'Books are not written, they are rewritten' - the 2013 revising and editing thread

(381 Posts)
TunipTheVegedude Thu 10-Jan-13 09:17:45

Anyone who already has a draft (NaNo veterans and others?) want to join me for a rewriting thread?

I am working on my draft from NaNoWriMo 2012.

I've never successfully edited a novel before - I've written first drafts and attempted to edit them but never managed to either be ruthless enough, or to really understand what I had to do. This time is different because it's clear that it needs very major work at all levels; the NaNo draft feels like a zero draft rather than a first draft. I've been reading 'how to write' stuff manically over the last month (something I've never really done before) and have a lot to go on. Starting by plotting it again from the ground up, then will work through scene by scene using relevant bits from my first draft but basically starting with a blank page, which I hope means I will not be too attached to any of my previous words. My target for Easter is to get it to a stage where other people can read it and tell me how to change it so I can write it all over again smile

TunipTheVegedude Sat 01-Jun-13 12:02:28

I don't see many 'and's in that confused

I love your writing. The imagination and magic is just beautiful.
In terms of technical things, I think you need to vary your sentence length more - it feels quite staccato. You need to look out for repetitions (eg famous, famous, battle, battle). The YA story analyzer tool is useful for that.
You could keep the impact of the fabulous imaginative stuff while minimising the off-puttingness of the long descriptive passage by simply cutting as ruthlessly as poss. Eg, 'This was all the more amazing given the cloth was not tampered with or altered in any way, as it hung beyond reach, and nobody was permitted within ten feet of it' could become something like 'This was all the more amazing given nobody was permitted within ten feet of the cloth.' - the rest doesn't need spelling out.

TunipTheVegedude Sat 01-Jun-13 12:04:54

x-post.
I think GrendelsMum and I are on the same page about this - fun but wordy, can be more economically expressed while keeping the good stuff.

GrendelsMum Sat 01-Jun-13 12:12:34

Oh, hello Tunip! How nice to think of us both sitting writing on a Saturday morning smile

TunipTheVegedude Sat 01-Jun-13 12:29:36

Oh I'm not writing, I'm snatching odd moments in between childcare and MIL!

TunipTheVegedude Sat 01-Jun-13 16:11:17

Glad it's going well, GrendelsMum.
I look forward to seeing how you get on!

I've had a week off (half term, camping, MIL visiting) which is the first week I've taken off since I started in Sept, as up until now when I've been away from the manuscript I've been working on craft/research.
Am dying to get back to it. Hopefully the distance will help me see how the new scenes with Will are working. Then I have a lot - and I mean a LOT - to do on the writing.

I am starting to roughly sketch out some ideas for my next book. While I'm not at all tempted to move my focus away from this one, I'm quite reassured to find that I CAN imagine being as obsessed by it as I am by this one. I was worried all the improved technique I was learning would be for nothing if I couldn't find another story I loved as much.

ninah Sun 02-Jun-13 14:30:39

I like Grendel's edit very much, some fine advice there imo

GrendelsMum Wed 05-Jun-13 09:50:18

Thanks, Ninah - it's so much easier when it's someone else's words to cut, isn't it? And so much harder when it's your own lovingly crafted work, every word of which is of course vital. I'm tackling this myself at the moment...

Tunip - I'm really looking forward to hearing how the book is going after your break, and to hear that another one is being sketched out.

Meanwhile, I'm focusing on plot at the moment, and in particular working on a sticky patch towards the end of the novel, with a sequence of several chapters. I've been aware that it's lacking in tension, even though in theory it should all be exciting. I've come to the conclusion that it needs a better sense of narrative drive pushing through the whole sequence, and that the characters need to have a clear character arc within that section, going from fear / distrust / repulsion to trust and fellowship. Plus they KEEP BLOODY EXPLAINING THINGS TO EACH OTHER.

I am holding a radical cut of scenes where people explain things to each other. Instead, each scene is supposed to contain conflict, change and action at some level, develop characters and move the story forward.

Now I just have to achieve that!

TunipTheVegedude Wed 05-Jun-13 12:04:55

Do you have a plan for how to convey the information to the reader that is currently conveyed by characters explaining things to each other? Or is it superfluous anyway?
I like looking at character arcs. Actually sussing out what Will's was was a good feeling, and Scrivener or just computers in general are v helpful.

