Thursday, January 26, 2012

You’re Done! Let’s Rewrite Stuff a Lot

It's a book!! sorta...
(In which KK uses weird metaphors.)

The book is done! First draft-wise, anyway. Now it’s time for rewriting.

STATISTICS and LOGISTICS: The book was written longhand in 3 spiral-bound notebooks. The fourth (red) notebook is a catch-all for notes and the story bible. Periodically during the writing process, I sat down with Dragon Dictate icon (Dragon NaturallySpeaking icon for you PC users) and dictated a few scenes into Scrivener. By the time the first longhand draft was finished, I only had a few scenes left to dictate. Right now it's clocking in at about 82,000 words.

PROCESS: Rewriting is where the real meat of producing a book happens. You can think of your first draft as the bones—the story’s skeleton, as it were. With rewriting, you make sure all the muscles and connecting tissues are in place, and at some point you’ll probably shove in some internal organs, or move them around, or switch their function a little.

My book has a big ass like Alex Ovechkin.
Now, in all fairness, you probably have more than just a skeleton once you finish your first draft. You probably have some tendons and ligaments, a few major muscles, like pectorals and thighs and upper arms and probably some good, solid ass muscles. (My book has good, solid ass muscles because it’s about hockey players.) There are probably some organs floating around in there—maybe a pancreas, some bile ducts, half a lung. Let’s hope it has a heart, too. That’s the most important piece. The heart is your reason for writing the book in the first place. However, if your heart—your theme, your voice, or your main message—is a little lumpy and is maybe shy a valve or two, don’t worry.

Your goal in your rewrite, then, is to fill in the places where the story doesn’t quite fit together. Where one piece doesn’t quite match another. Where we don’t know one character well enough, or know wayyyyy too much about another. When there’s not enough description or information for the reader to really feel like she’s there, living the story rather than watching it pass by in bits of print.

It’s hard work. But think about it. You don’t want to send that story out the way it is now. Heck, it’s got one arm hanging there from nothing but a chunk of tendon. What if that arm falls off and flops around on the editor’s desk? Awkward.

TOOLS: As with any major construction project, having the right tools is paramount. You’ll need physical tools as well as mental tools. You might need somebody to help you out. Heck, you might need a whole crew.

Mental tools: The most important mental tools for a rewrite are objectivity and patience. If you can’t look at your piece objectively, you’re going to end up leaving in a couple extra pituitary glands, or forgetting a kidney. If you reach a point where you’re not objective, either move on to something else or find somebody who will be objective.

Physical tools: Whatever you’re comfortable with. I do some revision right on the computer, while other bits—usually the larger ones—I’ll write out longhand. If I’m having a particularly hard time piecing a scene together, I’ll print it out and write on the printouts. Be flexible. If you feel like all the bits and pieces are getting muddled up in your head, try switching things up. Go from computer to longhand or vice versa.

I also keep my story bible on hand at all times. When I’m going through my rewrites, I’ll add facts, timeline bits, character background, etc., to the story bible. I’ll also write notes about things I mentioned in one place but didn’t carry through, or ideas about how scenes could be expanded or lead to different ramifications later in the book. Sometimes it’s complicated, like “Expand this relationship—we need to see more of this character.” Sometimes it’s stuff like, “OMG this is so stupid, let’s make it a running joke.”

Other tools: Sometimes it’s good to have a procedure to follow. I’m going to dip into a couple of books as we go: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers icon and Revision and Self-Editing icon to give my rewriting a tad more structure. I’ll let you know how working with these books goes for me.

Another great help is a critique partner. I send chapters to my best friend, and she gets back to me with detailed or not so detailed notes, depending on the need. (I sent her the first three chapters of this draft and so far her only comment has been, “OMG your vampires are drinking the wrong beer!” I’m still waiting for additional guidance.) If you have someone you know will be objective and helpful, make use of them as much as you can. Also? Send them gifts so they won’t feel like you’re using them.

This represents a good jumping off point for your rewrite efforts. In future posts, we’ll get into some nitty-gritty and pound this novel into shape.