How We Write: Rewriting techniques…

Once you have a draft of your novel, WHAT do you do with it? How do you make it better? Last Wednesday, we talked about deconstructing your story so you could see its various parts and come up with a rewriting plan. Now let’s get down to it–what parts of your book should you consider pulling out of the tapestry, fine tuning (or overhauling), and then weaving back in?

who what when where

Last weekwe left off with the protagonist, and you’d isolated the parts of the book that showed his/her character arc to the reader. With your POV scenes flagged, you have a visual road map to how your treating this important story element–the lens through which your reader sees and feels and experiences the story. Exactly what is someone who doesn’t live in your head getting out of how you’re handling your protagonist?

Let’s start with some things you can see just with the “flagging” technique I described last week:

  • Look at how often that character is in point of view. Are there large stretches when we’re in the antagonist’s POV or a secondary characters’? Is there not enough variety, and you need to work in more alternative looks at the action in your story and show things more from the perspective outside your protagonist’s head?
  • Look at how you open each POV scene. Is it always in dialogue? Always in narrative? Always in action? Always coming or going from somewhere? This may seem simple, but it’s the type of pattern we follow can get into in drafting and not even realize it. Mixing things up from a single character’s perspective at times can add a fresh look to a scene.
  • Skim through the character’s POV scenes. Do you see a lot of dialogue with no external observations or internal thoughts? Too much internal dialogue and only sparse dialogue. This kind of review can give you an immediate feel for what might need work for a single character, no matter what you’re doing with the rest.
  • Read each of the protagonist’s scenes in the first half of the draft. Can you clearly see his/her build up to and reaction to the inciting incident first turning point and midpoint of the story? Is he/she changing in each key place in the story, and is that clear in from his/her POV?
  • Do the same for the key turning points in the second half of the story.
  • THEN (this is more story structure detail than I usually summarize, but here goes), look at his/her emotional reality at the Inciting Incident. Look at it at the Black Moment, Climax and Resolution. Has he/she changed significantly? Have you been working with the same core values and emotional arc throughout? Are you showing a full character arc that will satisfy the reader?
  • And if that’s not enough to have your head spinning yet, you can read back through each POV scene in sequence (reading NONE of the other scenes in between, remember) and see if the protagonist’s point of view experience is seamless and uninterrupted. Can you understand his/her story without having to resort to reading other scenes? Is he/she reaction and responding to the rest of the story in a believable way with escalating conflict and goals?

I could go on. So could you, because as you begin using this method to process what you’ve done, you’ll start to see patterns and trends and potential for improvement that no one else will. I’m suspecting you’re starting to see why this takes me a weekend workshop to teach fully. I’m actually working on a non-fiction book dealing with this topic, so don’t get me wrong, I get how overwhelming the process might seem when I try to tackle it in in two short blog posts.

Especially when you stop to realize that all we’ve talked about so far is a single character’s point of view and arc.


The idea would be to do this for your antagonist, too. And for each secondary character. And not just for POV.

You could pull out their conflict individually, and their motivation, too. See how each arcs on their own. And what about their backstories and how each are set up and woven individually into the story? AND THEN there are all the plot elements I listed in last week’s post that you could pluck out and deal with in the same detail.

But again, so far we’re still just talking about looking at what what you’ve already done and making notes about what you want to do next. Except a lot of us freeze up at the thought of tackling large-scale manuscript revisions, right? Of course we do. THAT’S why a lot of us never take the plunge and dig back into the draft and clean things up.

Once a plot or character element is isolated and analyzed, it’s time to rewrite based on what you’ve learned.

I recommend beginning with working on a single part of your story:

  1. Work only on that element, flipping through the book from beginning to end, reading the portions of the story where it appears.
  2. Making hand-written notes on the hard copy of how you can improve the reader’s experience of what you’ve already done. Don’t type the changes in as you go. Focus on reading and working on the hard copy. Flip back and forth as you need. Stay in the story. SEE what’s really happening on the page with this one element–leave the bigger picture for later.
  3. Then, after working/flipping all the way through the draft dealing with only that story element, and only then, type in the changes.
  4. Then begin again with another part of your story.

When I teach, I discuss how to revise the individual story elements I listed last week, as well as more intermediate techniques for deconstructing groups of story elements at a time. And THEN, you have to weave these newly rewritten pieces back together into a fluid story.

Like I said at the start, the overall process itself takes time to teach because it can begin to seem too complicated. Too much. 

no kiddingFor now, though, I think you’re beginning to get the idea of how powerful doing a deep rewrite could be.

And remember. The basic idea is very simple. Isolate and challenge ONE thing about your story at a time. Work on that thing alone. Then move on to the next thing. And only when you have gotten the most out of each piece and put it all back together again do you say, “There, it’s rewritten. It’s the best I can make it.”

Of course there’s not always time to do everything. In which case you do the best you can with what you have. But what I hope you WON’T say after today’s post is that you don’t know how to rewrite, or your story is too complex, or you just get lost when you try.

Rewriting is hard work and takes a lot of time to do well, but anyone can do it. ANYONE.

I know I’ve just thrown a lot of stuff at you. But please start with the basics (and perhaps try it for just the first quarter or half of your draft your first time out) and give it a shot. Take control of the beautiful thing you’ve done with your current novel. Give yourself permission to make it even better. No more excuses. No more hiding.

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One Response to “How We Write: Rewriting techniques…”

  1. Raven Clark says:

    I just love the way you break things down in an easy to understand way. I’m so easily confused, if I can understand it, anyone really can do it. LOL.

    “No more excuses. No more hiding.” Well said, my friend. Thanks for another wonderful post.


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