Thursday, 19 May 2011

How to Re-Write a Novel IV

The previous re-writes were very much about getting the novel into its finished shape. Once I'm happy with the outside shape and feel, I'm now moving closer to the substance of the novel: the scenes. This is where the meat of the novel is.

Rather as I looked for problems with the novel's overall structure, I'm looking for problems with the scene as a whole - outside working in again.

* is it clear where and when the scene takes place (preferably contained within the first para)?
does the timing make sense, do people have long enough to go from A to B, or conversely, if A and B are close together, do they cover the ground quickly?
* are people active throughout or are there any bits when the characters are waiting for something to happen? Do I need to re-write to correct this?
* is it clear what the characters' attitudes are to each other, the location, the situation?
* are any patches of description too long? too wordy? too complicated?
* is there enough description of setting etc?
* if I have to describe a place or an action, is it easy to understand what's going on?
* are characters moving about, or are they static - worse, are they drinking tea? Could I move it to another location which would add a new dimension to the scene?
* if there is flashback, is it justified? Is it adding to the storytelling in an active way? Is there any way i could incorporate the information into the narrative?
* am I moving the story forward?
* is the scene anchored in reality or has it floated off?
* does the balance of white space to text work?
* is the scene too long or too short? Is there enough going on, or too much?
* does it end at the right place?
* would a reader want to read on?
* does the scene have the right pace, is there a good shape to it?
* does something happen? Or is it just events?
* are the characters plausible, consistent, believable, sympathetic? Would I like to spend time with them?

I go through every scene in this way and re-write until I feel I've dealt with all the queries, issues and problems. This may involve moving bits around, cutting and adding. That done, it's on to pudding...

3 comments:

Karen said...

Rewriting has highlighted how very LITTLE I would like to spend time with my main character, so I'm working on making her nicer!

womagwriter said...

This is all so useful, thank you Sarah! I have just completed a first draft and am balking at the amount of work it will need to edit it. I've never edited anything longer than a couple of thousand words before! I have a Plan of Attack (see latest entry on my blog) and so far it seems to tally well with what you're suggesting.

Outside in - that's such a good phrase. If you were sculpting something out of wood or marble you'd be doing the same thing - rough shape, more defined shape, detail. From the outside in.

Sarah Duncan said...

Glad it's proving useful.

The thing about editing is that writing is ALWAYS better for it - I've seen so many Before and After pieces of work, I know it.