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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Is A Good Polish Enough?

Or do you need a whole new pair of shoes? Sometimes, no matter how hard you work at it, shining your shoes isn't going to get them looking as good as you'd like. That's when it's time to throw in the towel and buy a new pair of shoes. You friendly bloggers have listened to me for the last three months about my revision woes, and for that, I am very grateful. You guys are the best. I have to admit to you today, though, that what I've been doing has turned more into rewriting than revising. How do I know the difference? Well, let's just say that I've tossed more scenes than I've kept, and I've changed just about every sentence in one way or another. I've kept the same basic story line and, aside from eliminating a couple of secondary characters, the cast has remained the same. Some, although very few, scenes have remained in tact, but other than that, it's a whole new manuscript. I knew from the start of these revisions that I would be adding at least three completely new chapters to the beginning, but until I got past that, I had no idea the amount of rewriting I would have to do to the existing chapters. When deciding if a scene should stay, I looked at a couple of things. First of all, I determined if the scene had both an internal and external turning point. If it had neither, I tossed it. If it had one but not the other, I tried to add the missing one. If I couldn't, I tried combining it with another scene. When all that failed, I tossed it. Second, I gauged how long I was spending revising the scene. If it had been an unreasonable amount of time and I still wasn't happy with it, I tossed it and started over. Sometimes, it's just time for something new. How do you determine which scenes to cut when you are revising/rewriting?

48 comments:

Vonna said...

After getting feedback from my critique group, I realized a revision on my WIP was not going to do the job; a rewrite was in order. I kept my MC's original inner conflict but added a new outer conflict which changed the whole story, and much to the benefit of my novel, it changed my MC's attitude. All of the world building stayed and I was able to keep many action scenes, but that only amounted to about 30K words of the original 74K. I'm glad I faced up to the rewrite, though. I think this book is turning out to be the best I've done.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

My awesome crit partner tells me. :D And even though I want to believe she's wrong, I know she isn't.

Polish? I'm supposed to polish my shoes. Oh!

Tere Kirkland said...

This is hard for me, but I think you're on the right track. I have a story that I need to make better, I'm just not sure what's wrong with it. You seem to have a pretty good idea of what's not working for you, so that's half the battle won already. ;)

Stephanie Thornton said...

If a scene doesn't further the plot or character development, it has to go. Or if it opens up plot holes that I can't, or don't want, to solve. It's painful, but I think it's worth it.

Matt said...

I just came up with an idea or two that seemed minor in my head. Trying to integrate them into my revisions is turning into more of a re-write, but overall I know it will be better in the end. And shorter.

Karin said...

I haven't gotten to that phase yet. But my current WIP is a result of that type of work - I realized as I was editing it that it just wasn't working. So I scrapped it all.

I sat down and interviewed my characters, figured out what they would REALLY do, and started over. I have less than half of my original word count, but I know that what I have is a better story.

I plan on doing the same type of editing/cutting when I finish this draft.

Melanie's Randomness said...

I will write a whole blog post & then save it & rewrite a new one. I guess this is where the "feeling that its just not right" comes in.

I'm not sure if I'd this before but I love how you tie everything in with shoes. This one I think was my favorite.

Suzyhayze said...

Hi!

I try to see what will happen if the scene goes. Does the book still flow without it? If so... plunk it on the short story pile. :)

Girl Meets Gun said...

This is what I ended up doing with the one I was hoping to send out soon. Once I queried it a few times, I reread it myself and realized it still needed heavy work.

I'm almost willing to admit at this time it's probably best I put it on the shelf and just work on my latest project, and come back to it when I have a clear mind of it.

And speaking of shoes, I need a new pair very badly. There's only so much a toothbrush can do to sneakers.

Stephanie L. McGee said...

I haven't gotten there yet. But stay tuned for tomoworrow's WiP Wednesday to hear all about the daunting task that lies before me.

Good luck with the remaining revisons/rewrites! I'm sure this book will turn out beautifully for you.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

If it is grabbing my interest then sure won't grab a reader's interest, so it goes. If the pacing doesn't fall way behind I figure editing may be all it needs, but if its not adding to the story, ie, coming to a stand still, then it's time to bring the axe out.

Carolyn V. said...

Oh my gosh. I am doing that now. I am trying to pick out the scenes my critique group and I like the best and then try to make the story move around them. I hope it works out.

Elana Johnson said...

Ah, the ever-present rewrite. I know exactly how you feel. I've been doing the same thing. For me, I look at the scene and decide a couple of things.

