'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 Tue 14-May-13 21:19:56

The grammar will be easy once you've assimilated it, like riding a bike or something.
I can't cut and add significantly at the same time either. I'm going through mostly fleshing out and I'll do the going through cutting down in a separate pass. (I'm cutting a few bits, where they stand out, but mostly it's impossible to hold any sense of pace in my mind if I'm cutting and adding at the same time.)

I get the impression some people do work best with several projects on the go, moving from one to the other when they get stuck then coming back to the first with fresh eyes later. As long as something is moving forward maybe it doesn't matter what?

ImperialBlether Tue 14-May-13 23:36:39

Well, the two books - I wrote one on my MA (well, after it finished as there wasn't time on it) and got an agent through them visiting the course and they tried to sell it, but couldn't. I have my own feelings about that as the agent they allocated to me was an intern and she was trying to place it in publishers who didn't deal with that kind of book. So I got about ten reviews from publishers, all very very nice but ultimately not biting. So I went into a major sulk for a couple of years, then wrote another. Then I sent the new one off - no bites - but I sent one agent the second one as well, and she's reading the full manuscript now (taking her time, btw!) So I started to send both off and that's where they are at the moment. It's incredibly frustrating.

TunipTheVegedude Wed 15-May-13 13:13:12

How very frustrating. And how very crap of the agent.
Do you tell the agents you are submitting to any of the background to why you're submitting two books? Or just send them off with a standard covering letter?

ImperialBlether Wed 15-May-13 23:38:42

No, I don't explain that other publishers have seen it. I don't generally submit two at a time - I don't think it gives a good impression, even though they do want to know you're capable of writing a second book.

You've fired me up now - going to write to the agent who's had it three months. She has pissed me off! Will let you know her exact rejection as soon as I get it!

TunipTheVegedude Thu 16-May-13 13:02:47

Good luck! Fingers crossed that this is the one that doesn't reject you then! grin

ImperialBlether Thu 16-May-13 19:21:17

Thanks, Tunip. I've not had a reply; she's probably got lockjaw from the staggering cheek of someone wanting to hear one way or another!

theoriginalandbestrookie Thu 16-May-13 19:28:11

Fingers crossed ImperialBlether.

Where did you do your MA, imperial? I did one at goldsmiths.

I'm writing/ rewriting a new project - not sure yet if it's right though.

I read some to DH and he said, well, it's ok, but who would read it? Hmmm

ImperialBlether Thu 16-May-13 20:48:09

I did it here in Liverpool, Euphemism. I'm jealous of you going to Goldsmiths, though!

What's your new project about?

ImperialBlether Thu 16-May-13 20:49:22

I think you should write books that you'd like to read yourself - tell your DH you're your own target audience!

theoriginalandbestrookie Thu 16-May-13 21:02:46

I wouldn't show DH anything Thisis. He has more than three "books" "written" by Jeremy Clarkson at his side of the bed, that tells me all I need to know about his literary judgement.

That's true, originalandbestrookie. I buy books for DH every year in a bid to improve him, but he only reads Frederick Forsyth. What does he know?!

Project is the sort of the thing publishers loathe apparently. Autobiographical-ish, linked, short stories, sigh. I'm really enjoying the writing of it though, so that's got to count for something, eh. And it is the sort of thing I like to read so that's something too, maybe...

Good luck with the submissions Imperial. I did the MA about 8 years ago now, and got an agent with the book I was working on. I was so excited - but no one took the book. It's a long (fucking) game isn't it...

GrendelsMum Fri 17-May-13 09:07:36

Logging in to say I am still going, although you wouldn't know it from this thread!

SO... having had a paid critique (VERY worthwhile) I've now got a clear list of things to work on. At the moment, I'm focusing on the plot, and making sure that it makes sense not just from the main character's point of view, but that all the other characters (and particularly the evil antagonists) are behaving in logical ways, given what they know. I'm doing a chapter by chapter plot summary, contrasting what every character knows or is doing at that point. I have already identified a few points at which people do deeply odd things. I also have various loose ends, I think - such as spelling out who did do the murder, and who is the spy.

