Good writers write. Great writers rewrite.
First a story. In this story I like to think of COC as Papa Hemingway and YW as any random, upcoming female writer. Anyway, the crusty old curmudgeon and the young writer are at a writers’ conference. COC wants to seduce YW and she wants to seduce super-writer codger. At dinner, she complains about how many revisions she has to make to her manuscripts before they’re ready to be sent out. He asks, “How many rewrites do you do?”
“Oh, sometimes I have to edit and rewrite more than half a dozen times.” YW looks longingly across the table at COC hoping he’ll have some magic formula to help her, or at least some of his fame and talent will rub off.
“Wow, that good.” COC shakes his gray head. “I’m happy when I only have to rewrite forty times.”
Most good authors find they have to rewrite many times and divide the task into specific types of edits they concentrate on. Here are some of the typical tasks for the first revision. Usually the rewrites are done in the order shown here and in next month’s post because there is no point in spending a lot of time fixing spelling and grammar, if a plot mess or out-of-character action means major rewrites will be necessary. Any major plot or character change probably entails large scale modifications so mid and low level editing should follow them, even if it’s already been done several times. This month I cover the points of focus for the largest level editing. I’ll talk about lower level foci next months.
1. Largest Focus Level—Storytelling (developmental editing; major restructuring may be suggested).
a) Is the story too large or too small for the subject and market?
Should you break your book into several books or novels?
More subplots needed? Novellas and novelettes may be making a return or perhaps an e-return, but legacy publishers seem to show no interest in adult fiction with length between about 20 and 70 thousand words.
If neither of these is palatable for your story, look for an alternate mode of publishing. Ebooks allow virtually any length.
b) Do any chapters need to be eliminated, combined or split? (Joey Goebel admonishes to write chapters so short they can be read during a commercial break.)
c) Does the plot make sense? If not, can changing the plot make your story work?
d) Are there any characters, no matter how much you like them, who don’t help your story? Can you combine or eliminate any of them?
e) Is the PoV optimal? Should you change the narrator or narrators?
f) Does the novel fit the genre stereotypes? Should you change the genre?
g) Should you change your voice? Does it fit the age of the narrator and audience (usually the same age)?
h) Do your characters behave as expected?
i) Is there any phonetic or orthographic similarity between any of your names? Ideally, your characters’ names should have acoustically and visually different beginnings. (A note: if SF is your thing, names should also be pronounceable.)