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.
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.