I have all kinds of evidence that I am an imperfect person. I make mistakes all the time. I’ve poured orange juice on my cereal. Miscalculating how my body is moving through space, I’ve broken nine bones in my body (to date). I’ve gone on a first date where I wound up building a bed frame from scratch. I believed for a decade that writing was a waste of my time. I was wrong.
As often as I have experienced my own imperfection, I am committed to sharing my experiences, so that others need never fret as I have. Well, they may continue to fret, but heck, maybe there’s a slice of solace in knowing that they’re not alone. So within this brassy frame, I present 5 Things to Avoid when Rewriting:
Changing Characters Mid-Stream—When I was working on a superhero novel, I kept feeling pushed back by one of the supporting characters, and it struck me that I just didn’t like him. If I don’t like him, neither will the reader. I had a vague idea of who I wanted to write instead, and it pained me not to just start dropping her into his scenes. I held off because I had to fully envision her and think about how the story would shift. We need to remember to respect the narratives and characters we’re creating, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because the integrity of the piece will suffer and believability will go down the tubes.
Adding lots of new twists—I love a mini-cliffhanger at the end of a chapter as much as the next author, really I do. We could over-twist the story and make it unmanageable by the end, however. Readers need to be able to follow the narrative, or if complexity’s the thing, then readers need to be able to trust the complexity. I may use diagramming more than most, but it helps me ensure that I’m on top of all of my plot points. Consider marking a spot for a twist, even note what the development could be, but stand back and gander at the manuscript before writing them all in. Some of those puppies may be new stories.
Second-Guessing—Maybe it started out as a world without honeybees, in which a permanent underclass had to hand-pollinate a dwindling number of crops, but now you’re not sure you can really execute that, so you’re thinking about scaling back. Come on, stick with it! If you’re not pushing yourself as a writer, what are you doing it for? Remember, readers are smart. They will smell a milquetoast, safe story on the second page. Don’t pull your punches. Erika Lopez doesn’t want you to.
Writing in the Wrong Tone—Maybe it’s the music we played in the background while we wrote the first draft, or the general mood we were in during the second rewrite, or some osmosis of emotion from a book we had just read before the fifth rewrite, but gosh, now the tone is a mess. It could be a narrator who wavers, our word choice in dialogue, scene description, whatever. Before sitting down to rewrite, make sure your head is back in the world of the story. Shifts in tone from writing session to writing session can go unnoticed, so be sure to read through several chapters or more to make sure there isn’t any disconnect. Or possibly more helpful, read through the manuscript in reverse chapter order.
Shifting the Ending without Remembering the Beginning—Not everyone knows the ending of the story when the idea first dawns on them, or perhaps they usually, but don’t always, have a vision for the end. Maybe the final scene has been known for some time, but for whatever reason, the writer has an itch to strike it and fashion something new. To this I say, “wait.” Go back to the beginning; the end should reflect important elements from here (I’m paraphrasing CatRambo and others). Also, there are likely some foreshadowed moments and other giblets scattered throughout the story that touch upon the end of the arc; pulling the original ending requires a special rewrite on the rest of the novel to ensure everything continues to make sense. Only attempt with great care and attention.
Rewriting is the bulk of writing any quality story, no matter the length or genre. I’m a big fan of using versions—I don’t save over every previous draft, but I rename my files every few days, in case I want to go back and retrieve something. Versions also help me remember where I was at when I first delved into a project, almost like a bread crumb trail. Because the goal of successive drafts is to improve the work, revere it as a practice and it will be good to you in return.