Welcome to the fifth post in the How to Edit Your Novel series. Let’s see… At this point you’ve had beta readers, you’ve edited, and then the realization hits. This thing needs improvement. Not just typo fixes and quick word re-arranging. I mean substantial restructuring!
Seriously, that’s how it can feel sometimes. What about all that work I’ve already done? I’ve already spent months/years on this thing! Ugh, I want to be published yesterday. Etc. Etc.
But the thing is, how dedicated are you to your story? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to make it the best it can be? Really?
I remember coming back from a conference totally deflated. I’d been through a Donald Maass workshop, and I knew my novel needed work—a lot of work. Could I really go through all that? Did I really want to? It took me a few weeks of mulling things over, but I decided it had to be done. So I spent the summer rewriting.
And you know what? I had a much better story. Much better.
THE REWRITES KEEP STRIKING
Little did I know, the Emperor had already begun work on rebuilding the Death Star. The war wasn’t over yet.
I entered a contest last November called Pitch Wars, as many of you know, and scored myself a mentor. I knew she’d probably have something to say. There’s no such thing as a perfect draft.
That’s when the rewrites struck again. You see, Marieke’s a pretty darn good editor, and her advice was spot on. She pointed out the weaknesses, made her suggestions, and the more I thought on them the more I realized this was going from an editing session to another big rewrite. Not as major as the summer’s, but significant nonetheless.
HOW MANY DRAFTS WILL IT TAKE?
I haven’t been keeping an exact count of drafts, but I think saying I’m on draft #10 is fairly accurate. How many drafts is it going to take for my novel? I don’t know. Probably several more.
The thing is even if you get your story into a proper enough state to score an agent, they’re probably going to want another draft of it, whether major or minor. And they’re doing this to help you. They want your book to be just as wildly successful as you do. But the fortitude you have to reach success is up to you.
Whatever you do, realize this: it’s going to take several drafts to get you to querying stage. You don’t write a book, edit it and call it good. You write a book, edit it, let family read it, edit and/or rewrite it, send it to beta readers, edit and/or rewrite it, send it to betas again, edit and/or rewrite it, maybe enter it in contests where you can get some feedback, edit and/or rewrite it—you catching the drift?
The fun part is creating. The fulfilling part is sculpting it into something fabulous. It’s like finding a diamond. It’s somewhat valuable in it’s unpolished state, but far more valuable once it’s been removed from the coal, polished and cut to sparkle. We must get our stories sparkling, friends.
While you fight the rewrite wars, there are several books that can help you along the way. Of course, you can read these books before you even get started on the first draft, but I think they are equally helpful after a first draft.
Story. Robert McKee actually wrote this for screenwriting, so some of the advice won’t be directly applicable, but his story structuring certainly is. It gives you a breakdown of plots and why things work the way they do. Plus it’s chocked full of golden nuggets of information on everything—story, plot, characters, you name it.
Writing the Breakout Novel. I bought this book after listening to Donald Maass in a workshop for 4 hours. This guy knows his stuff. Probably because he’s seen one too many bad manuscripts that are usually bad for the same reasons. He uses examples from literature so you can see what he thinks is done well. It’s a lot like Story, but more like an additional perspective to understanding the same thing. Sometimes I like the way Mr. McKee put it, something I prefer the way Mr. Maass put it.
The Fire in Fiction. This is another of Mr. Maass’ books. In this he goes more in-depth on how to create tension on every page so, if applied well, your readers will be hard-pressed to put your book down.
On Writing. This is Stephen King’s book. To be honest, I haven’t read it yet, but everyone I’ve mentioned it to who has says I must read this book! Might as well learn from the masters, right?
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. A local friend of mine first recommended this book to me. But let me put up a disclaimer right now. Some of what they say I don’t agree with. They almost forbid the use of gerunds, but if that solution leads you to replacing gerunds with “and” all the time, it’s equally sucky. I say watch carefully so that your gerunds aren’t communicating the wrong thing. I do think, however, that their exercises are helpful and there’s still plenty of good tips to be had. Like any advice, take it with a grain of salt.
There are other good books out there. These are just the ones I like and have found most helpful.
Roll up your sleeves, and get those rewrites on. And tomorrow join me for Going Pro: Creds & Eds. Or else!