I hope I'm still as determined as you when I'm at the point where you are now.

I'm currently blitzing my excessively passive writing, as identified by the magic YA analyser. I've given up on trying to work out whether the new Will scenes have worked. I'm going to wait and see what my second round betas say, once I've done the work on the writing. I suspect it will still need some tweaking after that but hopefully it will be less next time round.

GrendelsMum Wed 05-Jun-13 13:05:01

Oh, I'm interested to hear that Will now has a character arc - would you be able to send it to me for a comparison, or is it scribbled on a piece of paper (which mine are).

Yes, the current plan goes
- info 1 (a medical secret) is now going to be a hurried phone call to L, saying 'I've found a whole load of mysterious papers, implying that X was going on... come over to my flat as soon as you can'. Except that L is then arrested before she can come over.
- info 2 (how many people are affected) is now going to be a 1 line uttered by someone when doing something else
- info 3 (bribes are being taken) is going to be a dramatic scene where someone tries to bribe L

I think this should really liven it up.

TunipTheVegedude Wed 05-Jun-13 13:13:55

Yes, I can send you my notes for it easily. It's just notes, not a visual arc-shaped representation. Hang on a min.

TunipTheVegedude Wed 05-Jun-13 13:17:33

I've sent you a PM with it in. Actually maybe it's the arc of their relationship rather than his character? You'll note I've done it from both sides, his then hers.

TunipTheVegedude Wed 05-Jun-13 13:19:23

Oh yes, the bribes thing especially sounds excellent. It's all about making people interact with the information, isn't it? Like making them interact with their environment rather than just having separate description of it.

TunipTheVegedude Fri 07-Jun-13 20:25:47

Well I've had a very satisfying few days.

The de-passive-ifying my writing is slow (a few scenes a day) but alongside that I'm searching the whole document for The Words I Use Too Much, and finding better ways to express them.

Both processes are making my writing improve by leaps and bounds. It is incredible how much difference it's making. It seems to be unlocking ideas I wouldn't otherwise have thought of.

I love the way getting rid of passives makes you think about who is actually doing the action. I have got 'precision' and 'clarity' up on my noticeboard as things to aim for, and getting rid of passives is not only making it clearer, it's making me view the action in a more precise manner.

And it just reads so much more like a real book now the characters aren't turning round and looking at each other every couple of paragraphs.... blush

Thanks Grendel and Tunip, good advice, I'm just back from a week's holiday in the land that wifi forgot.
I'll get to work on those issues this coming week once the DCs are back to school.
It's good to get impartial feedback, I've got a small Canadian publishing house interested but I'm holding off sending the book until it's the best it can be. The editing is easily as hard as the writing, choosing what to cut and what to keep.

re-edited:
The tailor wove a tapestry for the king of Boravia, depicting a fiercely-fought battle. The king ordered that it be hung high across the length of his Great Hall, permanently on display but under constant guard lest it be damaged or defaced by his enemies. The king treasured the masterpiece, which had a number of curious properties. It was no mere static image, but revealed new insights when moonlight or sunlight struck the threads directly. Viewed by moonlight, the battle cries could be heard resonating through the very threads, while sunbeams reflected from its surface in myriad directions, revealing colours previously invisible. The horses woven throughout the piece appeared to rear up so realistically that their hoofbeats were said to echo through the room. As veterans from the battle eventually died, their tapestry counterparts appeared with closed eyes, even though previously their eyes had been open.

GrendelsMum Fri 14-Jun-13 08:15:24

Thanks for sharing your revision, InMySpareTime! Great to read it. One thought about the revised version in comparison to the original version - how does it sound to you when you read it aloud? There's something about the sentence structure across the whole paragraph which is nagging at me, and I can't put my finger on it. Repetition of sentence structure? Too many long sentences one after another? Wish I could say exactly what I think's not quite right...

Anyway, here's my puzzle for the day. How on earth would you question someone who you think might be a traitor, without letting them know that you suspect them? What would you even start saying to them?

