“I’m not a writer, I’m a rewriter.”
Now, to be honest, I’ve never read anything by our boy Kenn, but I do know that he wrote a dozen or so mysteries, so he has some books under his belt. And there are lots of high-profile authors who would agree with him totally: Professionals rewrite, amateurs cling to every word.
Once you’ve struggled with your own drafts or seen other authors’ manuscripts in various stages, you begin to realize just how important rewriting is to a polished, publishable end-product. Most authors quickly learn the dynamics of their own personal draft development: Some write very spare first drafts that have to be enriched while others write rambling monsters that require cutting away the fat to reveal their story line, just as Michelangelo had to chip away a marble block to find the David imprisoned inside.
But whatever your MO when it comes to drafts, in her excellent guide, How toWrite and Sell Historical Fiction, Persia Woolley offers this prime piece of advice: “Remember that the most important thing is to ALWAYS KEEP THE ARC OF THE STORY AND ITS PACE IN MIND, and do your rewriting accordingly.”
Persia goes on to note that there are “two critical questions you should always ask, both in editing and rewriting: ‘What is the purpose of this scene?’ and ‘Is there a better way to get that information across?’ Here are more tips on rewriting for maximum impact:
Know your style shortcomings and address them: Some of us, Persia and myself included, tend to be lyrical writers and our rhythmic prose can sometimes be lulling for a reader. To offset this tendency, a good rewrite will take out extra words, shorten some sentences, and add more “teeth” to the text. Maybe your problem is the opposite: terse, staccato prose that tends to “machine gun” readers and exhaust them. If so, then your rewrite needs to tackle this issue.
Look for lack of focus: Sometimes, in our eagerness to tell our whole story, we put in everything and the kitchen sink, scattering and squandering our readers’ attention rather than directing it to the heart of a scene so it will have maximum dramatic impact. A rewrite offers the perfect opportunity to sharpen these scenes so that they keep the story moving while zeroing in on what we want our readers to see and experience.
Cut where it counts: During an objective rewrite, it’s likely you’ll come across scenes or themes or even appealing characters who interfere with the balance and pacing of your story. Sometimes, as Persia puts it, “If a scene is jarring, but the content is good, you may find it’s misplaced and will become more powerful if you change the sequence. Or maybe it can be brought out with greater power or economy in another way, perhaps seen from someone else’s point of view.” But sometimes, you have to cut scenes that you think are wonderful, but just don’t fit. This happens to everyone. Save them in a file — and write on!