If you’ve been writing for several years, there are most likely some old WIPs you’ve worked on but ended up setting aside at some point because you were convinced they were downright bad. You may have even finished this story, but hesitate from letting others read it because you’re embarrassed to unearth this foul, untamed beast. Yet, deep within your heart, an inkling of hope still cherishes this story.
Maybe you loved the characters. Maybe you were on the verge of a killer plot, but couldn’t quite figure it out back then. Whatever the thought that keeps you from trashing the story might be, let me ask you this: would you rather this story and your hopes for it be buried under a pile of dust, or would you like to revive it?
First drafts, my fellow writer, don’t have to be perfect. Neither do the second, third, and fourth. You see, even bestselling, Pulitzer Prize winning novels still have flaws in the eyes of some readers, and in most cases, probably their authors too. The difference is that those authors put that idea they believed in to the test and gave it the time and attention it needed… including rewrites.
Rewriting: The Negative Connotation
The term “rewrite” often fills writers with dread, as they believe it means that their entire work needs improving. While in some instances that may be the case, I strongly believe that most “bad” WIPs can be improved by rewriting some areas and patchworking scenes that work from previous drafts into it to form a stronger story. The thing is, how do we distinguish the scenes that work from the ones that don’t?
Trash or Keep?
First, let me give you an example. During the time of writing this post, I’m currently on the third rewrite of my YA romance novel, The Crush. I’ve been working on The Crush off and on since 2011, and had reached 250+/- pages when I realized I didn’t like the direction the story was going. The characters and plot were too much like slightly reimagined real-life people and events from my own life, and after reading about how that can be a huge mistake in The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet, I started rewriting it bit by bit, tweaking characters’ names more, getting rid of obvious events, etc. while keeping the main message I wanted to relay to readers.
But… even the second draft mirrored the events after a while. I was attached to certain scenes from the first draft, and to get those to work, I was lazily adding those bad scenes back in.
All The Feels
That’s where the difference lies between working and non-working scenes: the scenes you are attached to in the first draft are most likely why you still have hope for this seemingly awful story. These scenes either highlight strong characterization, include epic descriptions, or make you fangirl while reading it. If these scenes provoke a strong feeling in you, they are nine times out of ten worth keeping, as they will most likely provoke a similar feeling in other readers.
On the flip side, if reading back over a scene or typing it into your new draft fills you with dread or makes you bored, it’s time to remove that bad mojo from the equation. BUT, keep in mind this doesn’t mean sending this scene into the Island of Deleted Scenes; keep a file full of these “trash” scenes handy, in case you’ll need certain information they contain for later use.
Fixing the Overall Issues
Rewrites are needed for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to the following:
- Punctuation issues
- Paragraph and/or Dialogue formatting issues
- Plot holes
- Poor characterization
- Lack of descriptions
- Lack of tension
Before You Begin
Whatever the issue(s) may be, before you attempt a rewrite, go back and read what you have of your existing WIP first, and compile a list of all the issues you would like to resolve into respective categories. This list will come in handy when you’re rewriting, allowing you to tackle each category individually to avoid overload. It is also a good practice to make notes of those Keeper scenes and bookmark them for future reference.
Before you begin the rewrite, to avoid repeating major punctuation issues and paragraph/dialogue formatting, do some research on proper formatting. Spending an hour or two learning how to correctly format will save you loads of time (and money) during the editing phase later on.
The Game Plan
If you’re tackling issues such as plot holes, poor characterization, lack of tension, etc., it is beneficial to construct a game plan before releasing your creative juices again. Ask yourself:
- What was missing from the previous draft that needs to be added?
- Where can I weave in stronger characterization?
- How can I go about adding in the Keeper scenes in a way that is purposeful and drives the plot forward?
- Where can I best create conflict?
My master game plan for figuring out these answers came in the form of plotting. I grabbed a sheet of notebook paper and listed out one-sentence descriptions of every scene that I would like to take place to reach the desired end. I added in the Keeper scenes when needed, and connected the dots by thinking of lead-up scenes.
Though I’ve always been a pantser on past WIPs, plotting The Crush for this rewrite has increased my productivity by creating a roadmap to follow. To create your own novel roadmap, come up with scenes that will provide answers for each of the questions above, and then decide the order in which you plan to implement them.
If your chapters consist of one scene each, take your roadmap and write down the chronological order for each scene. If your chapters consist of two or more scenes, group related scenes together (maybe one scene for each question above) and BOOM, you have a chapter outline! Try to use similar scene counts for each chapter to keep the rhythm consistent. For The Crush, I tend to use four or five scenes per chapter.
Keep in mind that this rewrite draft, too, will not be perfect. No writing, however, ever truly is. But, by implementing these practices, you may have a clearer path to follow to better enhance that WIP you believe in. 🙂
Talk to Me, Arrowheads!
What additional advice do you have on rewriting? Feel free to share in the comments!
Aim high, stay strong, and always hit your mark.