Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rewriting To Greatness

My favorite class at LTUE was Dave Wolverton's class on rewriting to greatness. Here are my notes on the class:

1. Triage Edit. The first pass through Dave says to look for the big things. Look for big problems with your manuscript and decide how to fix them.
A. What do I want to say that I'm not saying well enough? What do I need to add to this story? Do I have the scenes in place that are necessary to set up the message? I may need to add scenes. Are there other things that I need to add? Are my characters well drawn?
B. what needs to be deleted? If you have two characters who are basically identical twins in nature, you might decide you don't need one of them. So, delet all the words that mention the twin you're taking out. You may need to change the  beginning and take out set-up stuff. Eliminate long, descriptive passages that bog down the pace of your story.
C. What has to change? Some scenes will need to be changed because you got a good idea later on in your story writing. So, rewrite those scenes.
2. Consistency Edit. Read through the story and make sure things are consistent. Did I change the hair or eye color? I also look for dropped words, better ways to express myself. I tighten up my descriptions.add similes, metaphors, etc.There will always be "cold" areas where you just don't know what to write and how to fix it; bugaboo areas in your work. As you go along, make a note of things you want to change in a rewrite.

3. Voice Edit. Go through the story and make sure each of your three characters sound differently from one another and are consistent with themselves. Often you'll have to throw away the first part of your story, up to the point where you can hear the characters speaking in your head. Give your characters buzz words--things they always say. If a character limps, make sure you mention it a few times throughout your book. What color does a character frequently wear? This can be a very involved process that may involve research.

4. Descriptive Edit. Do my descriptions involve all the senses? Also, if too much description is there, pare it down. In descriptive passages, look for ways to add metaphors and similes, etc. Make it beautiful and evocative. When you're writing for a contest, if you know the judges, you can win by looking at their writing and write to their tastes. When you write to a wide audience, you don't know their tastes, so you have to write above par on all those levels. Look for ways to improve your story. Look at world creation. Is it different? Does it carry a sense of wonder? Do the characters seem real? How about lovable? Does the reader care about him?

5. Shotgun, General Edit. This is where you look for everything at once. I might go through my manuscript 3 to 4 times before I am satisfied. Every word must be right. At that point, I do a syllabic edit.

6. Syllabic Edit. Hemmingway is known for his short sentences, but he also wrote masterful long sentences. He wrote in monosyllables, which speeds up the writing, makes it easy to understand and allows you to read through it blazingly fast. When you want to speed up your writing, such as for a fight scene, do a syllabic edit. Replace longer words with shorter substitutes. Cut out the word, "finally." You probably just wrote a piece of boring writing before that word. Another word you can cut out is "then." There are a lot of words like that; words you don't even think about but have the habit of using. Sometimes you can cut entire sentences or even paragraphs. It might be brilliant, but if it disrupts the flow of the story, you should cut it out. Make the changes necessary to make the scene work. Don't be afraid to kill your darlings.

7. Line Edit. I sit down, take my manuscript and put it in a new typeface (Palatino size 14, for example), then read it out loud. You'll find dropped words and double words. Things will show up in a new typeface and size. Clean it up.

There are other types of edits you can do. Dave says he generally goes through his manuscript 6 to 7 times; some passages more than that. You can over-edit your writing. Don't take the passion out of your writing. A great story offends half of your audience. You're not going to please everybody. Sometimes we forget this.

When drafting, says Dave, I find myself going into edit mode. To avoid this, I just throw something in and know that I will fix it later. Sometimes you write an entire book and you never feel you got the character's name right. You can use place holders, even ZZZ or XXX until you decide and go back and change it.

Is there a limit to brevity? Yes there is. Sometimes you don't need to cut. In particular, if you want your style to stand out, some characters may speak with a wordy style. English and Australian writers don't try to shorten up their writing like we do here.

How do I keep myself from getting to close to my work? Dave says he sets it aside for a couple of months. He also give sit to others to look at to see if they see the same things he's seen. By the time you've gone through your manuscript 6 times, you hate everything. That's normal.


  1. I love this advice. I'm definitely going to put the syllabic edit to use! (Among other things, of course.)

    I'm almost to the end of my latest first draft, and I have a minor character whom I call NAMERSON. I'm getting a little attached to that, LOL. Finding a good name was going to take more research than I felt like doing (and I introduced him in a scene I was writing on, so I really didn't have time to research). Now I just want to save it until I'm done to make sure I don't give him something too similar to another character.

  2. Oh, LOL, up until one minute ago, I was sitting here wondering what a "triangle" edit was. Reading comprehension FTW!

  3. Thanks for the great notes! I've been feeling sad I couldn't go. This helps a lot!


  4. I was sad to miss the conf. this year so thanks for these awesome notes! I am editing right now and doing searches for weak words--Ack! Hate it, but I know it makes it so much stronger.

  5. I love the idea of changing the font style and size to catch things you didn't the first hundred and forty times through. Excellent ideas!

  6. I know, I have never heard that before, but I think it's a great idea.

  7. Some of these are fresh ideas for me. Thanks for sharing.