Every writer has to find what works for him.  I was on a writing panel a while ago, and one of the authors said that he always works on three projects at a time, because when he gets bored with one and runs out of ideas, he can pick up the next story until the first one tugs him back.  Another friend of mine always rotates between two novels.  Me, I’m a one-at-a- time type writer.  I might start a new story while I let a draft sit, to let it “cool” and gain some objectivity before I polish it, but I don’t jump back and forth between chapters and scenes.  Come to think of it, though, I can’t multi-task all that well either.  Just saying….

My friends and I have different approaches to rewrites too.  Paula writes these deep, layered,  power house scenes, then does rewrites to connect them.  Two of my friends think BIG and words flow from their fingertips.  They use rewrites to cut and shape “too much” into order.  I tend to write sparely–if I get the basics of the scene right, I’m happy.  My rewrites are adding all  of the things I didn’t put in the first time around.  Don’t get me wrong.  I still think about word choice–did I use the exact word I needed where I needed it?–and verb choice–did I use active instead of passive?  I look at grammar and sequence, but those are the basics.  After those, I hit the things I’ve been known to overlook.

Did I set the scene?  And I don’t mean does the reader know where my characters are standing or sitting.  I want the reader to feel like he’s standing there too.  I want him to be able to picture the room he’s in or the field he’s crossing.  I want him to squint his eyes because the sun’s too bright and inhale the scent of crisp air and freshly turned earth.  If my character’s cooking, I want my reader to smell onions sauteeing and the spices on the sizzling meat.  Not every scene, of course, but enough that my reader is grounded in place.

Did I deliver emotion?  Tension?  By this, I mean–why is this scene important to my POV character?  It’s not enough to just have things happening in my story.  Those things have to impact my character.  Why does she care?  What difference does it make?  To do this, I often use internal dialogue or deep POV.  So many times, I look at a scene and everything’s right, but it just doesn’t work.  It should–important things are happening, but it’s flat.  Then I know that it’s not what’s there, it’s what’s NOT there that’s tripping me up.  And that’s almost always my character’s emotions.  What does she think about what’s happening around her?  Does it make her happy, sad, or frustrated?  What’s her take on it?  That’s when internal dialogue can make a scene significant.

And finally, for me and my rewrites, I check my story for transitions.  Did I jump from one place to another too abruptly?  Did I leave out a scene that would add to the story?  And lastly, the dreaded “show, don’t tell.”  Did I gloss over something, tell the reader what happened, when I could let him experience it along with my character?

This is my list of things I look for when I rewrite a story.  They’re things I know I tend to rush over or forget on my first draft of getting things on paper.   Each author has his own style and habits, so I thought I’d add a link that probably gives better information than mine on critiquing (for me, that includes how I critique my own stories to make them stronger).

When I first started writing, I dreaded rewrites.  Now, I recognize them as the difference between a good story and a great one.  I hope this link gives you even more ideas to make your stories better:

11 thoughts on “Rewrites

  1. Ah, the power of editing. Never would I have imagined how important this is until I fell in love with my story and couldn’t leave the characters alone. They needed to breathe, move, and develop. The story wasn’t finished. I am a believer… and yet… I also found that my brain needed a break from the turmoil… it needed to let the words flow. Now I have three books in progress (they are a series). I can edit the first which is fully written, or write book 2. Book 3 is handwritten, still another format that stretches my creativity. So glad you shared, so glad to see another post. I love how succintly you capture the process of writing. I love how you make me understand my process.
    Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, Judith.


  2. We have a small group for Thanksgiving. My mom has Alzheimer’s, so my sisters and I and our families (even my grandsons, bless their hearts) cart food to spend time with Mom, who sometimes makes sense & sometimes doesn’t. At least, she still remembers us–most of the time. So Thanksgiving’s a little weird right now. But that’s life. Sort of like writing. It always throws you surprises. Hope your Thanksgiving was AWESOME!


    1. Oh, I can see my future. So sad, as my mom is slipping, too. I’m sorry to hear about yours, but glad you’ve found a way to keep perspective and some joy. Makes everything more meaningful, doesn’t it?


  3. Thanks for the link, Judith, to be honest I am a bit stuck and discouraged with my first draft…I find it lacks emotion…and that pains me greatly..Have you ever felt like you weren’t supposed to write? I have…and maybe I should.


  4. Writing, for me, takes mental and emotional energy. I ran out of that energy, once, when life was too demanding and events drained my creativity. One of my friends lost her husband and couldn’t write for a year, but I’ve seen people who write even better when life is falling apart around them and their writing provides relief. So I think it depends on how each person deals with stress and sorrow. If it’s simply sitting down to make yourself write, though, I really believe that if you make yourself sit in front of your computer for even an hour a day or write 5 pages a day, you’ll just keep getting better and better and the words will start to flow for you. And if the foundation of the story works, everything else can be fixed. That’s what rewrites are for. I never get emotion and passion right in a first draft. I add those when I go through the pages the second or third time.

    The first time I ever decided to write a novel instead of a short story, I could only get enough of a plot to come up with 20,000 words. The next time around, I got to 35,000. It took a third try to reach 70,000 words because I found a system that worked for me. In the first fourth of the book–about the first 80 to 100 pages, I start by introducing the protagonist and the problem she must face and why it matters to her. I write a few sentences about the setting and a romantic interest and a “side kick”, someone to bounce ideas off of for dialogue–and I jot ideas for 2 subplots and an antagonist. Once I have those ideas, I do character wheels, and those lead to lots more ideas to fill pages. All of these things can just be a few sentences each, just something for me to aim for each day when I sit down to write scenes. I don’t know if they’ll work for you, but play with some different things and see what happens. The more you “see” and “feel” your characters and story, the more alive they’ll be when you write about them. At least, that works for me. Hope it helps you.


    1. It does, Judith. In the meantime I’ve received an email from another publisher who liked my story and I’ve regained my confidence. It’s just I’m a bit lazy…:))). Kisses


  5. Five pages a day is very much for me, I can write about 500 words, if I push more then that, then the result is pathetic :). I suppose it takes practice, patience and experience …:).


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