the core storyline of your book.I’m talking more about editing to clean up the writing here and there. When we’re talking about a novel of, say, 90,000 words, there are bound to be some places where better wording might be in order, no matter how careful I try to be the first time through. But maybe that’s just me. As for POV changes, I have POV changes all through my book but they come after a scene change so we always know whose head we are in. What I’m talking about are POV slips, where I am telling the story from one person’s POV and suddenly there is a private thought from another character. Thank you for reading and sharing your ideas. It’s very interesting to hear the way other people think and write.

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    • Thanks, Kit. Coming from a fellow copy-editor, I put a lot of store in what you say. I think no matter how good we think we are, we can all benefit from a closer look at our work, and the tips I have mentioned are just a few of the more common traps most writers fall into, and they’re certainly fixable.

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  5. Thank you for this valuable post, anneli. Excellent information to save for personal thought and reference. POV is an art to master. I am cautiously monitoring POV in my own writing. Yes, critique buddies elevate success with their suggestions and wonderings; they can spur the writer to continue on and move forward on writings. It’s a wonderful gift- story telling and it’s an art to master.
    x

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  6. I started to reply to your comment and then went to check on the spelling of your name (Lynne) and lost the comment. Grrr. Anyway, it’s an ongoing challenge to improve in our writing. An addiction that is a lot of fun.

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  7. Pingback: Rewriting. What to do and when to stop. | Suzy Henderson Writer

  8. Hey Anneli, it sounds like you and I have a similar writing style. I check for all of those things too. The only difference is, it seems like I can rewrite infinitely. Oops, there’s an adverb. Ha. I don’t put as much effort into smooth writing for my blog, or for commenting on blogs. These are just conversational pieces. I rewrite my novel one chapter at a time, then go back and rewrite the whole thing. I don’t have a writing partner, but rather, writing parenterS in my writer’s group. We submit one chapter at a time to one another at each meeting. I will miss them after my move. Thanks for sharing your process.

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    • Sounds very similar to what I do. I also feel that emails, blogs, etc., are not part of the published writing business. Well, my blog posts … a little bit… I don’t like to have big mistakes in my posts, but definitely my emails and blog comments don’t count as far as copy-editing is concerned.

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  9. Hello! Great post and I love your wordpress site. I’m right in the middle of editing what I hope will be my debut novel, and I think you have some excellent advice here. Thanks for visiting my site – I originally shared your post on google+ and left a comment there, completely forgetting to do so here! Thanks for sharing.

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