Re-writing Your Fiction: Starting from Scratch

Box of fruit representing Rewriting fresh fiction when you need to do soWrite Fresh When You Must

Today’s lesson: Don’t become too enamored of your work. Be ready to trash it and start fresh.

My Re-Writing Retreat

Recently, I treated myself to an overnight writing getaway at a local hotel. I took a half-day off, checked in early, and settled down at my trusty laptop to make the most of my uninterrupted hours of re-writing novel #1. (Am I the most boring guy in the world? Quite possibly.)

My first aim was to fix a couple of chapters featuring my bad guys, who are a bunch of demons.

The first of these chapters was a strange one that had Satan holding a high-level meeting with his three top generals and giving an address to an auditorium of lesser demons at the same time. Plainly, the two—important meeting and speech–don’t go together. The two elements needed to be separate events.

The second chapter is about the audience’s reaction to the speech. The crowd isn’t at all enthusiastic about Satan’s message until a minor demon, my hero’s main opponent, jumps on the bandwagon and gets everybody all whipped up. This chapter worked pretty well on its own.

Aha! I thought. I’ll just remove the speechifying parts from the first chapter and graft them onto the second one.

Simple, right? Well, no.

Re-Writing: Easier than Patching

It didn’t take long for me to see that for my plan to work, I was going to have to change the point of view of the second chapter from Satan’s to the minor demon’s. That would require me to have a different beginning to the second chapter. And then I found that taking the speech-y parts out of the first chapter required me to write or rewrite big chunks to plug the holes the excisions left behind.

I was going crazy because I didn’t want to lose any of the writing I was already so fond of.

At some point, I pushed back from the desk and threw myself onto the bed for a good stare at the ceiling. I was just about to switch from writing mode to napping mode when the awful truth bloomed in my brain.

I was going to have to throw out the two chapters and start all over again with this part of the story.

So I did. I started a fresh document, thought through a rough outline (I am an outliner – your method may be different) and wrote the thing from scratch. The result? One chapter instead of two and a more streamlined, more interesting (I hope) section of novel. To finish up, I stripped the two faulty chapters from the manuscript and replaced them with the one I had just completed.

Writing Lessons Learned

During this process, I learned a few things:

Make versions! Whenever you make a major change to your manuscript, save the old version first with a version number or a date. You never know when you’ll need to go back and mine the original for material.

Keep an experimental mindset. Your scratch rewrite is an experiment. Maybe it will be great, maybe it will utterly fail. I find this makes me less nervous about excising a chunk of previous writing and replacing it. I’m not committing to the big change until I’m good and ready.

Rewrite from scratch in a separate document. I just think this makes life easier. With a nice, blank document, your mind is free from the subtle distraction of what comes before and after your rewritten section. You can patch up any rough transitions or what have you in the next draft.

Don’t hesitate to start fresh. Waiting around to do a fresh rewrite is just a waste of time. I tossed away a good hour, at least, trying to tape and spackle those two existing chapters. When you get that awkward feeling, go ahead and start writing something fresh to replace the stuff that’s not working.

What do you do when a portion of your novel is crying out for major revision? Let me and the rest of the world know in a comment.

Thanks for reading See you next time!

Gifts for the Fiction Writer

A wrapped gift held in two hands writers like special giftsFiction Writers Like Gifts, Too!

Ah, the holidays. That wonderful time of year when we chase excessive meals with seltzer tablets, spend money we don’t have, push our stress levels to the limit and love every (well, almost every) minute of it. More importantly, it’s the season of giving. Of gifts. To me. Yippee! Which thought brings me to the point of this holiday post: What are the best gifts you can you give the part-time writer in your life? (You know, that misanthrope in the basement who’s always hunched over the keyboard or staring at the ceiling? Yeah, take a minute to go check. I’ll bet they’re still there. I’ll wait.)

You found your writer, I trust? And wiped the drool from his or her chin? Great. So, back to the point. Here are some things you can give your pet writer.

And Now a Moment of Editorial Clarity

Hey, you writers! This post is addressed to the non-writers in your house, but they probably aren’t ever going to see it. If you want to receive any of these gifts for Christmas, or for [insert your holiday here], you probably need to ask for it. You are worthy. Your craft is worthy. Put this stuff on your wish list. Now, back to our regularly scheduled babbling.


With everything else he has going on, the part-time fiction writer is always wishing for more time. Tell your writer you’ll do the cooking this week, or the yard work, or that you’ll just forego whatever time-consumer it is for a period of time, and that the time saved is for writing.


Because she has chosen to be a family person (or, if younger, is forced to be a family person), the part-time fiction writer’s life is often filled with racket. The simple ongoing noise of a household is often enough to pierce even the most sophisticated of white-noise-and-headphones arrangements, the library isn’t always accessible, and the doghouse is distractingly odiferous. Give your writer some quiet time. Get everybody out of the house. Drive her to the library. Declare an hour in which she be treated as though she were sick and napping.

A writing retreat

If you can swing it, give your writer the gift of a writing retreat. This will be a place where the time and quiet are already built in. It will be a place away from home so your writer won’t be tempted or guilted by domestic responsibilities. He will be so grateful you might even talk him into coming home afterward.

