Rewriting A Novel When It’s A Big Mess

Rewriting A Novel When It’s A Big Mess

rewriting a novel

How do you go about rewriting a novel when it’s an absolute mess?

I want to tell you about this editing client I once had. She submitted a manuscript that was the biggest disaster I had ever seen. It would need countless drafts to make it even in the ballpark of publishable.

1. First, it was written 25 years ago when she was a teenager, years before she developed her skills as a novelist. It lacked character development, description, and a strong point of view.

2. Since it was originally done on a word processor, this author hired a company to scan her hard copy so she could work with it again. Unfortunately, the scanning process riddled it with formatting errors and odd symbols that made my eyes glaze over when I was editing.

3. The storyline was so outdated and unrealistic that she had buried the manuscript in a drawer for several years, too overwhelmed to deal with it.

Finally, this client took a deep breath and vowed to give the manuscript a long-overdue rewrite. It was a sequel to a young adult sports novel published in 1992 that still sold copies daily, and readers kept asking her if there was a second book.

As a freelance editor, I’m known for writing encouraging but honest ten-page editorial letters. Some editors have never written a book themselves and don’t understand how awful it feels to have your hard work criticized. Since I’ve been on the receiving end of overwhelming editorial letters, I always make sure to include the positives. However, in this case, I ripped the manuscript to shreds.

Want to know why? This “client” was me.

Rewriting A Novel From Scratch

Rewriting my young adult novel Offsides (Hockey Rivals Book 2), a manuscripted penned by my nineteen-year-old self, was one of the scariest, strangest, and most rewarding projects I’ve ever undertaken.

Every single word of that book required rewriting. I think the only thing that stayed the same was the characters’ names. (Wait . . . I changed a couple of those, too.)

I desperately needed a system to break down this monumental editing project into manageable steps.

I made a long list of every possible task I could think of and arranged it in an order that made sense so that I could redraft the novel. Then I dug into my messy manuscript and revised one item at a time.

Little did I know that this checklist would shape the curriculum for my online course Book Editing Blueprint: A Step-By-Step Plan to Making Your Novels Publishable. Checking off each task was a small victory, and finally reaching the finish line reflected my proudest moment as an author.

self-editing class

 

Now, just like its predecessor Face-OffOffsides sells copies every day. This one-line review on Amazon filled me with joy. “My 11-year-old hockey player grandson could not put the book down. He loved it.”

I market these hockey books with the tagline “Score a goal for reading,” but I scored a goal for my writing career also by tackling the rewrite of that novel. Through self-editing, I took my disaster of a manuscript and transformed it into a publishable novel that my ideal reader couldn’t put down. You can do it too. I’d love to share my system and revision checklist with you in Book Editing Blueprint. 

Your mission is to learn how to do a thorough developmental and line edit, to clean up your manuscript, and to create a solid action plan. By the end of the course, you’ll have prepared a detailed editorial report and will be armed with a simple self-editing checklist to guide you through your revisions. Sign up below.

 

 

Have you ever had a messy rewrite to complete? Are you working on one now? Tell us in the comments.

Setting In Fiction: 5 Bestselling Authors Share Their Secrets

Setting In Fiction: 5 Bestselling Authors Share Their Secrets

.setting in fiction

Several years ago, I wrote an article about setting in fiction for a writing magazine. The angle was how research field trips could enrich your writing. As a longtime journalist, hands-on research comes naturally to me. I’m used to picking up the phone, explaining that I’m a writer, and requesting a tour and interview. I’ve done it for hundreds of newspaper articles, so I have no qualms about seeking out experts to research my novels.

I’ve hung out and chatted with interview sources at a hospital emergency room, childbirth education class, dog training school, prison, power plant, Christmas ornament factory, homeless shelter, haunted inn, and at a psychic’s house; during a police cruiser ride-along, on the firing range, and inside a courthouse, to name a few. I never could have created such authentic setting descriptions without being there in person and asking my list of questions.

However, some authors feel hesitant about e-mailing or cold-calling a stranger for research purposes, especially writers without a publishing track record. Here’s my advice: do it anyway.

Agents and acquisitions editors trust writers who strive for accuracy. Readers love authors who plunge them into settings ripe with authentic details. Field trips can expand a writer’s knowledge base and provide opportunities to gather color, atmosphere, and on-scene information unavailable in a research book or on the Internet.

Sure, the adage ‘Write what you know’ has some truth, yet if that’s all we wrote, our fiction would be boring. Next time you get stuck on a scene, put on your reporter’s hat and go out and find the story.

