4.28.2010

Novel Revision, Step Six: Retell the Story

If you wrote carefully the first time through, watching your prose and managing your suspense, and you came out with about the right word count: great. You may be able to get away with just editing scenes.

If, however, you wrote with NaNoWriMo--telling your story at top speed with gleeful disregard for things like grammar and adverb control and preservation of mystery--don't even try revision. If you're happy with your prose after that, you're either a savant or missing something. Your book needs rewriting. Mine certainly did.

The story, like the word flow, had great flaws. In all honesty, I'd probably rewrite any book of mine start to finish; I'm not the world's strongest plotter, and even with a decent outline it sometimes takes me halfway through the story to really figure out what's going on. With the probability of every page changing, revision feels more organic and complete if I send the whole tale back through my mind and fingers.

Here are the steps by which I rewrote my novel:
  • open a new document
  • look at the first scene on the scene summary, and any relevant notes
  • set the first few pages of the original manuscript within reach, and
  • start typing, this time with care toward the finished product.
Sometimes I followed the manuscript, when I knew an original scene was nearly what I wanted it to be; other times I relied almost entirely on the scene summary. For a solid third of the book, I hardly looked at the original manuscript at all.

If an idea for a new scene came to me, and it appeared to work with the overall plot and add something of value, I wrote it in. If I really struggled with the writing in a spot, I made myself a note to return to it and moved on. If I wrote a scene and didn't like it, I cut-and-pasted it into a document called "Deleted scenes" and tried again.

Storytelling became fun for me in the rewrite. Knowing the tale's direction at almost every turn set me free to pay attention to my favorite parts of writing: shaping scene and character and voice, polishing every phrase until the words ran smooth and clear.

As I rewrote, the story took form, the characters rising to life and breath. One boy who did everything "awkwardly" in my first draft transformed into a rough-and-tumble young man wrestling with his own rage. A villain, without whom part of the story had made little sense, came into being and frightened the heck out of my gentle heroine. My favorite character, for whom I originally feared the criticism of "too perfect," did something desperate and terrible and suffered for it. Those are not small changes.

The rewritten manuscript contained a much better story, both on macro and micro levels: better structure, more consistent voice, more interesting characters and events. I thought it nearly ready for beta readers, but felt I needed to hang onto it for one more step. We'll talk about that tomorrow.

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