Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Two Ways To Tackle A Major Rewrite

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

To celebrate the release of King's Blood, I'm having an EPIC SALE on the paperback copies of book one, King’s Folly. You can order autographed copies of King’s Folly from my author store for only $10, shipping included. (NOTE: My online store is wonky. It will not allow me to put free shipping on a book. So I priced the book at $7 and it will add $3 shipping to equal $10. Sorry that’s complicated… But it works!) Click here to visit my author store. Sale ends this Saturday at 6:00 pm, Pacific. If you want the autograph personalized, please add instructions to the notes section of the order.

On Monday, Stephanie talked about what to do when your book is such a mess you don't know if it's worth editing. My job is to show you how that might look. When I am gearing up to do a major edit on a novel, I usually do this one of two ways, and it all depends on what shape the manuscript is in.

A writer can usually tell if his or her manuscript is a mess or not. But when you're newer to writing, it can be hard to know. If you aren't sure, I highly recommend getting into a critique group that has varied ages and levels of success so that you can get some diverse feedback. Another good way to get feedback on your craft is to attend a writers conference in which you can show part of your manuscript to an editor or agent.

But for the sake of this post, let's pretend you have sent your manuscript to your editor for a full, hard-core edit. You should get back two things. You should get back an editorial review letter that lists major problems with the story, and you should also get your manuscript back with comments from the editor throughout. Depending on the feedback in those two documents, you should have a good idea about what kind of rewrite lies ahead.

1. The Manuscript Is In Decent Shape

First of all, whenever I read an editorial review letter from my editor, I get discouraged. After twenty books, I know this about myself and I'm prepared for my reaction. So I'll read the letter, then mope a little (and I'm usually moping because I'm overwhelmed at the amount of work it is going to take to fix all the problems). A day or two later, I'm over it and am excited to crack my knuckles and get to work to make the book the best it can be.

I think it would be difficult for me to show you how this process works without showing you an actual editorial review letter. So if you click here, you can read the editorial letter Jeff Gerke sent me for my book Captives. The book itself was in pretty good shape, though I did end up changing a lot in my rewrite. So, take a moment to read or skim the editorial letter, then come back here and I'll tell you how I tackled this edit.

You back? Okay. So, I read this letter and pretty much agreed with everything he said. Here is what I did:

1. I made a To Do list. I wrote down the major problems from his editorial letter and from his comments in the manuscript. It looked something like this:

- Better establish the village.
- Create a ticking time bomb scene as a prologue to establish that danger is coming.
- Get fully into Mason's skin to establish him as the series hero.
- Expand the story's focus of Mason researching the Thin Plague.
- Jemma is a lame POV character. Why not create a new POV girl who will have to go into the Harem and become pregnant in the lab?
- Strengthen my main characters. Give them proper backstories and motivations, both inner and outer, and work hard to keep them consistent.
- Cut down the number of Glenrock characters. Kill off more people! :-(
- Don't forget to let your characters grieve the loss of their loved ones.
- Plant and payoff. Go back and plant yellow cameras, character traits, slang, etc.
- Work hard on making the technology futuristic and much cooler.
- Double check mature content.
- Consider wedding scene for the end.

2. I prioritized my To Do list, then I took each item one at a time. I didn't try to make anything perfect. I just focused on big, macro-edit, issues. That looked something like this:

- I went through and brainstormed a plot for Shaylinn, a new character who would replace Jemma's POV scenes. Jemma was still a character in the book, but I thought with my dystopian plot, it would be stronger (and scarier) to see what happens to one of the girls who is impregnated in the lab. So I plotted out all that would happen to Shaylinn in ways that fit into the scenes Jemma already had. I did have to totally scrap a few Jemma chapters, but overall this worked fairly smoothly.
- I wrote a prologue from Ciddah's POV. She is a medic in the Safe Lands who gives a report to the Safe Lands Guild. I chose her because she is an important character who would appear later on in the story, which cut down on my overall number of characters.
- I wrote a new begining to the book from Mason's POV. I worked hard to show as much of their normal village life as I could while simultaneously characterizing as many of my main characters as possible.
-I went through and added comments at the start of every chapter or at intregal places, reminding me of various things so that I wouldn't miss them when I came through with the micro-edit. Notes like "add yellow cameras here" or "check for Jordan's slang" or "add technology changes throughout this scene."
- There were a few more things on my list, but you get the idea.