Here is advice and setting anecdotes from five of the novelists I interviewed for the original article.

Lisa Gardner

Lisa gardner booksBestselling suspense author Lisa Gardner met with the Rhode Island State Police for her novel The Survivor’s Club and even staked out a Providence courthouse to determine the ideal angle for a sniper shot.

For The Killing Hour, she visited the FBI Academy to learn about the life of a new agent, and she spent a week with the U.S. Geological Survey team, checking out remote places in Virginia for an “Eco-Killer” to abandon his victims.

The Other Daughter led her on a hunt to Texas, where she researched execution protocol. 

“I need to be able to picture something to write it,” she said. “Actually seeing Texas’s retired electric chair was so much more riveting than simply reading about it. To walk through a maximum security prison, getting the sights, the sounds, and particularly the smell, made the whole atmosphere come alive in a way simply talking about it never would. Then I can take this experience in turn, and make it come alive for the reader.”

Stephen Coonts

Stephen Coonts booksStephen Coonts, bestselling action/adventure author, took a flight in the F-22 cockpit concept demonstrator at Lockheed Martin in Georgia for Fortunes of War. He talked his way into the V-22 Osprey simulator at NAS Patuxent River, the basis for scenes in his novella Al-Jihad. While research is vital, he advises not overloading the reader with information. 

“The first requirement for any writer is a good story,” Coonts said. “Once you see how the story is going to go, then do enough research to give the tale the flavor of authenticity. Salt in a little jargon, but only a little. Write around details you don’t know. The easiest and best way to do research is to find an expert and ask precisely the questions to which you need answers. Shotgunning (or scattered) research is a waste of time.” 

Jodi Picoult

Jodi picoult booksAs part of her research for novels such as Plain Truth, The Tenth Circle, and Second Glance, bestselling writer Jodi Picoult has milked a cow in Amish country and roughed it with native Alaskans. She shudders when she remembers heading out to an abandoned New England mental institution on a winter night with paranormal investigators. Her group trudged across a field where a building had burned down with patients inside. 

“I was walking with a sensitive, someone who can ‘feel’ ghosts,” Picoult said. “Suddenly, all the hair stood up on the back of my neck. Before I could even mention this to my walking buddy, he lifted a digital camera and held it up between us backward, over our shoulders. Although there was nothing visible to the naked eye, in the viewfinder of the camera was a white, misty, wraith-like image.” 

Janet Evanovich

Janet Evanovich booksAnyone who has read the humorous Stephanie Plum series, about a female bounty hunter sleuth with attitude, knows how much detail bestselling author Janet Evanovich weaves into the books. That all stems from research.

“One time I was meeting a bounty hunter for lunch in a crowded Au Bon Pain in downtown Washington and this guy came in dressed in leather,” recalled Evanovich, whose books include the recent Twisted Twenty-Six. “I was trying to find out what he did and how successful he was. He did this arm thing and reached for something on the table, and all you could see was this illegal Dirty Harry gun. The place cleared out and we were the only two people left. It was important for the Stephanie Plum series as it gave me perspective on crowd reaction, and made me think about how I was putting my heroine in this atypical and unsavory job.” 

 

Deborah Donnelly

Wedding Planner MysteriesDeborah Donnelly, author of the Wedding Planner Mysteries, writes so vividly that her books caught the attention of Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. The channel adapted her book Veiled Threats into the movie the Wedding Planner Mystery.

“While researching May the Best Man Die, I toured the Seattle’s Best Coffee roasting plant,” she said. “I explained myself as a mystery writer when I made the tour request, but apparently no one told the gentleman who showed me around. As he dutifully described all the specialized equipment, I kept asking questions like, ‘If one of those sacks of coffee beans fell on you, would it kill you?’ and ‘If this place burned down, would the coffee smell really good?’ He kept edging farther and farther away from me… Eventually, he learned the reassuring truth about my odd profession.”

Arranging Research Field Trips

Are you inspired to make a field trip to enrich the setting in your book? If you want to tour a site or interview an expert, search the Internet for leads. Larger organizations might have a PR department that handles inquiries.

Cold calls are fine, but don’t subject someone to an on-the-spot interrogation; make an appointment so you both have time to prepare. You could also outline your request in an e-mail.

Before the visit, read up on your subject and develop specific questions. Bring a notebook to the interview and ask whether you can call or e-mail with follow-up questions. Afterwards, be sure to show your appreciation with a thank you note. 

What type of field trips have you made to research your books? Share in the comments. If your book is published, share an excerpt that reflects your research and a buy link.

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