by Dame Devon
You’ve got an idea for a novel. You’ve worked on it in stops and starts ferverishly for a few years months, and the first draft is finally done! Congratulations, you’re a novelist! During your moments of deep depression coffee breaks on the veranda, you also researched agents and editors, and cruised web sites and blogs to scream in despair perfect your cover letter, synopsis, and outline skills.
But the thing that’s stopped you dead is getting the novel draft cleaned up for submission. Yes, I’m talking about the dreaded rewrite.
Some writers don’t like to rewrite. Some writers don’t like to stop rewriting. Neither affliction is beneficial to a lasting career in this biz.
I see rewriting (or revising, if you prefer the term) as a very important tool in the writer’s tool box. When you are under contracted deadline and are asked to cut ten thousand words, or get rid of a character, or add more action, or slow down the scene, ore completely change a plot line, and it has to be fixed and beautiful and back in your editor’s hand in two weeks, baby, you’re gonna want a toolbox bristling with every rewriting trick in the book.
But how do you know what needs rewriting? You bled your soul into wrote the thing. You know all the back story, you know what the setting looks like, you know where the characters are running to and from and why.
But you may not have put any of that on the page in a way the reader can clearly see and experience it. Since you’re the author, your mind automatically fills in the missing bits with the info only you have. That’s a problem.
One way to address that problem is to shove your ego in a carpet bag and look at what you’ve written through the eyes of a reader.
Yes, you, the writer, stop being a writer for a second and look at your book as a reader. Print it out and sit down and read your book as if you just pulled it off the shelf. Read it out loud. If you trip over the sentences, likely the reader will too.
Another way to spot what needs rewriting is to critique other people’s work. Over on her blog, Ilona Andrews did a terrific series of line-by-line edits (and suggested rewrites) for opening scenes. Check it out. Read through what she thought should be changed, and why. Then look at your story and see if you can apply any of those principals to it.
Frankly, there are many, many things that make a novel or story work, and many, many ways to approach rewrites. Some people do a one-time read-through to catch typos. Some people pull off deep structural changes. Some people strengthen dialogue and tighten scenes and add characters and secondary plots. The goal of any rewrite should be to make the book the best it can be. And it’s hard to know what the “best” is, since writers are some of the worst judges of their own work.
But when you’re ready to pull up your sleeves and clean up the novel, the big-picture revision question list is a good place to start. This list is just one way of looking at the trees while still seeing the forest.
Big-picture revision questions:
1. Is the first sentence interesting and engaging?
2. Does the first paragraph and page(s) set up the character, the world, the problem?
3. Does the first chapter promise the reader what kind of book they will be reading?
4. Are the senses fully employed? (Sight, smell, touch, taste, sound)
5. Is the last sentence of the chapter interesting and engaging?
6. Is the first sentence of the next chapter interesting and engaging?
7. Are the characters interesting and engaging?
8. Can the reader tell where the characters are, or where the scene takes place?
9. Is the dialogue flowing smoothly and realistically?
10. Is the dialogue working to move the story forward in ways the narrative can’t?
11. Can the reader tell how the characters are feeling?
12. Do the characters (good & evil) encounter more external difficulty as the book goes forward?
13. Do the characters (good & evil) encounter more internal difficulty as the book goes forward?
14. Do the characters (good & evil) do everything in their power to handle the situation?
15. Do the characters (good & evil) behave realistically/logically.
16. Does the tension build, with small breaks, before building higher?
17. Is something at stake if the good guys lose/win?
18. Do the conflict scenes forward the story?
19. Does the ending answer the questions first encountered at the beginning of the book?
20. Have the characters/world/situations changed by the end of the book?
21. Is there a cantharis/pay-off/feeling of satisfaction/resolution by the end of the book?
If anyone wants these points explained in more detail, let me know in the comments and I’ll try to answer there, or I’ll blog about it in two weeks when it’s my turn to post again. If you have a revision technique/list you’d like to share, don’t be shy. I’ll be getting editorial revision notes on book 4, MAGIC ON THE STORM any day now, and love to steal add some new tools to my toolbox!