Thursday, July 29, 2010

Extreme Makeover: Novel Edition

So you get crits back from your betas, and the news isn't exactly favorable. Phrases like "flat characterization," "troublesome pacing," and "plot problems" are being thrown around like juggling balls. Maybe even the most dreaded word of all comes up—REWRITE.

*Dun dun dun*

The worst thing? You know they're right. You could improve your novel; you missed the mark; you didn't do the story justice. But it'll take a lot of work to fix! Where in the world do you start?

You know, after sobbing in bed for a day and eating nothing but ice cream and double cheeseburgers. That always comes first.

Hi, welcome to Extreme Makeover: Novel Edition. I'll be your host today, kind of like Ty but with less yelling and excitement. I'm also not giving away a free novel to a very deserving family/individual, but hopefully with these tips you'll be able to makeover that novel needing more changes than the typical line edit.

Huge edits can be pretty overwhelming. It's hard to take a story you thought you knew and try to see it as something potentially very different.

Tip #1: Don't Start Right Away
You have the crits. You know you want to take the jump and do massive edits. You have some ideas. This is when you might have the urge to dig right in—the faster you finish the faster you can move on to the next stage, right? Wrong.

Don't get too hasty. I'm not the planning type, but this is the time to plan. When you do renovations on a house, you don't knock down walls before you have a plan, do you? No—you figure out how much it'll cost, what materials you'll need, how long it'll take to finish.

You must have a plan of attack, otherwise you could end up with more crooked walls and cruddy foundations, so to speak. Then you'll only have more work on your hands. So let yourself mull it over. Think. Don't think. Work on other things. Get some time away.

Tip #2: Work Out The Problems
I get a notebook, but I'm sure a Word Doc or Scrivner file or whatever works just great too. Without looking back at crits, write down what changes you want to make to your story. Whether it be character revisions, plot changes, world building alterations, get them all down. Once you have those—write out how you can fix it in as much detail as you'd like.

Example: Betsy needs to be more motivated—if I raise the stakes, put something she really loves in jeopardy, that might help increase her drive. Or maybe she needs to be spunkier from the beginning. Did I misrepresent her character? Oh wait, THIS is it.

Explore lots of options. It's true that sometimes your first ideas aren't the strongest. Allow yourself to take the story/characters in various directions until you settle on the one you feel is the strongest.

Tip #3: Draw Up Plans
Once you know the answers to your manuscript's big issues, it's time to create your plan of attack. Every plan looks different—it's largely based on how much work you have to do. This is where you decide that, by the way. Are you doing a very heavy edit? Are you rewriting the whole thing? Just the back half? Now's the time to commit.

Step 1: Figure Out What You're Keeping. With my big rewrite on Transparent, I decided beforehand which chapters were salvageable: 5 of 34. And even those needed heavy editing. So yeah, a little overwhelming. But it's good to know upfront what you're keeping, so you're not tempted to get lazy and keep stuff you shouldn't.

Step 2: Decide What's Going. As in not making it into the new draft in any form. This is where it can get a little scary, since it might be a good chunk. You might have decided to take a new path with the plot, so the old ending just won't work at all. You might be chopping a character, or a certain plot arc. These are the parts that you have to put away so they don't get in the way of the new stuff.

Step 3: Determine What's Getting Rewritten. So you have what's staying and going, now it's time to fill in the holes. Those holes might be tiny or the size of the Grand Canyon, but map them out.

Step 4: Outline The New Draft. It doesn't have to be in detail, but it's nice to kind of know where you're going with revisions, especially if you're changing a lot. The most challenging thing about my rewrite so far is the old and new versions of the story fighting in my head. I get really turned around at times (wait, is that the right time line? am I doing this right? did I forget something? was that old stuff supposed to be in this version or totally cut?). My notes and outline keep me straight.

Tip #4: Make A Schedule
I know some people edit their brains out until it's done, but mine melts if I just go go go. And with extensive edits, there's a risk of burn out like no other. So I plan out exactly what I will be doing each day and how long it will take to finish.

I often take it by chapter. If the edits aren't as intense, I'll do a few chapters a day or something. But you could also do it by scene, by what needs to be rewritten, etc.

Sometimes life gets in the way and I get behind schedule, but that's okay. The goals keep me going forward. I never do more than I have scheduled though because I really don't like burning out. Revision is a marathon-type game—save your stamina.

Tip #5: Work.
This is the part where you actually have to open that document (or a new one) and start working. This is also when it gets scary, discouraging, and hard. But stick to that schedule! Even when it feels like the whole thing is junk. Sometimes our feelings aren't the truth, and that is never more true than in revising.

You are making your book better. It might be hard to see that, what with the walls torn out and the carpet pulled up, but you are. Step by step you will realize that your novel is really coming together, and then one day you'll be staring at it in awe. It's so pretty! I couldn't have imagined such a book, and yet it's exactly what I wanted!

And then Ty will be all "Lowe's is gonna pay your utilities for a whole year, and here's a new car!"

I wish. Finishing a big revision is great and all, but I'm afraid there's no free car. Sorry.


  1. Oh, great post! That's kind of how I tackle revisions. I get a note book and write down everything I need to change/add/delete and then I open a new doc and start over (for major revisions at least lol). Thanks for sharing, Natalie! And I won't hold it against you that you aren't giving out a novel . . . or a car. :P

  2. Awesome checklist! Makes it seem so much more doable when there's a step-by-step process to follow.

  3. What a great road plan! I'm on edits right now, I will definitely incorporate this feedback! Thanks.

  4. This is really great, Natalie. I love how you put it across, too.

    I'm not doing novels at the moment so I need to save this somewhere safe for when I do.

  5. So true--especially the waiting tip! Sometimes it stings at first, because you're still so attached to your book baby, but a little time away and you're able to look at the harsher critiques with a more open mind.

  6. This is a great post. Very informative. I'm honestly not sure what I'd do with a major, plot changing rewrite. Since on my first rewrite now, the big change is from first person to third. While scenes are being added with more weaving of subplots, the overall plot doesn't change. Will have to keep these tips in mind once I get readers, in case (or when) a major change is needed.

  7. I LOVE This. You always have such great insight.

  8. Hang on- there's an option besides 'edit your brains out'? Now you tell me!

    It worked for me, though, because today I am officially done with the WIP.*Screaming, jumping, wild party going on*

    That is, until I think of some new scene that HAS to be in there while I'm sleeping tonight. But really, I'm done. Only 21 months from start to finish!

  9. I love the marathon analogy. I've always been a sprinter myself and want everything done yesterday, so writing and revising has been a big ole lesson in patience for me! Great post, Natalie!

  10. This is an awesome overview and so helpful for the overwhelming editing moments. Thanks for sharing you wisdom.

  11. Oh, thank you, Natalie! I finished my first draft a few months ago, and have felt lost how to go about rewriting it. Your tip to figure out what stays, AND what goes is what I needed to hear to help me get started. It's okay if I need to let go of a lot of the first draft. (Deep breath. It's okay. It's okay. Just cut it already!)
    Thanks again. You always have great tips!

  12. This is a great post--I know I'm behind all the other commenters, but I bookmarked it when I read it and now I'm ready to use it! I've linked back here from my blog today, where I'm covering this topic. Thank you sooo much for the info!

  13. Fabulous tips...I just went through a revision. Thanks!

  14. Do you have any advice for dealing with the jealousy that comes with pursuing publication?