3. Once the book was all put together again with the right scenes in the right places, I did my micro-edit. And this is where I worked hard to add description, characterization, tweak character voice, add technology, and things like that. And with any book, I always repeat this phase as many times as I can before I reach my due date.

2. The Manuscript Is A Disaster

Not all manuscripts are in decent shape. And some authors go through the process I did with Captives only to get an email from their editor that says, "It's still not working. Rewrite it again, but this time fix these things."

Can you imagine? 

It's quite common, though. I do have a manuscript that I equate with disaster status. I know some of you liked it (and I'm glad!) but I'm talking about THIRST. It was an experiment to write a book one chapter a week on my blog, but doing so left me with something a bit wild. There is no solid three-act structure to it, which can be okay with some books, but not with THIRST. So it needs a major operation before I can move forward with it in any way.

What to do?

If you have a manuscript like this, first give it some space. Write something else for a while and come back and take a look after you've had a nice break. You should be able to see the problems better then. When I'm in a situation like this, here is how I tackle it:

1. Since I don't have an editor to help me, I make my own To Do list. I usually know what many of the problems are, so I write them all down. Part of my list for THIRST looks like this:

-No one likes Jaylee. The fact that Eli likes her annoys people. We don't want him to be dumb, and anyone who likes Jaylee is dumb because she is mean! Make her likable already.
-You have two Kristas in the book. Change one name.
-Riggs needs to act like an adult a little better. He doesn't want to get chewed out by parents.
-Characters need to be more worried about the END OF THE WORLD.
-Add more road kill.
-Eli needs to be worrying about his dad more.
-Logan is annoying. Don't make him so 7th grade.
-Zaq would go inside with Eli to see if Lizzie is there...
-Creepy dudes chasing Krista. Creepy dudes chasing Hannah. Too similar. Change one.
-Careful of stereotypical characters! Jaylee, Logan, Riggs...
-What happened to Jaylee and Krista after Eli and the others moved to the house?
-All the characters need to get a task (job)
-What happened to Jaylee? Riggs?
-What happened to Reinhold and his daughter?
-We need some news from the outside world. What’s happening out there?
-Bring back shotgun man and his dog so that Eli can get back his dad's gun. I need it for Rebels!
-Make it clear that Eli and company are sticking close to the Safe Lands because that's the only safe water around.

2. Because THIRST is such a mess, I can't handle the above list the same way I handled it with Captives. It's not ready for that stage. I can't just go through and fix what is there because I need to change so much. One of the things I want to do is split it into two books. I'll end book one when they arrive in what will become the Safe Lands. And book two will pick up from there. 

So what do I do now?

I set my list aside, for now, and I scroll through the book, writing each scene (that I know I want to keep) on an index card. Once I have the whole book written out on cards, I'll divide the cards into two stacks: one for book one and another for book two.

3. I set aside the cards for book two, and I storyboard book one. That means, I lay out all the cards for book one in order, either on the floor or I tape them to the wall or a white board. I leave gaps here and there, especially when I know I need more scenes. Any scenes that naturally fit into the three-act structure I label (Inciting Incident, Climax of Act One, Midpoint Twist, etc), and once I can see everything before me, I brainstorm new scenes to fill in the holes and the missing parts of the three-act structure until I have the makings of a decent story. 

4. I go into my Word file and I cut out the second half of the book, save it in a new file as THIRST BOOK TWO (or a better name if I have one). Then I close that for later. Now I have THIRST BOOK ONE open, and I go through and add the notes for my new scenes until I have everything listed in the book chronologically.

5. I go in and write all the new scenes.

6. Once I have everything written, ugly as it might be, I then pull out that To Do list I talked about back in number 1 and prioritize it. I start rewriting the things that are broken, taking them one at a time. I'm now at the macro-edit stage.

7. When all those major items are crossed off the list, I'll go into micro-edit stage and fix all the minor things. I'll repeat this process until I'm happy with the book.