Face time and critique by an agent

If you look around, you can find writer’s conferences where (for a fee) your writer can the first part of her manuscript evaluated by real, live literary agent. This is more for folks set on the traditional publishing route, of course, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Even if your writer is going the self-pub route, a professional evaluation could yield some valuable insights. (I highly recommend you do this through a reputable writer’s conference; don’t just pick some “agent” off the internet or something.)

Editing and/or proofing

If your writer’s manuscript is ready for it, get him a package of editing services. The manuscript might need a developmental edit, in which a “book doctor” addresses fundamental issues of story structure, character development and the like, or a copy-editing job, or something in between. Giving this gift might save a book.


Is that manuscript all ready for prime time? If it is, and your writer is going the e-book route, one of the best gifts is a professional formatting job. A bunch of layout errors can make a book look bad, even if it’s great. Help your writer avoid that problem.

A book cover

Everywhere I look, the pros are saying “get a pro to do your book cover!” What with the prevalence of image editing software, your writer might be tempted to do this critical piece of work herself. That is how lousy covers are born. Buy her a nice one.


Okay, this one’s not really a gift. It’s more a lifestyle choice. Just say “that’s good writing,” “go get ‘em tiger,” “you can do it,” or any such phrases on a regular basis, with sincerity. Writers often carry a lot of self-doubt and some simple support helps a lot. Practice in the mirror if you need to.

Constructive criticism

Constructive criticism is even more valuable than encouragement. If a story is going wrong, your writer needs to know. Be straightforward without being harsh. This gift is as likely as editing and proofing to save a book.

Books about writing

Books about craft are always welcome. Try Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success, by K.M. Weiland, Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks, Nail Your Novel, by Roz Morris, or Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition, by Renni Browne and Dave King.

A nice bottle of whatever

After an intense session of writing, there’s nothing like a wee dram of your favorite hootch. If your writer isn’t the hootchy type, then bake them a cake. If they don’t do cake, you’re on your own.

Happy holidays! See you next time.

Rewriting Your Fiction: Layering

Layering aspects of fiction as you rewrite is like layering colors in a paintingRewriting is Overwhelming

Rewriting your novel. Argh. All that prose and plot lying in a heap before you, waiting for your magical writer’s touch to bring it from crawling to walking and at last to running, rushing amazing fiction. All those characters who can’t decide if they are one thing or another, or when they’ll change, or if they’ll change at all. The inconsistencies waiting to leap off the pages and bite you in your tender rump.

The details of a rewrite comprise a tsunami of… stuff. How do you keep yourself from getting overwhelmed?

Layering as You Rewrite

In painting, of which I’ve done a bit (badly), there’s a technique called layering. You mix a little bit of color, thin it like crazy and then put a translucent layer of it down on the canvas. When that’s dry, you mix another color, thin, and put another layer on top of the first. If you do this well, when you’re finished you’ll have a beautiful, jewel-like effect in your painting.

You can also apply the principle of layering to your fiction. I’ve written the first draft of my novel and have numerous notes for improvement in my fix-it sheet and my beat sheet.

Fix-It Sheet Layering

Here’s a sample of fix-it sheet items. The arrow indicates these are things I want to look at each time I re-write a chapter. I layer in these fixes, meaning I comb through the chapter with just one of the items in mind, then go back through with just the next item in mind, etc. It’s tedious, but it works. If you’re clever enough to keep multiple things in mind while you’re doing this, more power to you.

→Track character arcs in a separate doc – be sure there’s development for everybody

→Throughout: ditch Colin’s internal thoughts unless they are 100% needed or 100% hilarious; don’t eliminate, just cut back

→Redo Colin’s first scene so the reader roots for him, likes him.

→Confirm time period Colin has to succeed. He first calculates it in Coma at the end of Box 1.

→Until he has something more to fight for, Colin should always be looking for a thin spot to escape through. Show his progression from saving himself to saving the universe.

→Bring in the factories more throughout the book.

Beat Sheet Layering

Now, here’s a sample of the beat sheet (click to enlarge). The red text indicates items I want to change. If the red text is lined out, that means I decided against that particular alteration as I was picking through the chapter. If there’s a little check by a note, that means I’ve completed the change. There are some things I’m looking at that aren’t red, too, like “Theme to show”and “Arc” in the “Conflicts, Pace, etc.” column. Just as with the items in the fix-it sheet, I go through these one at a time.

Beat Sheet for Layering Rewrites

What I’m doing here is doing away with complete disorganization and the anxiety of feeling overwhelmed at the expense of putting up with some tedious work. Going through a chapter multiple times can be painful, but so far I’ve found it’s not as painful or slow as I feared it would be. I am also breaking the work into chunks of about thirty pages a crack, so I have a nice feeling of accomplishment when I finish redoing a chunk. Motivation is important!

Speaking of motivation, I know we’d all like to believe our first drafts are perfect, new, dewy little angels from the get-go, but they’re not. They’re scaly, smelly, error-ridden demons and they need careful surgery to make worth a soggy dollar. So don’t skimp on the re-write; get to layering! Or rewrite some other way. I don’t care so much, as long as you make your writing the best it can be.

If you’ve got a tip or three on how to make the rewriting process more effective, how about leaving it here in a comment? Thanks and see you next time.