If you aren’t fortunate in having a spouse or best literary friend to beta read your drafts as you write a best-selling novel, here are some tips. I have never rewritten an entire novel starting at a blank page. Instead, I chose a much safer route–safer that is, for my ego.
I usually edit or proofread as I go along. So each day I begin my writing process by going over the previous day’s work. I don’t catch every error this way, but I’m able to stay on top of the story and strengthen my prose, which gets stronger with every chapter. Often times I find out that my ending is spectacular but the beginning of the novel pales in comparison.
If I run across this situation, then I might rewrite the entire first chapter or at least, cut the fat of unneeded dialogue, long sentences, and paragraphs that don’t go anywhere. I also whittle down the description by combining verbs with nouns, something I learned as a journalist years ago. I enjoy sharpening sentences and making them bounce off the page, but when I sharpen sentences then I find I must also sharpen paragraphs.
I look for sentences that clunk along and I either rewrite those sentences or I toss them if they don’t propel the story forward. In fact, any words or sentences that impede the story’s flow ends up in the desktop recycle bin. Next, I look for on-the-nose dialogue and delete it. I clean up phrases that seem redundant when combined with dialogue such as, he shouted, “Darn those Yankees!” Obviously if I’ve used an exclamation mark for punctuation, we already know that the person is shouting.
I then look at sentence structure since good sentences flow into each other and should delight the reader. So if every sentence begins with a noun or pronoun, then I go in and rewrite the sentences adding, “however,” “meanwhile,” “as,” or “Looking in the opposite direction, he scanned the horizon…” In other words, I look for more creative sentence starters beyond the simplistic noun-verb-preposition formula. However, if you are trying to create a staccato effect, then the noun-verb could work when in the right hands.
Next I look at character descriptions to make sure that they are congruent throughout the story so a character doesn’t start out with blonde hair and blue eyes and then six chapters later, she’s a brown-eyed brunette. I’ve actually caught such errors and end up chuckling to myself. This type of problem doesn’t occur if you storyboard your characters ahead of time and you nailed down their physical attributes down to the types of clothing they wear. One man I spoke with about character descriptions told me to cut photographs out of magazines and place them on a board so that I could keep track of my crowd of characters. I love this idea.
Obviously, if you have a chamber or small cast of characters, then you’ll not run into this problem. I write multiple narrative novels often so I confuse characters with each other. I also recommend storyboards for the plot, timeline, and main events in the story so that you don’t run into story descrepencies down the road. You don’t want the reader scratching her head saying,” Wait a minute, I thought this character was captured in chapter four so how is she captured again in chapter six when she’s already in jail?” It happens.
Last but not least, end every chapter with a page-turner also known as a cliffhanger. I learned this trick when I posted my stories on Authonomy many years ago. This involves cleaning up the last paragraph, often deleting it from each chapter. You can end with dialogue as long as the character asks a question or you can end with, “then she heard a knock at the door, but when she went to answer the door, it wasn’t who she expected.” (Or something to that effect). Basically, your job as an author is to tease the reader and get them to continue to the next chapter.
So start a novel strong and end it on a powerful note. Don’t drop the ball along the way and know your characters and story lines inside out. You’ll know you’ve done this when you can whittle your story down to a single sentence description or to a five minute elevator pitch. And actually, you require a good grasp of your story when you write the synopsis and the shorter pitch. I learned this when I wrote screenplays and it’s not something we learn overnight–takes practice and the help from editors or writing colleagues. (I’ll get to writing pitches in a future post).
Resources that prove helpful during the rewriting process include back issues of writing magazines such as Writer’s Digest or The Writer which you can find at your local library. And speaking of libraries, ask your librarian where they keep writing craft books, which may or may not prove helpful. Some authors prefer freedom from writing dogma and rules. I have found myself rebelling at times.
The more you write (I recommend writing every day, even Sunday), the stronger your writing muscle becomes and you also hone your intuition that serves you in the writing process. After all, a good author goes with the flow.
I am an intuitive coach who specializes in motivating and inspiring artists and other creative types. Sign up for a session at Metaphysics 4 Everyday Living or e-mail me at wholemusicexp at gmail