Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Rewrite - Part 1

So, NaNoWriMo is over, and I've got some stories I think have potential, and others that don't. All in all, I've got about a half dozen short stories.

Well, I have a half dozen first drafts. That's significantly different than having a half dozen completed stories. So now what do I do? 

I rewrite.

The first law of first drafts is that first drafts suck. Some people write better first drafts than others, true. I'm sure there are some lucky people out there who write first drafts that are even worthwhile. Those people are proof that God loves some folks more than others and allows them to break the rules. If you're one of those, then I am deeply honored by your reading of this. You are very sparkly. Can I rub myself on you?

We mortals have to rewrite. Revise. Edit.

In that order.

Rewriting and rewriting are sometimes described as much the same thing, but I'm choosing to separate the two. Even editing is sometimes conflated with the other two, but that's just plain wrong.
I've listed these in order, from most general to most specific. Rewriting involves the largest changes, such as the removal or addition of characters, plotlines, and settings. The point of view might change from the hero to the villain. Perhaps the story is good, but it would be better if it happened on the moon. As you can probably guess, this process often lives up to its name. Rewriting often changes the very plot of a story.

Revising is more specific. This paragraph would look better here. Maybe I shouldn't quote John's thoughts during the battle; would it be better to simply describe them? Maybe the story needs more explanation about the origin of the alien slavers, and Penelope needs to find an old journal that describes the aliens' arrival. Revising doesn't change the plot itself, generally, but it does involve changing the structure. Revising makes the story read better.

Editing is the most specific. Quixoctic isn't spelled right. Wait, that word's kind of pretentious. Is it even the word I want to use, or would another be better? Does this sentence sound right, or do I need to rewrite it? Why do half of the sentences in this scene start with the word, "Well?" Many of these issues (or at least the most hideous ones) will be found and taken care of in the earlier stages of the process, but I guarantee that some will survive.

As I hope I can make clear, it's counterproductive to edit before you revise, or to revise before you edit. Doing otherwise is a waste of time. You might spend an hour going over a particularly sticky scene, wrestling with descriptions of actions that are simply hard to describe. Later, you realize that scene was unnecessary entirely, and in the interest of writing a good story, you delete the whole chunk. What good did the editing do you? Sure, you got some practice editing, but believe me . . . you'll get enough of that.

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