Writing Books/Rewriting


Hi Susan

Right now I have just revised the first chapter of my novel-in-progress. It was a hideous process, and when I was finally done I felt like a bird freed from its caged. I dread that I will have to rewrite something in the future and would really appreciate some pointers on how to smoothly rewrite work previously thought done.
The writing is science fiction, or more precisely cyberpunk. I also enjoy to throw in some other genres like horror and psychological elements.

If you have the time I would also like some pointers on general writing techniques thrown in. Right now I work by following an abstract of what I plan to have done, and then I write myself into the situation and set a new abstract and so on.


Dear Thor:

First let me apologize for the lateness of this response. My computer has been down for a week with a defective modem, and I just got the new one last night.

You have not said whether this chapter is written in English, so I will assume it is. You have not said how much of the novel you have actually written, so I will assume only the first chapter is complete - in the first draft.

Here's the bad news: there is no escaping rewrite. If you want to be a published writer, you must accept the rewrite (not just the first chapter, but the whole thing) sooner or later, and you must do it two or three or ten times, whatever it takes, until it is as good as you can possibly make it. This process may take years. Tolstoy revised WAR AND PEACE seven times, by hand, and his long-suffering wife typed out every page on an ancient typewriter, seven times. I could give you endless examples, but I haven't the time or the room!

Here's the good news: you don't have to do it yet. Don't stop after every chapter to rewrite. Instead, start again, and this time, do it the right way. First complete an outline of the action. Adjust this until it seems to you complete. From that outline write a summary, with about one page for each chapter. (If you like, you can extend this summary to 200-300 pages just by typing in new details). Get all the important bits into the summary. Things like description (unless it's pertinent to the story), conversation, local color, all other unimportant bits can be included or left out, just as you please. If you leave them out, you will have to do a first draft from the summary to include them, so you may as well put them in, but don't do that until all the important bits are in.

Then, working from the summary, make another outline. Check this carefully to make sure it "hangs" together. View it as the framing of a house, with the plumbing, electricity and drywall as the important bits. If you see that adjustments or changes need to be made, make them in the summary. Keep adjusting until you are confident that the narrative:

 1. contains NO spelling, grammar or usage errors WHATSOEVER. If English is your second language, you may have to have your manuscript professionally edited. This is not cheap.
 2. is logical, meaning it's solidly based on a cause-and-effect structure (except for the "precipitating incident", if you have one - this can be random).
 3. contains plenty of conflict to keep the reader interested.
 4. contains plenty of tension/suspense, which rises with each incident to a peak, followed by a calm period until it rises again higher than before, with the climax the highest.
 5. Features characters that are real and memorable.

As for "pointers," I have given you some. Many more can be found in books about writing in English, if you have access to the same. If you don't, I would advise you to seek out some writing forums (at groups.yahoo.com or at MSN groups, about.com or geocities), put some of your work up and get some opinions about it. The group will edit your material for free, but you are bound to get spotty results. One caveat: accept criticism only from those who can tell you (1) where it doesn't work, (2) why it doesn't work and (3) how to make it work.

I hope this has helped. If it has, a nice rating would be greatly appreciated. I am proud of my high score over 320+ questions.

And good luck with your book!

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Susan Rand


I can answer questions about the elements of fiction and non-fiction writing: how to get started, writing techniques, re-writing, etc. I will NOT write for you, do critiques except from my website at http://pygmypress.com, or give you ideas. I will not answer home-or-schoolwork questions in any category. If English is your second language, please say so, and I will make an exception. Please submit no more than one or two questions at once, as I tend to go into detail in my answers.


I wrote my first book in 1957 and have been writing and studying writing since. I have a BA in Written Communications, and have taught writing both privately and through adult education for 15 years. Have also edited (fiction books) for an online publisher and edited/wrote more than 100 articles for a teen sex education site. Currently writing web content and mentoring beginning writers.

BA degree in Written Communication

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