TunipTheVegedude Fri 14-Jun-13 09:36:31

I think it's the sentence lengths needing more variation, the repetition of sentence structure, and the passives.
The YA story analyser gave it a passive sentences score of 71.43%. Obviously that's only a crude tool and it's a single paragraph and in a longer piece of writing a single paragraph might well have that many passives in it, but for an intro you need people to jump straight in so you probably can't get away with it there.
There are also quite a lot of adverbs for such a short piece.

I sometimes do this - in trying to make my writing less wordy I kind of squish it all up together and it becomes too compact to swim through easily.

TunipTheVegedude Fri 14-Jun-13 10:06:23

I know I bang on a lot about passives at the moment btw - it's the fervour of the recent convert. I never even noticed this about my writing until recently and I am totally blown away by the difference it's making to me.

I have not had to give up descriptive passages totally, but I am finding that because I have to justify the purpose of every single was or were or be, the ones I allow to stay have extra impact, which is rather pleasing.

ninah Sat 15-Jun-13 20:04:16

re the traitor thing - I would diss whoever they are supposed to be treacherous to and see if they joined in
Or, I would have set a trap for them somewhere ... difficult to advise without knowing the details!

Grendel, re. The traitor, could the questioner confide in the traitor that he suspects another, then step back and allow the traitor to talk himself into a trap?

Thanks for your feedback, I felt the same about the sentence length. in earlier revisions the YA analyser said the sentences were "insanely long", and that there were too many "and"s, so I cut several sentences down to size. Now they just feel truncated. Reading other YA fiction, sentences seem short to my adult eye, I'm not sure whether to join that bandwagon or stick to the style I'm comfortable writing.

TunipTheVegedude Sun 16-Jun-13 10:06:23

It's very easy to lose the rhythm when you start chopping sentences up, but it's easy enough to put it back again and there's plenty of scope for variation when you can go from 1 to 39 words without even falling into the 'very difficult sentences' box.

I wouldn't even think about doing something just to jump on a bandwagon, but I found it quite a useful process to look at recently published things that sell and whose style I admire, and analyse how they work. After all, writers and publishers do know a thing or two about what sells to kids these days, but there is still a lot of variety within that and they don't all write like Jacqueline Wilson. Which writers in your genre do you like?

Chris Priestley (Tales of Terror etc)
Janis MacKay (accidental time traveller)
Joseph Delaney's "Spook" series
These authors write in a style most aligned with mine. Of those, Janis MacKay uses the least descriptive language and the shortest sentences, Joseph Delaney has extremely long, descriptive sentences.
Getting useful feedback is really hard! Only one of my Beta Readers has given me decent feedback, the others either gushed with praise but found no errors, or haven't got round to reading it yetconfused.
Encouragingly, I was talking to a friend if DSs yesterday, he asked to read the book so I let him read it via DropBox on the iPod. He got so engrossed in it, he nearly fell into a dip in the lawnblush and was reluctant to stop reading when his parents were going homegrin.

TunipTheVegedude Sun 16-Jun-13 13:39:22

That's interesting. I've read some Chris Priestley and I can see where you're going with that. He writes in a pseudo-Victorian style but one which is still quite heavily adapted for the expectations of modern teen readers.

Looking at the opening to The Dead of Winter, I'm struck by a few things. His descriptions are mostly active with few adverbs. He manages a lot of variation in sentence length with a few sentences of over 40 words. He makes use of short paragraphs in connection with his long sentences (often a paragraph is just a single long sentence), so there is still a fair bit of white space on the page. I'm also struck by his use of the first and second person to make it more engaging than it would be if it was all in third. He introduces the character from the word go, so you have someone to identify with, and involves the reader directly with second ('If, after that, you turn away in disbelief....') Is that something you could do here? It would be one way to create a less distanced piece of writing.

I wonder if you can get your keen kid readers to pin down what it is they like about your writing. It would be good to know what the elements are that you absolutely must preserve at all cost.

I do have a chapter involving the reader, as a means of moving the story from "once upon a time" to action decades later. I've been making the sentences more active without making them too choppy, it's hard going (6 hours yesterday taking out 30% of the "was" instances).
Getting detailed feedback is like getting blood from a stone, how do you work with "it's a great story, I didn't see any mistakes" when you know there are obvious errors you spotted after the Beta Readers' version of the book?

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