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When to rewrite your novel


serc.carleton.eduLately, a number of people have contacted me requesting feedback for their writing projects. One of the big questions that keeps cropping up is: “Do I need to do a major rewrite?” This is a hard question to answer, and my usual response is: That depends on the details.

With any writing project, large or small, a solid plan and reliable structure are essential. I frequently return to the drawing board and map my work to check that it’s still doing what I originally intended. This is important even if the finish line is in sight – in fact, especially when the finish line is in sight, because by this stage I’m usually so close to my work that I can’t see the flaws anymore.

Mapping my work even at this late stage can be really useful – and it doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll then have to rewrite the entire book. It’s a checkpoint process that identifies areas of strength and weakness, and highlights sections where the story’s focus and the reader’s attention have been diverted.

Before I do any rewriting, I try to objectively analyse my work, chapter by chapter. By unpacking the micro layers of the story, I can identify what’s there, and then decide if anything has to be removed or added. A chapter breakdown also provides me with a much more comprehensive overview of the whole book, and pretty soon I know what’s working and what still needs fixing.

Here are 10 questions I try to answer for each chapter:

  1. What stage/s of the Hero’s Journey does this chapter reflect? Is it a physical reflection of the journey, a metaphorical one, or both?
  2. What particular events/characters/themes have been mentioned in this chapter? Do they really belong here? Do I need to move them to an earlier/later chapter?
  3. How are the characters feeling? Have I shown this for every character, not just the protagonist/s?
  4. Is every character behaving in character? Does their dialogue reflect their thoughts and feelings?
  5. What’s happening around the characters? Have I included all the necessary contextual information, e.g. time, season, weather, temperature etc.?
  6. What is the purpose of this chapter? What does it do to progress the story?
  7. How do the characters change/develop in this chapter?
  8. What subplots appear in this chapter? Are they essential to driving the story forward or can I do without them?
  9. What’s the main emotion/theme/event that drives this chapter and does the language I’ve used reflect this?
  10. Is the narrative voice consistent with the rest of the story?

Once I’ve completed my analysis at the chapter level, I generally have a much clearer picture of the overarching structure of my book, and this helps identify strengths and flaws.

It also answers the big question: “Do I need to do a major rewrite?”


If you liked this post, you may also like this one or this one.


Some useful resources:

Between the Lines: Master the subtle elements of fiction writing by Jessica Page Morell

The Plot Thickens: 8 ways to bring fiction to life by Noah Lukeman

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 20.04.2013 5:51 PM

    Reblogged this on Jcckeith and commented:
    I found this really helpful

  2. 19.05.2013 9:48 PM

    Informative, clever post, my friend!

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