Monday 14 January 2008

Rewriting Your Novel (Or Moving the Deck Chairs While the Titanic Sinks)

At the moment, my thoughts are on revision because I'm revising my two novels, Ugly City and Volcano Child.

Revising, revising, revising.

I've been working so hard I'm beginning to see double. Are those two laptops I see before me?

(Magic or Madness) has wise words about revising a novel in a long, special post:
There are two basic kinds of rewriting: structural and sentence level. Most beginner writers get caught up in sentence level changes. They go over their manuscripts deleting and switching words around (what’s called line editing in the biz). They do this before they’ve learned how to fix the structure. The result is lots of shifting around of deck chairs while the Titanic sinks.
Maureen (Devilish) spiced up her blog post on rewriting with plenty of pictures of Cary Grant. She says:

It’s a good thing that the Writer doesn’t design houses—because he would move the kitchen around seventeen times, rip out all the bathrooms, add six more stories, and set fire to the roof.
Unfortunately she fails to answer a burning question: where does she get all those pictures of Cary Grant?

Scott Westerfeld (Scott is Justine's squeeze. The YA universe is a cozy one) has an even more alarming blog post on rewriting a novel (this one was Extras).

Apparently he had to face up to the fact that his ms wasn't working:
there I was, 16,000 words (65 pages) into my shiny wonderful new book. Except it wasn’t wonderful; something was deeply, deeply wrong. The voice, the plot, the structure all seemed to be sucking! No matter how much I edited the writing, smoothed the transitions, caffeinated the plot, or voicified the characters, it all just came out flat.
In the end he threw out most of it and completely rewrote it from scratch.

Which brings us to Scott's ultimate rewriting advice:
Sometimes tossing out vast quantities of words is better than letting a whole book bleed slowly to death. Don’t give up, just start over.
Could you bear to do it?


  1. Yep... Nope... Not sure!

    It helps if you have a bit of distance, I suppose - like a couple of years and a few more novels in between to ease the scrapping process. I'll let you know in a couple of years!

  2. I'm rewriting a novel I wrote in 2006, and that distance has made a remarkable difference to my approach - I'm slashing scenes and changing direction and murdering my darlings with gusto, instead of tinkering and fiddling like I usually do.

    Thanks for these other refs to rewriting; very useful.

  3. my problem is i'm working on two ms. it's really hard to switch. i wish i had two brains.

  4. Who was it that said, murder your darlings?

  5. I think my ship has already sunk! But maybe Scott is right. I should just start again.


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