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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkEntertainment | Books | July 2009 

Rewriting Fiction
email this pageprint this pageemail usDavid Lyons - PVNN

R.D. Lyons has written 3 novels, which can be purchased in Puerto Vallarta bookstores and at
At this moment, I should be revising my next novel. The draft manuscript is finished and my editor has completed the content edit, giving me some wonderful ideas for changes. I have a deadline to meet. The fact that instead I have decided to share some thoughts on rewriting is proof of one thing only - I am a procrastinator. Actually it's proof of another thing as well; I HATE rewriting.

One of the bullet points cited ad nauseam when fiction is discussed - right up there with "show, don't tell," is this one: "writing is rewriting." It took me decades to even begin to understand that first three word dictate. The second one may be easier to grasp at first glance, but application is another matter.

So there you are. You've spent perhaps a year or more writing your first manuscript. You've read and reread the work, corrected typo and grammatical errors, maybe even made changes where you thought they were needed. You might be justified in thinking your work is nearly done and if you're lucky - or a literary genius - perhaps it is. But for most of us of modest ability, there's still a long way to go.

For the novice fiction writer, there is a wealth of instructional material available on the craft of writing and all its components. There are whole books on subjects such as how to construct plots and create interesting characters.

But on the subject of rewriting, there is a dearth of instruction. Sorry authors, you're on your own, in deep water, and there's no life preserver. But if it is sink or swim, and you've invested so much effort to get to this point with your writing, you're not likely to give up. You've come too far.

As this point you have two choices. You can ask a friend or two to read your manuscript and offer comments, or you can go straight to a professional editor. If you choose to go the friend route, be aware that a friend, even a casual acquaintance, may be reluctant to give you a negative opinion. For the reader, it can be awkward if he or she doesn't like your work.

But you may know someone whose opinion you really want for a particular reason. First assure them you want their honest appraisal, and two, don't forget to offer some tangible offer of thanks when they give it. Treating them to lunch while they share their thoughts kills two birds with one stone.

Chances are, perhaps without even knowing it, they will comment on one or two things-the pace of your plotting, and/or the development of your characters. You might well discover, if you've asked more than one acquaintance to read your work, that that their comments are in direct contradiction.

I have a novel I've been working on for years, and have been fortunate to have numerous well-placed people in the publishing industry, as well as professional editors whose opinions I respect and gladly compensate, tell me things that are quite the opposite. I've been told not to be in too much of a hurry to tell my story. I've been told that certain idiosyncrasies I've given characters add interest, color and texture. I've been told that these same passages slow the pacing and should be scrapped. What's a writer to do?

Again, you're the master of your fate and that of your novel. You must decide how closely you want to follow the genre format, the differing rules of construction for a romance, a thriller, etc. Don't be afraid to break the rules, just know which ones you're breaking and why.

Even if you reject a suggestion for a change, be grateful for having received it. It has caused you to think through your work and helped you to focus. If this doesn't make your writing stronger, at least the end product is yours. You own it, for better or worse.

You may get a suggestion regarding chronology, i.e. a scene you have placed in the final third of the novel is more effective closer to the beginning. Before cutting and pasting, I recommend 3x5 cards. Write a brief description of each scene of your novel on a card, then place them in order. Then place them in the order recommended. Shuffle them like playing cards and try the scenes in random order. Rearrange them till they make sense, till you like the sequence. This works great for screen and playwriting, but is useful for fiction as well.

One thing you must remember, the change you make on page 273 of your novel quite likely has its set-up or antecedent on page 52, as if your subconscious mind knew where you were going all the time. Any change you make, no matter how small, will require that you return to page one, and read your work all over again to make sure everything lines up.

When you've absorbed the advice you've been given, and made the changes you've decided to make, then put your manuscript in a drawer, keep it out of sight, out of mind for as long as you reasonably can, several months at least.

When take your work out after this 'ageing' process, guess what? You are now ready to start all over again with the first page. If you read it through and decide it needs no further revisions, I suggest you treat yourself to the alcoholic beverage of choice from which you've abstained during this creative process. If you feel it still needs more work, then I suggest you treat yourself to the alcoholic beverage of choice to prepare for those daunting days ahead.

You too may come to view rewriting with the same passion as I.

A long-time resident of Puerto Vallarta, R.D. (David) Lyons is an accomplished author who has published 3 novels and contributes educational and entertaining articles to several local publications. When not writing, he can be found singing jazz standards to his own guitar accompaniment at several of the town's most popular venues.

Click HERE for more articles by David Lyons.

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