This is number eleven. We’re nearing the end of the list! Professional authors know that rewriting is an important step in creating a great product. They embrace it, they fall in love with it, and they eagerly rewrite their story as much as it takes until they are satisfied. They never publish a book before its time.
Publishing a book is a bit like giving birth
Do mothers enjoy giving birth? Well – they love their baby! And parts of the birthing experience are quite memorable. Although women have been giving birth since the dawn of time, every woman has her own birth story to tell. A mother of ten children will remember each and every delivery. It is a deeply personal experience, brought about through blood, sweat and tears. Mothers may not enjoy all of the birth experience, but they know it is necessary to bring a new life into the world.
The same is true for your book. You will sometimes labor over it. You will bleed on paper. You will sweat, and you will cry. But your finished novel, the child you have created, is truly worth it in the end.
So maybe you’ve finished your novel already. You were more “pantser” than plotter, allowing your muse free rein and you’ve poured out your story into your computer. You have a completed manuscript of 50,000 words or more, but you know that it’s not really polished. How do you get it from finished draft to final draft?
That is what my book, “Do It Yourself Editing,” is really about. In it, I cover all the steps and stages of rewriting your book.
How To Rewrite Your Novel
Fix Plot Issues First
First, I cover plot issues. A good novel must have conflict. There should be a starting point, an instigating incident that sets the plot in motion, a mid-point crisis that is powerful, but not quite as major as the final climax, a calm-before-the-storm scene, and the final climax and resolution. Study your story. What is your instigating incident? In Star Wars, the instigating incident – the thing that sets the whole plot in motion – is when Luke is polishing up the runaway droid R2D2, and he sees the cry for help from Princess Leia. At first, he doesn’t want to get involved, but after his aunt and uncle are murdered, he knows exactly what he’s going to do. He decides to join Obi-wan Kenobe and learn the ways of the force. He wants to rescue the princess, and the whole future of the universe will change because of his decision. This is plotting at its finest! What drives your plot?
This is hard to fix with your debut novel, but will develop over time. You will learn your own particular writing style, that which makes your book different from the way Stephen King or Nora Roberts would tell it. This isn’t something that is right or wrong, so much as something that is unique to you. Ernest Hemingway was known for his “bare bones” storytelling, using shorter sentences and few adverbs. Louisa May Alcott was paid by the word. She was more known for longer, expressive sentences with plenty of adverbs and lots of description. What is your style? Build on it and nurture it.
Next, look at your dialog. Writing believable dialog is an art form. You do not write dialog exactly the way we speak! This is boring! We put a lot of “hems” and “haws” in our speech. We grunt, we stutter, we blow air between our lips. Do not make your characters do this, or they will come across as a little stupid and indecisive! A lot of what we say is mindless oral exercise, too. Hi, how are you? I’ve fine, you? Oh, ’bout the same. blah, blah, blah. This is boring. Your book should never be boring! There are too many other activities competing for your reader’s attention. As soon as you bore your reader, he can close your book and do something else. So cut out all the trivia.
Learn how to write dialect, too. Do not put your character’s speech into thick dialect, misspelling words and throwing in apostrophes left and right. That can make your story incomprehensible. Use a word or two to flavor that character’s speech. If your hero is Scottish, perhaps he says “bairn” or “nae”. But then, every single other word he speaks, you will write correctly, with proper punctuation and spelling. The reader will “insert” the Scottish brogue into his or her mind while reading. But if you misspell everything your hero says, trying to force the reader to read his words with a brogue, then you risk confusing and frustrating your reader. If you do not know the rules and reasons for writing correct dialog, then learn them. Go over the dialog in your book. Tighten it, rewrite it, read it aloud, and perfect it.
Punctuation and Grammar
Finally, look at your writing mechanics. Run the spell-checker that comes with your word processing program. The spell-checker is NOT perfect. It will miss things, and it will tell you something is wrong when it isn’t. But it is a place to start. It will highlight all the typos, all the repeated words, all the passive phrases, all the sentence fragments. Then, decide if the spell-checker is right or wrong. Decide if you want to leave that sentence fragment. Or maybe you want to rewrite that passive phrase into an active one (generally, you do! Active phrases are better writing.) But don’t rely on the spell-checker. It is just a starting point. Reread your book out loud. Does it flow well? Did you spot any grammar mistakes? If you can’t find them, ask a friend – one with a good command of the English language – to read your book for you and highlight all the questionable sentences. Get a good grammar guide and study it. Get a guide for punctuation, and study it. These are the tools of your trade. Be professional and use your tools well.
This is how you rewrite your book. It isn’t something you do once and it’s over. Rewriting is done in stages. But it’s worthless to fix the grammar and punctuation, if you might end up cutting a scene altogether. So this is the order in which to do it. First you fix the plot issues and rewrite scenes as necessary. Then you fix dialog issues, building stronger characters as you go. Then finally you fix grammar and punctuation. Then you have a talented friend give it a final readthrough before you publish. And if you wish to get a copy of my book, Do It Yourself Editing, it will walk you through these steps. Please leave a review! I’d appreciate it.