As we write the last word of our story, we might think we are done. After all, we’ve spent countless hours researching, writing, and sweating over our prose to bring readers into the worlds we’ve created. The truth is—we’re far from it. We don’t want our first drafts to be presented to our readers. We must rewind. Start at the beginning and embark on the arduous, yet important task of rewriting. Readers deserve our very best.
I am in the process of rewriting and fine-tuning my current, and most challenging, novel before sending it on to my editor. Rewriting need not be a miserable experience, as it is a gift shared by no other profession. Unlike painters, sculptures, actors, etc., as writers, we have the privilege of rewriting. With this tool, there is no way we can write ourselves into a corner. We can rewind and reconstruct our scenes. This gift of revision gives us the freedom to improve and make our work shine. Let’s go over some of the important aspects I consider when I’m rewriting my own work.
Pacing, Structure, and Logic…Oh, My!
When editing content, we must keep in mind the core of the story. Does every scene move a story forward? If not, eliminate “nice-to-know” text. No matter how long it took to write, if it fails to move the story, it must be eliminated. (I have a file for those discarded scenes, in case I ever need them—now rewriting my seventh novel, I have never resurrected any of that “too good to delete” material.)
Unknowns are important to keep the reader turning pages. However, if our unknowns are too numerous, readers may get confused, feel ungrounded, and stop reading.
While every character must serve a need in our stories, we should include only those needed to tell the story. Too many characters may confuse our reader. On the other hand, the larger the cast the more potential we have for good solid twists.
If a protagonist changes his mind—the reader should understand why. Laying solid groundwork offers the reader a greater understanding. I continually ask myself: Have I’ve gone deep enough? Did I avoid causing pain to my protagonist or key characters?
Action scenes must have payoffs. There must be no loose threads.
Finally, we must ensure the stakes are high enough for our readers to care. Throughout the rewrite, we must continually examine the pacing, structure, and logic of our writing. If not—it’s back to the drawing board!
Spelling, Grammar, Repetition, Etc.
We don’t have to be a language major to write, but ensuring our punctuation, grammar, etc. is varied is important. During the rewriting phase, check for a variety of sentence lengths and construction. Avoid repetition.
Have we used strong verbs and avoided adverbs (unless for dramatic effect)? Have we ended our sentences with powerful words? It’s important to limit the use of weak words such as: has, was, were get, saw, very, every, about, really, when, just as, could, started to, etc. We have a vast, wonderful language so why waste breath on soft, uninspiring words?
Take the time to cut adjectives whenever possible. Do not pair adjectives. Cut filtering devices like felt, though, observed, etc. as they can distance the reader from the true emotions of the character. Additionally, avoid overusing words like smile, sighing, frowning, or nodding.
We must also ensure we avoided pleonasms—or words that don’t change the meaning of the sentence like just, had that, in any shape or form, etc.
Finally, did we avoid using pretentious words that are unknown to most? It can easily turn off readers!
Now that I’ve taken the time to write this guide on rewriting, I will take a few moments to reread and rewrite it! I will be using the “read aloud” function. Since we tend to read what we think we have written, I have found this an effective tool for discovering, missing, extra, wrong words, repetition, etc. while proofreading my own writing. Another handy editing tool is Grammarly. It is a free app.
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