1. What is the reader learning that they didn't know before? (world-building, character stuff, hints of what's to come)

2. Is there tension that moves the plot forward?

3. Is there something going on to develop the character arc?

If I can answer yes to any of these questions, the scene stays. Usually, I try to answer yes to two of them or else combine scenes or sneak info in another way. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

Good luck!

Nisa said...

You know, I put a lot of trust into my husband's opinion. If he thinks something needs to be cut, he'll explain why and 9 out of 10, it goes. I have a problem with not being able to see the forest for the trees...

Dawn Simon said...

Good for you, Susan. All that hard work will be worth it because you'll be so proud of your finished product! :)

Each scene has to reveal character or push the plot forward. Beyond that, I have to look at/feel each scene on a case by case basis.

MG Higgins said...

Susan, I'm so inspired by your rewriting "adventures." You must be learning a ton. My novels are so short, I don't do a lot of cutting of whole scenes (unless I'm changing the plot, which is another story). I'm usually adding and trying to make a scene work rather than subtracting.

laurel said...

I'm right there with you, Susan, trying to decide what to cut and what to polish. I keep foremost in my mind that fact I need to cut my 89K words to 75K to be marketable as contemporary YA.

My crit group helped me identify a pattern: too many scenes that are simply a moving from here to there. Once I knew that pattern, I was on the lookout for them and could more easilyidentify boring plot diversions on my own.

Paul Greci said...

Right now I'm looking at each scene in my rewrite, determining if it advances the plot or develops character. Soon I hope to be looking at my scenes from the plot and character arcs angles and making adjustments, deletions, and additions. It all sounds very organized but really it's a mess of text highlighted in red, yellow and green, and some printed pages with sticky notes.

Will Hobbs said that writing a novel is an act of faith. When I get overwhelmed I just try to remember that and push on.

Sarah Simas said...

My first chapter has been made over more times that a Hollywood Starlet! I'm to the point where I can't look at the scene without wanting to scream just a little. So, it's back in the closet for that scene now and I'll keep working forward. It hurts, but sometimes you just have to fish or cut bait. Here's to casting a new line! :)

Keep The Faith, Love The Craft,
Sarah

Nancy said...

I toss a scene when it doesn't add to the plot or character developement. Sometimes I have to get rid of my best word pictures, but if they don't work, they're just extra baggage.

Melissa said...

Well, I'm still working on the first draft, but I started reading THE FIRE IN FICTION this weekend. Boy, has it changed my outlook on my ms. I went back to the chapters I had already written to see if they had outer and inner turning points and I know I have a lot to fix. But hopefully I can use the turning points to stay on track while I finish the book.

Nicole Ducleroir said...

Hi Susan~ Great blog! I found you from reading your comment in Roni's blog. I was running on the treadmill this morning contemplating this very subject. My novel started as a NaNo novel, and the more I re-read it the more I realize most of it is headed for the editing room floor. I like the premise and the main characters. But it needs more -- more plot, more conflict, more meat on its bones.

You're right: sometimes shopping for new shoes is the best answer!

jenheadjen said...

Sorry, I have no suggestions there. But just wanted to say "hi" and wish you some inspiration with it! :)

Dominique said...

Since I've just scrapped about 43% of my current WIP, I feel your pain. Something things just aren't working and aren't going to start working no matter what you do, so you've got to make a change.

I think you're write about rewriting scenes that would take too much time to revise. I hadn't thought of that aspect before, but there certainly are potential diminishing returns.

Robyn Campbell said...

I hear you talking my pal. I had problems with Seventy Two Hours like this. When I wrote it, I thought it was really good. When I went in to revise I noticed there was a lot of CRAPOLA. So I had to go in and fix and fix and fix. But it turned out GREAT. And now I will query in Feb.. So it's all worth the effort and frustration isn't it Susan?

And to answer your question, when I read a scene and it just seems tired or it drags or it seems like author intrusion(which I do a lot of). I toss it and begin fresh. I mean I delete it. Get rid of it. And it is something that I just know is the right thing to do. Like a hunch, intuition or whatever. Great post and thanks for helping us by showing us that we all go through the same door on this road we;re on. You sharing your experience is making us better writers. :-)

Kelly H-Y said...

WOW ... you're doing an awesome job! I can't wait to hear about the end-product once you're done with your revisions ... it's going to be fantastic!

Kimberly Franklin said...

