Thursday 10 January 2008

How to Rewrite Your Novel

The most famous rewrite scene in history: Jack Nicholson rewriting his novel in The ShiningRight now, I am rewriting my YA novel Volcano Child.

I edit heavily as I write so though technically this is the first time I've given the thing a total overhall, it's had layers and layers of editing over the time it took me to write it.

And what a joy it is to rewrite! The story is there, from beginning to end, and although I am writing new scenes and tweaking plot and strengthening characters, I do so with knowledge. When I was writing the novel from scratch, I was constantly consumed with fear - fear that I wouldn't finish, fear that I wouldn't be able to control all the plot lines spidering out of the story, fear that I'm writing too much or too little or too straight or too pretentiously.

There are no rules of course, about rewrites, though writers, like evangelists, often promote one way over another. Justine Larbalestier recently blogged about rewriting:
My partner, Scott, spends the first few hours of his writing day rewriting the previous three days work. Once he’s got that under control, and only then, does he move onto fresh writing.

Me, I rewrite (while writing the first draft) only if I’m a stuck on the next bit. On the mornings when I wake up and know exactly what needs to happen next, I dive into it. On the mornings I don’t, I procrastinate endlessly rewrite or go back and fill in the blanks where I have notes to myself like [something should explode here] or [figure out where this conversation’s happening] or [what happened to the quokkas?].

I thought I should come up with some ideas about rewriting for the blog but it's difficult - every author is different, every manuscript is different, and different things inspire different people.
What seems to work for me at the moment is this:
  • Avoiding my main computer. I turn off the big computer where I do my normal work (web design) and sneak into a dark corner of my bedroom, writing on my laptop. If I used my normal space I would, well, work. I'd do all the admin and invoicing and bits that I've been avoiding for weeks. So I hide from my normal routine.
  • I surround myself with books by my current muse. At one point it was Scott Westerfeld. Boy does he know how to make a plot go. At the moment it's Geraldine McCaughrean. I'm hoping her gift would somehow insinuate itself into my fingers. But I'm fickle. On another day, say, when I working on voice, I might have Meg Rosoff tucked into my armpit.
  • I morph into a merciless, unfeeling, writing machine and go from chapter to chapter slashing and burning unnecesary text. This might sound like an obvious part of rewriting but believe you me, it's not easy to harden your heart against a thing you created. But you gotta do what you gotta do. In previous rewrites, I've given my characters sex changes, I've turned an ugly man into handsome man, I've looked at the miserable life of one character and devised ways to make her life even more miserable. You have to be a brute.
  • I finish everything I start. If on one day I started rewriting a chapter, I don't go to bed until I've finished. If I've given a character a makeover, I don't retire until the last eyelash is curled and the final sinew is flexed. Tomorrow, my resolve might not be as strong.
  • And finally, when I am rewriting, I have to reread. And with every change, I have to reread from the beginning. Over and over again.
That's how I rewrite. At least at the moment.

As Justine says:
Whatever works for you is the way to re/write.

1 comment :

  1. Oh I know what you mean by fear. It';s such a relief when the book is finished.


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