Rewriting your fiction

11 Apr
Click on the book cover to go to

Click on the book cover to go to

Proofread carefully to see if you any words out

–          Author Unknown

In previous posts I’ve talked about when you write that first draft you need to keep on writing and never mind fixing it up. At some point, you will need to wake up the editor inside your head and rewrite. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years and in particular while working with the editor at the publisher (Blue Denim Press) of Beyond the Tripping Point.

  1. What you think needs rewriting and others think may not always mesh. And that’s a good thing because you want many readers for your book.
  2. You don’t have to do exactly as someone else suggests – for example in my story “16 Dorsey St.” my editor suggested making the seniors younger. That would mess up the story’s timeline, so I compromised – I took three or four years off the seniors’ ages and worked in that they were not frail.
  3. Often someone else’s suggestion makes the story better. My editor suggested deleting out a very long ending to “My Brother’s Keeper” with an alternate shorter ending, plus deleting and/or changing parts of “Porcelain Doll.” I complied and had two better stories.
  4. Get feedback from other writers – joining a writers’ critique group (online or in person) is helpful here.
  5. When you get right down to it, you will be doing the rewriting and BEFORE you show it to anyone you should do some rewriting:
  6. When rewriting look for:

a)      Too wordy phrases – can you say it in one or two words?

b)      Anything that doesn’t make sense to you.

c)      Repetition – in action, scenes, words (do a “Find” for the latter – you’d be surprised how many times a “was” or my problem word “but” appear).

d)     Watch for any scene, etc. that makes you yawn (outside of when you are tired).

e)      In line with d) pace yourself in rewriting. Don’t try to rewrite a whole novel in one go.

f)       Make sure your plot and character actions make sense to you and aren’t vague and inconsistent. Sure, you want to leave your readers guessing about some things but having your character suddenly start karate-chopping a villain when you’ve already presented the character as slight in build, meek, with no interest in martial arts, oh…oh.

g)      However, make sure your characters undergo some change. This might sound counter to f) but show some characteristic that would motivate their actions despite a weakness. For example, in “Unfinished Business,” my main character, Lilly, avoids confronting her past until her past threatens her 12-year-old daughter. The story up to then shows that Lilly loves her daughter.

h)      Can whole scenes, parts of scenes, parts of chapters, even whole chapters be eliminated? Here look for a plot thread or tangent that isn’t really necessary to the story. In my prequel novel (still in rewriting stage), I removed whole scenes connected to one thread – another murder. Instead of having  PI Dana Bowman do a long trip down to Toronto to find a specific person (and finding her body), I had her computer savvy twin brother Bast Overture find a news story on the Internet about it. All it needed was a follow-up with Detective Sergeant Fielding for the police end to include an important plot part without all the extras. If your novel manuscript is longer than say 75,000 to 90,000 words (and the latter is pushing it), that might be an indication to cut. Or maybe rewrite it all into two books. (Note: as an editor I turned down copy editing a novel manuscript that was 205,000 words – gulp, although I had a time issue here too).

i)        For short stories, remember they are short stories, so even with the longer stories (6000 words and over) make sure every word counts – no tangents. A specific word count from your targeted market (contest, publisher, etc.) can be used here.

j)        On your later rewrites, do a line check for extra words and phrases. Be ruthless.

These are my 10 pointers for rewriting fiction. Does anyone have a pointer to add? How do you rewrite your fiction? Please share.

For my upcoming events with Beyond the Tripping Point, go to my BTTP page on my website I continually update it. In particular:

Thursday, April 18, 2013,7 p.m.

Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Awards Short List Party Toronto

I’m reading a short suspenseful excerpt from Beyond the Tripping Point. Eleven other CWC readers  are reading excerpts from their books as we anxiously await the names of who made the short list. Our books are for sale, too.

Location: Indigo Chapters in the Manulife Centre, Bay St. at Bloor St. W., Toronto


Sharon A. Crawford


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