Writing the first draft of a novel can be thrilling. When a writer feels inspired the words flow. Every word seems a treasure. The writing experience can be equal to Cinderella’s exquisite night at the ball.
Once the euphoria of completing the first draft ebbs, and the manuscript has rested in its cozy little file for a few weeks, the author returns to her novel to continue the writing process. It’s time to do the first read through and fix the little typos and inconsistencies, spelling errors and poorly-worded phrases which are likely to be found in the otherwise perfect gem she created during her weeks of inspiration. In other words, she needs to edit her masterpiece.
Sometimes this return to the book she’s been proud of for weeks or months can be a shocking experience. Sometimes it can be horrifying! Instead of discovering a healthy, bouncy newborn living and breathing in the manuscript she labored to write, the novelist finds an octogenarian existing solely on life support.
Cinderella’s clock has struck midnight, and it’s time for revisions.
Unlike edits which are minor changes as noted above, revisions may require anything from major changes in the plot to cutting unnecessary scenes and characters.
Rewriting and revising may be used interchangeably by some in the writing business; however, revising generally implies something a bit more labor-intensive.
Rewriting refers to such things as taking a paragraph or scene from the “telling” state to the “showing” state or changing a narrative part of a story to a scene.
In case this seems a bit muddled for beginning writers, let me give some examples to illustrate my points.
What is meant by changing “telling” to “showing” in rewriting: If the original prose says, “Mary told Ted she was leaving because she couldn’t handle his humming anymore. Ted was glad to see her go.” the scene becomes:
“I’ve had it, Ted. I can’t stand that never-ending humming another minute!”
“Your humming! You never stop! I can’t stand it!”
“I’ve been humming? I never noticed.”
Mary gave him a look that would frighten a gorgon. “I’m out of here!”
Ted scratched his head and grinned at the slammed door. “I wondered how long it would take her to get ticked off enough to leave.”
The above example is also an illustration of changing narrative (Mary told Ted she was…) into a scene. Rewriting would include doing the reverse to change a scene into narrative. Instead of creating a scene which may not be necessary because it would only slow the pace of the story without adding a lot of important information, the writer may choose to merely state the necessary information, particularly when transitioning from one scene to another.
Revision example: Character inconsistencies. If the first half of a novel clearly portrays a major character as strong and forceful and the second half portrays him as barely being able to decide whether he wants pie or cake for dessert, the book needs major revisions. The author will have to rewrite every scene featuring this character in order to be sure he has a consistent personality. When she does, what she rewrites will inevitably affect other characters’ actions/reactions and perhaps even the action of the plot. Thus the storyline, characters, many aspects of the book are in for big revisions. I don’t even want to think about the work involved in this type of necessary revision!
Revisions, rewrites and edits are all a part of taking a manuscript from first draft to publication. All are necessary; none are as much fun as writing the first draft, in my opinion. But if we writers want to go from first draft to publication, we’ve got to be willing to put in the time and energy necessary to make our books the best they can be.
Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author
Triple Award-Winning FOR LOVE OF MAGGIE by Fran Shaff
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