How to write a novel: 4 The first major rewrite
I promised this blog would be about rewriting, and it is, but first…
…I’ve published! The Syndrome Diaries has been available on Amazon for a couple of days now, and later blogs will describe the various hurdles jumped and glitches overcome to make that happen. In the meantime, if you want to have a nose at the finished product (or peruse the free sample), it’s here if you’re a UK reader and here if you’re in the US or most of the rest of the world. It’s also on the French site (click here ) and the German site (click here ): all versions are in English.
I mentioned in my last blog that my first drafts tend to be full of plot without much description. Although the first rewriting stage should probably be the major changes – adding scenes, removing scenes, switching them around – my initial rewrite also made a lot of changes at the level below that. By the end of this process, my word count had almost doubled from the original 50,000 to just under 100,000.
I’ve included some before-and-after dialogue below to demonstrate the kinds of changes made: the dialogue has been fleshed out to try and tell the story in a more interesting way and to add more character to the people I’m writing about. This means I have to think hard about the individual personalities and motivations, and this might impact on the scenes if it becomes clear that someone is behaving out of character. They may need a new scene to explain some behaviour.
Here’s an extract from the original version. This is a few pages into the book, when my narrator, Becky, who’s a journalist, has just had a phone call from her editor asking her to do an interview with India Irving, a successful rock musician with whom she was once good friends. The two of them fell out at University and haven’t spoken for twenty years. Becky’s at home with her partner, Hugh, discussing the phone call:
“India wants me to interview her.”
“Mm. I wonder what’s going on?”
“Maybe she wants to build some bridges.”
“Maybe. Wonder why?”
“Well, you can ask her, can’t you?” He was never interested in speculation, only empirical evidence.
It’s rather sparse, isn’t it? Those few lines were expanded and touches of detail added so that in the final version, the conversation is as follows:
‘India wants to do an interview.’
He looked up, puzzled, and nudged his glasses up his nose. ‘India who?’
‘Irving, of course.’ How many Indias were there?
‘I thought she wasn’t speaking to you.’
‘So did I. What do you think’s going on?’
‘Maybe she’s grown up.’
‘She’s got a new solo record coming out.’ I stood up to move my laptop away from the table before it got splattered with gravy.
He ran a hand through sandy-coloured hair, stopping to scratch the top of his head. ‘Well, that’s why she wants to talk to you, isn’t it? High profile journo, widely read by her target market.’
‘But why now?’
‘Dunno. You can ask her, can’t you?’ He was a scientist and speculation never got far with him. He needed empirical evidence, gold-plated with analyses of variance and linear regressions.
The conversation now provides an opportunity to describe Hugh a little more. The relationship between the two of them is tired, and the scene as a whole is peppered with suggestions of irritation and lack of engagement with each other. Hugh began as a catalogue of ‘boring bloke’ clichés but, as the editing progressed, these were cut back to enable him to emerge as a character with whom it was easier to sympathise. I won’t give away what happens with Hugh towards the end of the book, but hopefully what he does makes sense. On a technical note, the switch from double quotation marks to single ones came right at the final editing stage, and is to keep the style consistent with British conventions outlined in the Oxford Manual of Style.
Much of the rewriting involved this colouring and pacing of scenes, although there were also bigger changes and new scenes. Many of these came about when I began reading out my work at writers’ groups, and that will be the subject of my next blog on how to write a novel. I’ll also be posting on how The Syndrome Diaries is performing.
What are your thoughts on editing? Do you follow some kind of plan? Or is it a more ad hoc process?