Monday, June 25, 2012


I hate revisions and rewriting.  I'm one of those novelists who edit as I go.  After a scene or two, I re-read what I've written, listen to the chapters on Natural Reader and notate changes I want to make, then continue to edit and then move on.  I continue to do this throughout the novel. At certain points, I print the novel to hardcopy and edit that way. By the time I've made it to the wonderful moment I type "THE END," the novel is nearly ready to submit. Though I still edit a couple more times and it is read by my proofreader to catch careless typos, awkward or unclear thoughts, and redundancy.

I'm not alone in writing this way, but I also don't have the perfect method. Some novelists, such as my friend Colleen Cobel, rejoices when her revisions and changes are sent back with her editors suggests, and she can dig in and rework the novel, making it deeper and stronger. This is her favorite part of creating her story. I always chuckle because I'm at the other end of the stick.

Recently writer and college instructor, Dennis Hensley, published a blog on FACING THE DREADED SECOND DRAFT.  The title interested me and I read it and decided it would be an excellent post to share with you.  We all face the rewrites no matter how we do them, and his thoughts on the subject are worth hearing. Since his work is copyrighted, I asked for permission to share his plost, and he granted it to me in writing. I hope you find his five points helpful. To find them, click "more" below.

By Dennis E. Hensley

Directing a college writing program and also traveling across the country instructing at writers’ conferences, I encounter a lot of people who have finished writing a novel but are not having any success at selling it to a publisher. After a dozen or more rejections, they’ll turn to a person like me, aka a “book doctor,” and ask, “So, what’s wrong with my book?” Often, the answer is simple. These people have not learned that “all writing is rewriting.” They’ve written a novel, but, as yet, they have not rewritten a novel.

If this is your situation, let me offer some guidance in how to turn back to your manuscript and give it the polish it needs to shine professionally.

You know what the book is supposed to say, but in order to determine if it actually is saying it, you need outside readers. Find someone in your writers’ group to read it and give you specific feedback regarding narrative drive, character development, setting, dialogue, and theme. Likewise, consider hiring a high school or college English teacher to copyedit the pages, checking grammar, syntax, punctuation, format, spelling, and transitions. This will give you tangible aspects of the book than can be improved upon.

Read your entire book but chart it as you go along. How quickly does the lead hook the reader? Does the subplot become evident no later than chapter three? Where are the arcs of conflict, the surprises, the clever plot twists? Is the ultimate climactic scene dramatic enough? Does the denouement tie up all loose ends, answer all questions, and imply what the next phase of the characters’ lives will be? By putting the whole book in your head (macro) while critiquing the individual elements (micro), you’ll be inserting correct pieces that will eventually reveal the finished puzzle.

Just because something is perfect in regard to writing mechanics, it doesn’t mean it is interesting. Consider key structural elements. Is the novel well paced, motivating the reader to keep turning pages, or are there scenes that drag, passages of dialogue that are cluttered, and set-ups that have too much description and back story? Are the flashbacks just thrown in at random like narrative sludge, or do they seem a natural foundation for the overall story structure? Is there a consistency in the length of chapters or are they a hodgepodge of plotting whims?

These are all specific areas that publishers will judge harshly, so work to make them smooth.

If you lean heavily on –ly adverbs to assist your verbs (talked quickly, sang merrily) remove them and insert stronger verbs that can stand alone (trilled, barked, rapped, prattled). Similarly, if you have a tendency to use too many –ing verbs (“She was hurrying to get to work”), replace them with stronger verbs (“She raced to her job”). Weed out dull, indistinct verbs, too. Instead of saying, “She was outside the principal’s office,” say, “She paraded . . . She paced . . . She strode . . . She stood . . . She fumed outside the principal’s office.” Add verbal energy.

It’s been drilled into you since childhood that actions speak louder than words. In fiction, this is especially true. For example, don’t have a high school girl tell her arch rival, “You’re not supposed to be smoking in the bathroom. If you light up, I’m going to tell the teachers.” Instead, write As Jennifer opened her purse and took out a cigarette and a lighter, Tina reached for the fire alarm. Their eyes locked.

Here, what could have been a cliché has now become a page-turning face-off confrontation. That’s what you want. Don’t lull the reader to sleep with a rehash of what happened, put him or her into the scene ready to witness the unfolding events.

I always compliment people who have shown the discipline it takes to sit down and actually write a novel. Most people have an idea for a story but not the professionalism to put it on paper. However, once that first draft has been purged from the mind, it becomes time to go back and fine tune it. There is no shame in not producing a masterpiece on the first go-through. The shame is in letting it lose the beauty contest because you wouldn’t give it the needed facelift.

Dennis is the co-author with Holly G. Miller of the Leslie Holden novels for Harvest House Publishers: The Legacy of Lillian Parker, The Compton Connection, and The Caribbean Conspiracy. He is a director of the department of professional writing at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana.

© Copyright Dennis E. Hensley (DO NOT use this article in any form without written permission from Dr. Hensley.)

Written permission granted from Dr. Hensley to Gail Gaymer Martin to use on Writing Fiction Right only.

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