How to rewrite a novel: layers

LE Medlock: How to rewrite a novel

How to rewrite a novel: by colour!

A topical post for me at the moment, as I’ve just started the first rewrite for my current WIP. When I printed my first draft and went through it (read: lay it on the table for 20 minutes so I could stare at it in horror) my first reaction was: But it’s so harrrrrd. (My second reaction: Needs. Cake.)

So after flexing my Google-Fu muscles and gleaning what I can from te interwebz, I’ve put together a process for this process. Layering it, I’ve found, is the only way to stay sane when you have thousands of words of crap that need fixing. Pick something to work on and then go through one layer at a time. Always start with the big layers first:

Big Picture

1. Structure

Structure is my weakness. In first drafts I have a strong beginning, then everything gets kind of meandering and stuff happens and the antagonist turns up and the protagonist meets him and it’s bad and then oh there’s the climax protagonist wins The End. So this is a colossal fix and always comes first on my list. Personally I favour the Four Act Structure (which is basically the Three Act with a more defined middle), which I’ll do my next post on. And structure goes hand in hand with…

2. Plot

Map your plot over your structure on the first layer. This ensures that you keep tension, your middles don’t sag, and that all your plot points are in the right place.

3. Character

This layer is for each character’s arc. Don’t get too wrapped up in the details, here. Make sure that each character grows and changes throughout the novel. They need to end up in a different place from where they started. Don’t forget your antagonist – the best baddies are the ones that change, even if it’s to get badder.

4. Subplot(s)

Think romance, rivalry and reflections. These may or may not tie in with your character arcs.

5. Themes

Enforce your themes through strong imagery and metaphors. Make sure they tie in throughout the story. Don’t make them obvious.

6. Pacing

Watch for places where the tension lapses or crests for too long. There should be a continual build towards the climax, with peaks and troughs along the way.

Small picture

7. Scene analysis

a. How strong is your character goal? Is it strong enough?

b. Is there enough conflict?

c. Does it get worse for your protagonist?

d. Does the scene move the story forward in:

i. Plot?

ii. Subplot?

iii. Character arc?

e. Why do I care? i.e. Is this scene necessary?

8. Text analysis

a. Typos (Assassinate them)

b. Imagery

c. Sentence structure

d. Show vs. tell

e. Dialogue

9. Voice

This is so important for me it gets its own heading, although it would come under text analysis. Ensure your voice is consistent throughout and that it reaches the right balance. Me, I favour a strong voice, so at times I need to reign myself in.

10. CP/Beta analysis

Send your baby away. Hand it off to trusted critique partners or beta readers (honest ones) for feedback. Be clear on the areas that you want to focus on, so that they don’t spend too much time on the way you format your paragraphs or that typo on page 51 (no, this never happened to me, why do you ask? *is shifty*).

No one ever said writing was easy. If they did, their pants were on fire. Take rewriting one step at a time and eventually you’ll be looking at a beautiful, polished manuscript which will knock the socks off your dream agent (we hope).

Any tips or tricks to add? Methods for getting through this with the least amount of pain possible? (Alcohol does not help. In the long run.)

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