Rewriting Your Novel Means Rewriting Your Outline

I like to think about rewriting my favorite stories. Like Star Wars, for example.

I think about what it would look like keeping the best parts and cutting the worst. Flipping character genders, the plot, the twists, the roles. There’re a million little tweaks to give it something “more” than it is. Not better, but different.

The same questions apply to editing a manuscript.

Start with an objective outline of your rough draft, as is.

While reading through my rough draft, I created a timeline of events that happen, an outline following the story’s progression. This included summaries, character motivations, reactions, resolutions – a lot. It included a lot! At least, everything I needed to know my story inside and out, better than I did in the middle of writing it.

I highly recommend finding an organized system for tracking as much of your novel’s details as you can. I used Anne Hawley’s spreadsheet from Story Grid for mine. It’ll create a clear picture of your novel “as is.”

Take notes of what needs work to create the final vision of your novel.

While writing my “as is” outline, I took notes about what I liked or didn’t like in my chapters, and what I wanted to see in my revised draft. I’m talking about critical changes such as plot holes, weak arcs, bad dialogue/scenes/exposition/pacing, whether your main character wears blue or red, etc.

Cut everything that tangles the story you’re trying to weave.

Combine your revision notes with your “as is” outline to skeleton your next draft.

Rolling with the skeleton analogy (suh, October?), I essentially kept the bones and muscular system of my rough draft. Probably the nervous system and some organs. I knew I liked my plot, my action-based pacing, and the scenes I’d crafted, so I angled my new outline to reflect the good stuff while making sure I could neatly cut out obsolete stuff. I reworked my changes and original plot into an outline that I felt polished my story rather than like I’d smeared it all over my jeans.

Armed with your draft and two outlines, you have everything you need to begin editing.

I’m taking my revisions one chapter at a time to go over my draft for parts I want to keep, using my outlines to keep me on track, and my revision notes to reflect my new vision. A couple chapters call for full rewrites, but I’m already working on chapter two after beginning a week ago. It came out better than the first, in my opinion, so this is the method I’ll be using until I hack my process into a more efficient one.

No one can remake Star Wars. Don’t remake your novel.

My idea on rewriting Star Wars isn’t to remake a masterpiece, but to deconstruct it and see it through new lenses. This gets done with the various “What if” stories in comic books, but it’s the perfect exercise to creatively reshape an idea. Rewriting is meant to polish a novel, to make it as impactful as possible. It’s a continual process that takes more revisions than you’re going to count. The end goal, however, isn’t to restart your novel, but to make it match your final vision.

Like I mentioned in my last post, I used to hate editing. Having a plan has really helped me change my perspective and enjoy the process. Chuck Wendig’s “25 Steps to Edit the Unmerciful Suck Out of Your Story” definitely inspired my current method of rewriting my current manuscript and is full of much better advice than I can give.

All I’ve got is – research your doubts to death and then experiment.

How do you revise, rewrite, or otherwise edit?

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