Rewrite Your Novel: 3 Powerful Steps To Turn A Mess Into A Book

It’s time to rewrite your novel. In a recent writers’ group meeting, we discussed the benefits and perils of rewriting.

Many authors enjoy their rewrites, because the hard work is done. They know they have a story, they just need shape it into the perfect reader-worthy novel for their genre.

That said, rewriting can be scary, especially if you’ve never done it before. You’re taking your novel apart: you’re reshaping it.

Firstly, what’s “rewriting”? Is it another word for “editing”?

Basically, rewriting is writing your novel again. You’re rethinking your story. Perhaps you’re:

  • Changing the genre: turning a romance into a mystery;
  • Telling the story from another point of view;
  • Increasing the stakes for the main character: your novel, as written, lacks suspense.

Editing, on the other hand, is polishing—working with your words. You may delete and add scenes, but you’ve created the basic shape of your novel.

A big part of editing is ensuring that your story flows, that is:

… avoiding lumps and bumps which stop the reader. It’s vital to avoid bumps on a micro level, when the reader has a “huh?” moment because he can’t figure out what you meant by a sentence, or on a macro level, when the reader stops reading because he’s bored.

If you’re a pantser, rather than an author who outlines, you may want to do a rewrite. It’s hard (almost impossible) to write a wonderful novel from go to whoa. A rewrite is a pantser’s chance to retell your story, in the most exciting and suspenseful way possible.

Rewrite your novel: start today (you can do it)

If you’re a new author, chances are that you’re hesitating. Do you really NEED to rewrite your novel?

If you’re unsure, ask someone to read your novel. Not necessarily an author, or an editor (editors aren’t much help with a very early draft) but a keen reader of your genre.

Let’s look at three steps to rewrite your novel.

1. When you rewrite your novel, find the story question first

What’s your story question (sometimes called the dramatic question)?

When you want to rewrite your novel, finding the story question is your first and most vital task.

Your novel must have a story question, because:

The story question is the beating heart of your fiction.

It keeps readers reading. Readers know how important his goal is to your main character, so they want to know whether he’ll win through.

As an author, you know that your novel needs a point—a story question—but it’s easy to get so involved with writing, writing, writing, that your story wanders off.

Your story question is the primary way you add drama to your fiction. Your characters must want something. Whether they get it or not is the story question.

So, what does your main character WANT?

In rewriting, your primary goal will be to ensure that that’s plain to readers.

2. Do a reverse outline (keep it brief)

Once you’ve found your story question, create a reverse outline, so that you can see the shape of your draft.

Wondering what a “reverse outline” might be? When you write a novel, you may create an outline. After you’ve completed a first draft, you should outline what you have—that’s your “reverse outline.” It helps you to sort out scenes from narrative, as well as look at your plot and character arcs.

Do you use Scrivener? The outline and Collections features are wonderful tools when you rewrite your novel.

Please keep your reverse outline brief: no more than a sentence per scene. Otherwise you’ll get lost in the weeds of your fiction.

Once you’ve decided on your story question, check your reverse outline. Is it focused on the resolution of the story question?

3. Create a new outline: start with the story question, and your primary character’s development

Hooray! You’ve done the messy work that needs to get done so you can rewrite your novel. Now it’s time to develop a brand new outline.

Your new outline is a vital tool for your rewrite. So, yes, even if you’re a pantser, you MUST create an outline before you rewrite your novel.

Start here:

Focus on your main characters’ big problem and make it bigger…

If you’re confused, that’s OK. Try doing a brain dump on your novel, so that you can sort out your thoughts.

Fear not, you can rewrite your novel—get started today

One of the challenges of rewriting isn’t the rewrite itself. It’s procrastination. The only way to beat it is to get started.

Remember: begin with the story (dramatic) question. That’s the first step when it’s time to rewrite your novel.


Plot your novel in 60 minutes: win more fans for your fiction

Plot your novel in 60 minutes: win more fans for your fiction

Discover 60-minute plotting, the plotting process which improves all your fiction.

Read more here: Commercial Fiction Secrets: Plot Your Novel In 60 Minutes Or Less.

Use this easy, fun creative process for all your fiction. Use it to write novels, short stories, and novellas your readers will love.


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