When Facing the Possibility of a Rewrite

You finally finished the first draft. It weighs in at a decent 90,000 words. You gather together a group of your close friends, some beta-readers, and general critics. You send it off for feedback and criticism. Time goes by and the comments start pouring in!

“Your draft has problems,” is the gist of many comments.

So what do you do? Abandon the project? Give up writing? Or rewrite the darn thing and give it another shot?

First, understand what a rewrite is versus a revision. A revision is simply editing certain scenes or plot points within the draft.  Much of the story hasn’t changed.

A rewrite is major changes to the story.  If you compare the first draft to the rewrite, it’s significant enough that the original story is unrecognizable. An example of this is when I wrote the first draft of Fallen From the Stars. My draft had the Main Character, confronting the wolves in Chapter 6. After I finished the first draft, the entire draft read flat; no tension, too many jokes, sarcasm, etc. I hated it. So I went back and rewrote it, adding a major supporting character to the story. That wolf confrontation chapter went from Chapter 6 to Chapter 22. I ended up rewriting so much that over half my original plot had to be pushed to the next book. The second draft read so much better for it; however, I revised the work again. Once I finished with the third draft, I felt it was ready for beta-readers.

The Two Types of Rewrites

As a writer, we’ll face two types of rewrites – voluntary and involuntary.

Voluntary rewrites are where you as the author came across something in your story that you slammed the breaks. It could be a eureka moment in that you know if you did a rewrite, it will make your book stronger. Or it’s a moment where you scream at yourself, “What the hell was I thinking? There is no way that would have happened!” An example of this is when you realize a good twist, but it means you have to go back and rewrite a lot of chapters in order to get this twist out.

Let’s pretend you’re writing a sci-fi story about a mystic apprentice training to be a master mystic warrior. At the beginning of the story, our hero has a vision of some evil dark lord killing his father and throughout the story, he trains to hunt down his father’s killer. At the end of the story, he confronts his father’s killer, fights him, gets his butt handed to him, and will face off in the next book tentatively titled, Return of the Master Mystic Warrior.

But you have a eureka moment and decide that the father’s “killer” really is his father the whole time. Now you need to go back, delete the vision, and rewrite some scenes that don’t tip off the reader ahead of time.

Involuntary is just as self-explanatory, but more painful. You’re told your work has significant problems, and when you read the comments…they’re right. Or maybe you submitted it to a traditional publisher and they say, “We’ll buy this story, but you need to kill off this major supporting character by the middle of the book. Oh, and change the time period from 2018 to 1978.”

First thing is to breathe. The second is to tackle the easiest tasks first regarding the rewrite. Did your beta-readers point out minor problems and grammar issues? Get those fixed first. Next, identify the chapters where your significant problem shows up. From there, work on it one chapter at a time.

In summary, rewrites are typically a big ball of no fun, particularly if they are involuntary. Accept them as a possibility in this line of work. Even Stephen King’s Carrie had numerous errors, cross-outs, and corrections to his script. No one is perfect, which leads me to my next post: Practice Makes Perfect, But…

4 thoughts on “When Facing the Possibility of a Rewrite

  1. hmm…If a publisher told me they’d gladly publish my book if blah blah blah major changes, I’d stop and have to think REALLY hard about it. I’d be over the moon if a publisher took up one of my manuscripts, but…At what cost? I write because I love to write. I want to get the stories that are in my head out into the world where other people can enjoy them. If I believe these major changes will completely change my story and I don’t like the change, I’d silently tell the publisher to format off.

    However, that doesn’t mean I throw people’s suggestions out the moment it slides out of their mouth. I sit down and think about it for awhile. Really think about it. Sometimes, I’ll agree. Sometimes not. And sometimes I don’t even have beta readers. This is for two reasons: 1) I can’t rely on anyone to finish the story in any good time while also giving helpful feedback, 2) I couldn’t give a rat’s patootie and don’t want anyone else’s input because the story is what it is and that’s that. lol There are some friends to whom I gave my first book to over two years ago and I’m still waiting for them to read it. It’s still a sore spot with me. I have to breathe and press my lips together to keep from ranting about it every time. However, on the other side of that grievance, I gave that same manuscript to three family members to read, and they powered through it in one vacation weekend. The feedback was excellent and allowed me to better the story before I published it. It gives me a mild panic attack whenever I think of finding new beta readers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s rare that trad publishers will make requests for an extensive rewrite, but it has happened. The example I gave in the blog happened to a fellow writer of mine. She wrote a romance story set in the 19th Century. The publisher accepted her story on condition that she rewrite it in the 18th Century and kill off a supporting character which severely affected the plot of the story. She walked away from the contract.

      Typically, a trad publisher will want to make changes, it will be to change your title and make minor suggestions. The minor suggestions you can fight with them on and they usually relent, but it’s a losing battle if they want to change the title because they typically have the Marketing guys backing them up on that and they know your audience.

      As for beta-readers who are your close friends, forget it. I wrote a book for a friend, but he won’t read it. What parts he read, he skimmed through.

      I’m a major advocate for getting beta-readers on your work and there are lots of groups on FB where you can solicit for them, particularly if you offer to read in exchange.

      I’ll probably do a post on the value of beta-readers.

      Like

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