I've also had the lovely excuse to read lots of novels to see what they do!

A query - I have a vaguely sinister figure who pops up a lot in the background (a sinister Union leader type person). I'd mentally put him down as scene setting and motivation for other characters, but I'm wondering whether I ought to give him some kind of specific plot thread of his own. I'm concerned it might feel as though it's a bit of a loose end.

GrendelsMum Fri 17-May-13 09:09:28

p.s. Tunip - I do agree that the beginning of your novel was too slow. I actually went back and checked it after I got the critique on mine, and thought it did take a little time to get going, although obviously I can see why you begin with the hawking scene.

TunipTheVegedude Fri 17-May-13 09:53:58

That's very interesting about checking what all the characters know at any given point, GrendelsMum. I think I might find that a useful process too.

Your sinister background figure - I think you can tie loose ends up without him having to have his own plot thread - just say something about him later on that give you a sense of closure about him IYSWIM. Also, whether he does end up giving you a sense of loose ends depends how he's signposted. I would personally find that quite hard to judge in my own work and would be asking beta readers about it.

TunipTheVegedude Fri 17-May-13 10:09:37

I think I'm going to have a big session of worrying about pace soon, when I discover all the new pace problems I have inserted by my draft 3 changes. (All the stuff to make Will sexier more interesting and the stuff to clarify Nan's motivations at the start.... not to mention the new scene I am about to insert after I went back to the castle that inspired it the other week and discovered it has an oubliette! An actual oubliette where they found a human arm bone manacled to the wall!!!!)

It is all quite alarming. Gawd only knows how one deals with pace problems in a novel at this stage. Ruthless cutting of bits I really love, I suppose.

However, I am kept cheerful by a fabulous insight I have been given by a helpful medievalist Mumsnetter, which has shown me exactly how Nan's differing attractions to Will and Francis would be expressed. If I can play my cards right I will be able to make the romance scenes hot but also unimpeachably pure and YA-appropriate....

GrendelsMum Mon 20-May-13 20:21:32

Still working on plot here.

After a lot of soul searching, I'm trying to cut out scenes in which people, effectively, go to work and talk to their colleagues while having something to eat (my heroes do that a lot, which probably represents my life quite accurately), and replace them with some more scenes in which unexpected and exciting things happen.

Heroes are interrogated by evil and sinister police!
Heroes have to fight off a deranged woman whose husband / child has just died and who blames them for it!
Heroes are called in by street kids to dispose of a mysterious dead body!

etc etc. Not quite sure about all of those, but it would perhaps liven it up a bit.

Ultimately, the heroine is arrested on trumped-up charges and imprisoned without trial (except of course she escapes).

Would it be more sinister, and make it clearer as to the danger she's in, if earlier, shes made to give evidence against someone else arrested on trumped-up charges, who's then condemned to death?

What do people think?

TunipTheVegedude Mon 20-May-13 20:37:24

LOL re food. Yes, they do do that a lot, but I never found it dull when I was reading it because I enjoyed the descriptions of the horrible food. I hope the food in your workplace is better.
I do agree, though. Even if they're having the same conversation they should have it in a more interesting place or while doing something interesting.
As long as your 'exciting things' support the main story arc and don't feel randomly dropped in - that will be the challenge, I think.

And yes, absolutely. I think showing what the stakes are for your character in that way is precisely what is called for. The problem I had when reading it was not really getting involved enough with her to care about her, and I think it would help a lot, because it would give you a chance to show her emotional reaction to something dramatic.

TunipTheVegedude Mon 20-May-13 20:52:05

I am currently reading through mine, having attempted to fix all the bigger-picture things apart from the pace issue, so I need to see how it has worked and how well the new scenes fit in.
Then I will do some ruthless trimming. It's now 83k (it was 70) and I think it needs to lose 5-10%.
At the moment I am hoping I can deal with the slow start by manipulating the emotional climaxes so it feels like it's got going earlier in the plot. Counter-intuitively, this has involved adding scenes near the start, rather than taking them away, so there's a bit of drama (Nan is caught eavesdropping on her father arranging to hide money abroad - it was in draft 1 but I cut it for draft 2) and I think it has helped liven things up early on, though that may be wishful thinking. We'll see.

