Once More, with Feeling

Once More, with Feeling

It’s exciting to finish a novel, but it’s common that people don’t really know what to do next. Do they submit it to publishers? Do they post the whole thing on reddit or Wattpad? Do they print off a dozen copies and hand them to random people on the street?

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be walking through what to do once your novel is done. Like with writing itself, there are nearly as many different methods as there are authors. But the advice I’m giving here is what I’ve seen work for the most people, and, if you stick with it, is the most likely to give a satisfactory result.

(Note: Portions of this have previously been adapted into the FAQ on /r/writing.)

So now you’ve written your book, taken a break, and rewritten it. Now what?

Rewrite again!

Sounds awful, I know. But just like how when it was written, you made decisions throughout the process that required changing the beginning, you’ve almost certainly done the same in your rewriting. Hopefully, this pass won’t take as long.

Sit down with your book on your phone, computer, kindle, whatever. (If you print it out again, maybe print it on the other side of the same paper?) Turn to a new page of the notebook and read it again. This time, your focus will be different.

You’ll still want to watch for everything you were looking for before, of course. Hopefully, there aren’t nearly as many problems with continuity or scenes needing to be added, but there will probably still be some. I’ve even decided on rereading that I should eliminate a new scene that I was absolutely convinced I needed on the last read.

But for this pass, you’ll also want to be watching transitions between scenes, character development, and pacing.

  • Do your scenes flow cleanly from one to the next or do you need to add narration to explain how your characters got to where they are now? Did you give your characters adequate motivation for their choices?
  • Where you moved a scene, do characters still know things that they shouldn’t find out until later?
  • When you fixed some scenes, did you break others?
  • Does your protagonist change at the speed you want? If not, what do you think would have changed his personality over time? Can you add dialogue where he figures out a problem or remove dialogue where he’s suddenly too clear-sighted?
  • Are there any places where the development seems to go backward, because of the order the scenes were written in? What lines can you move that would fix that?
  • What about relationships? Do to people go from hating each other to madly in love to hating each other again (when you didn’t mean them to, of course)? What should their relationship progress through and where can you show that their emotion is changing slowly?
  • How do the characters speak? Does someone start off speaking gruffly, with colorful language, then seem sweet at the end (without a good reason, of course)? Did you maintain dialect throughout?

Again, once you’re done reading, you’ll go back through and rewrite. And even though it’s the second one, this will still likely involve significant changes.

It’s a lot of work to rewrite. But you, as the author, are the only one who can do it. No one else can do this work without losing your voice; no one else can see the story that you have in your head and translate it to the page.

Ultimately, this rewrite will be the one where you solidify that story in the text. Your voice, your emotions, and your imagination will come through the most after this rewrite. Without it, the next steps will risk removing that voice entirely. So we rewrite again.

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