8. Then I open the Word file for THIRST BOOK TWO and repeat the process.

9. I know that once I finish THIRST BOOK TWO, I will find some things to tweak in THIRST BOOK ONE and vice versa. So I will likely bounce back and forth between the two books and tweak them until I'm happy with both.

And that's what it looks like for me, though I'm sure other authors have different processes. 

How about you? If you've tackled major rewrites, share in the comments any insight you might have for our readers. 


  1. I'm on the verge of a major rewrite..... And it's not the decent shape type. :D I finally finished my first first draft in January and I'm giving myself a good six weeks before I go back.

    I'm already going over it in my mind and saying, "I need that character to die, why is that in there?, that person needs to do this...." etc.
    I'm relatively excited for the rewrite!

    1. It's a good sign that you know what is broken, Lexi. It shows how well you know your story. You'll do well!

  2. Thanks for the post. The list idea is something I will have to use... (when I actually edit the manuscript) XD

    I really liked Thirst and can not wait for the edited version.
    - Book Dragon

    1. You'll reach the rewrite stage eventually. We all do. ;-)
      And I'm glad you liked THIRST. Gives me hope for that crazy book. LOL

  3. This was such a timely post! I'm just about to dive into another round of edits for my WIP and there are so many things I want to change, but it kinda overwhelms. This post gave me wonderful ideas to help not be so overwhelmed, and even excited about it!

    Thank you so much!

    1. I'm so glad, Christine! It can be SO overwhelming. But lists have always helped me focus on one thing at a time, and eventually, the list gets shorter and shorter until it's all gone! You can do it!

  4. I love this, Jill! And can we please talk about how gloriously SHORT your editorial letter was. I've had letters ranging from 11 pages to 16 or 17, I think. I'd have to dig them up, but they're pretty much the same--good, happy thoughts up front and then all the hard work stuff after that. Like you, I make my own list using the editorial letter. I need things orderly and in my own words or I get sidetracked by verbiage, compliments and criticisms. All of which keep me from actually working. ANYWAY! Great tips here.

    1. Yeah... I've had longer ones too. I purposely chose one that wasn't so long for that example.

  5. What a great post! And very helpful! Thanks so much for the insight, Jill. :) It's nice to see a peak into how the industry works.

    Also, the edits on Captives were so worth it, because I loved that book. :)

    1. Glad it was helpful, Rachelle. And, yes! I was so much happier with the rewrite of Captives. Good edits are supposed to make a book better, which those edits did!

  6. Thank you for the tips! I love how you guys following along with the stages of the NaNo novel in a way. My novel is in the middle, okay at some parts, awful at others. This should help a lot, and keep me focused.

    1. That's how mine is. Okay for about 30% of the time, and not so okay the other 70%.

    2. So glad you found it helpful, Josie! And consistency problems are totally normal in the same way that some parts of a book are easier to write than others.

  7. I looked at your book on Amazon and it looks really good. I really wan tot read it!
    I haven't finished my book yet, but hen I do finish, these tips will be really handy. Thanks for taking the time to do this!
    You've written 20 books?! Gracious. How long did it take? :)

  8. This is super helpful! I'm always intimidated by huge rewrites, and I'll definitely return to this page when I edit my next draft.

    Ellie | On the Other Side of Reality

  9. I've done several hefty rewrites before. It's a ton of work, yet worth it. I've used some of your methods here, but oddly enough, you've made me seriously consider the good old index card method for the first time. I think laying it out visually will help me next time I'm editing! Thanks!

    But that editorial letter... Yikes. It made me gulp, and it wasn't even for my book. XD I found it interesting that you wouldn't have enough time to flesh out your secondary characters as much as your editor wanted. Is that common? Not having time to do everything you'd like to do?

  10. I actually did do something like what you did with #2 on one of my novels. It worked really well. I got one of the 'needed scene' lists from here, and it helped me so much. Now I have a much clearer idea of what I need in a book plot-wise. So thanks for that. I suppose I'm to the more micro-edit part of my book now, but I think I have more difficulty with that part.

  11. How do you GTW gals always seem to know what I'm working on? These revision posts have been absolute providential timing.

  12. Wow- I would never would've thought of all the work, editing, etc, that goes into a book!