Interestingly, one solution I tried has failed utterly: I tried to do the commissioners' visit to the aunt's abbey as a prologue rather than a flashback. I thought it would be good because it's a nice dramatic scene that underlies Nan's entire motivation for the book and if it was a film you would start with that. It hasn't worked and I think there are two reasons. One is that it's the classic problem of dramatic things happening to people you don't care about. The other is that I wanted a beginning that teenagers could immediately get hold of and I think the nunnery scene probably isn't that - the conflict with the father is easier to relate to.

GrendelsMum Mon 20-May-13 21:06:03

Oh, I love writing the scenes where they have more and more awful food. No-one but me will ever know it, but at one point they're eating quinoa from a particular health food shop I was unfortunate enough to visit.

I may work on fitting some of the extra possible scenes in to the plot. The interrogation, trial and condemnation to death would be quite easy, I think. Not so sure about the others, but they're possibilities. I've also made the character a bit more understandable earlier on (at least, i hope so - it's now clearer early on what's happened to her and her family, and why she's so bonkers).

Could the conflict with the father happen on the hill, so that it gets going absolutely straight off, while you still fet the feeling of her outside with the hawk? And that she feels the sinisterness of him coming to find her?

I think you're right vis a vis the commissioners and not having it as a prologue.

I like the idea of her being overheard hearing her father the nasty weasly bastard hiding money abroad. Excellent bit of plot.

TunipTheVegedude Mon 20-May-13 22:17:36

You might find that the trial and condemnation to death (and execution?) take up a lot of words and you have to be fairly restrained with the other additions.
I'm looking forward to seeing what you've done with the character. She's already intriguing and extremely cool.
Just pondering, but I wonder if there's a case for keeping the canteen scenes and turning up the dreariness and awful food up a notch so it becomes more of an interesting thing in its own right (I'm thinking about F.Scott Fitzgerald being told by his editor that Gatsby was too vague, so he responded by making him even vaguer).

I don't think Nan's father would go to find her - he needs to be sitting smugly at his desk, and I like taking her from the hillside into the nasty dark house (scene of patriarchal power) which prefigures the castle. But there is a lot of chopping around of location at that point (hillside/father/grandmother/hillside) so I might need to do something.

GrendelsMum Mon 20-May-13 22:25:36

You might be right with the word count - and with keeping the dreary canteen scenes. I did wonder about an additional food scene in the boarding house when she realises that at least she's getting regular and varied food, terrible as it is.

Are you sure the father couldn't stare smugly at his lands, invading her space of freedom? But I do like the nasty dark house, too.

TunipTheVegedude Tue 21-May-13 10:04:55

One thing I'm gradually learning is that sometimes what you think at first has to be a scene can work surprisingly well as a sentence or two.

On which subject, if I DID have to cut something from the early stages I think it would have to be the scene where the aunt brings them the sacred girdle; I'm not entirely happy with it as it feels a bit forced, and I might be able to get away with conveying the information some other way.
I found it quite telling that when I wrote my synopsis I was able to leave all that stuff out entirely.

Oooh, can I join in?
I have "finished" something, which ended up at 106,000 words long. Quite waffly, obviously.
I was at the point where a few close friends had read it and urged me to send it away to agencies, but so far I have had eleven "sorry,not for me" replies :S

TunipTheVegedude Tue 21-May-13 10:30:45

Yay, new blood! grin
Welcome, Elf.

You can definitely improve it and up your chances. Enthusiastic friends are nice but they don't generally get how much competition is out there and how good it needs to be.

So do you have a plan? Is it clear to you what you need to do to make it better? Or are you looking at it and wondering where to start?

And what is your genre?

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