My crit group rules. They are the only way I keep my sanity. Without them I would be re-writing rewrites and be bald. For sure. : )

storyqueen said...

Put it away for two days. During that time, do not let yourself work on it, not one bit. Brainstorm a bunch of other story ideas, poetry, whatever.

Then, read your WIP all the way through. What resonates? what is begging for you to fix? If the thought of having to go through it again is overwhelming, give yourself more fun writing, idea gathering time.

Shelley

Leah Rubin said...

You amaze me-- you really have it all together, and you posit wonderful questions. I would say it's pretty much about your gut instinct on what's working and what isn't. Stepping outside yourself to read with a critical eye... Great post, as always.

Juno California said...

You really seem to have it together, a method, a system and it keeps self improving.
Where as for me, I never know what's going to happen. When I sit down to write my mind goes where it will and I'm often surprised at what comes pouring out of me.
But yes, it's all about the editing and I find myself compulsively pulled back to the computer until I'm satisfied. My brain won't shut up and will keep revising all evening long. It's a little much to function as a mom while this is going on, but it's how I like it.
I will just keep writing then,and if there's a book in it, it will be decided by those forces. My job is to show up.
Love your posts,
Juno

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Could you please bottle all that energy and effort and then send me some? My goodness. How hard you are working - and how your book will reflect that effort.

Natalie said...

I rewrote about half of my last manuscript. I knew where it needed to be changed, and like you, I know revising wouldn't be enough. It paid off in the end though! I hope it will for you too.

Shelli said...

how do you feel about the changes?

Dara said...

Generally I cut things after reading it through a few times AND seeing what my critique group says. They've helped me narrow my focus in my stories (because sometimes my plot is messy and goes all over the place) and point me to what I need to work on.

Angela said...

For me cutting is both painful and freeing. Often I'll get so wrapped up that something HAS to happen a certain way, I can't see past it. But once I do thanks to CPs, I can chop it and I feel so free because the story didn't fall apart, and lo and behold, there's an opportunity to make it work even better!

Danyelle said...

*hugs* Rewriting is more difficult, I think, than the original writing part. I'm a bare bones writer, so I usually have to flesh things out more than I have to cut.

*cookies*

Tamika: said...

I'm doing some light cleanup to the first chapter for my critique group next week. My first run with a second pair of eyes.

Revising has been an eye opener. Alot has gotten tossed, and for good reason. If there isn't any tension of conflict, I slice and dice for sure.

Patti said...

I think the further along we are in the editing process the more willing we are to toss those things that just aren't working.

Veronica Barton-Dean said...

My problem is I just keep polishing and polishing and polishing. I never know when to stop.

Amy Tate said...

I've been through lots of manuscripts doing the very same thing. When you reached the end, did you decide to keep it? I had one story that I tossed out after I wrote five chapters because it just wasn't going anywhere. I kept some of my charactger sketches but I got bored with it.

Angie Muresan said...

Once I feel that the story is changing, I know I have done enough revisions.
Oh, I polish no shoes. Only furniture.

staceyjwarner said...

fortunately for me, my background is in screenwriting so it was driven in me that each scene must have a purpose, reveal new information, turn the story, etc.

I hope as I continue to write prose this part comes naturally for me...

much love

Tess said...

A few months ago, I came across the original version of my novel. I was shocked how DIFFERENT it had been. I didn't do the changes all at once, but by the time it was sold, it was soooo different. AND I haven't even begun actual edits w/ the house yet. Amazing.

Erica said...

The delete button and I are friends. I've cut 6000 or so words and that's all before page 55. So I'd say I'm no afraid of it, I do keep it in a seperate doc, "the reject pile"

I think when I read it over and I think - what the heck does that have to do with the plot/story - then it goes. I'll always add more to the scene though or whole new ones. Just depends - Happy revising ;o)

Faith said...

I tend to keep going and going, but you're right -- eventually we have to come to a point where enough is enough, and it's time to start over. It's just so hard to say 'goodbye' to a scene sometimes!

Heather Sunseri said...

I'm doing some pretty major rewriting. I've realized I have some scenes that add some details I want in the story, but don't actually move the plot forward. So, I'm working on that.

Kathy said...

I like your ideas on this.

Solvang Sherrie said...

I have a "shelf" book that I've looked at from time to time and wondered how much I would have to do to fix it. I haven't had the heart to do the major rewrites because the stories I've written since I felt so much better about. I do a LOT of revising on my stories, usually adding in because I tend to write pretty spare.