Getting a Novel Right Part 1 - Rewriting
by Marg McAlister
When you finish your novel,
resist the impulse to simply bundle the thing up and send it away with a kiss and a
First, you need some distance from the manuscript, so you can
look at it objectively. Perhaps you need to recruit a few people to glance over it for you. You should check your
novel from several different angles: first, the obvious things like spelling, typographical errors and grammar,
then the not-so-obvious things like characterisation, motivation, style, transitions and
Yes, you've probably already fixed up a lot of those things
as you've worked on your novel. What youhaven'tdone is let it mature for a few weeks so you can
come back and read it through as a finished novel. This is essential. Here are the steps you should be going
through in the editing/rewriting stages:
- Leave the novel for as long as possible before coming back to read it 'fresh'. Six
months would be ideal, but most of you would faint at the very idea. A month is good. You get the general
idea: the longer the time period, the more you'll be able to go through it from a reader's
perspective.Leave it for at LEAST two weeks.
- Read through the novel for immediate impact. Don't stop to make detailed notes or to
rewrite. If you dictate your impressions on to a tape, you won't have to slow down much as you read.
Scribble on the manuscript as you go-briefcomments. You're trying to view it from a reader's perspective. Mark any
sections that seem slow, boring, awkward or that simply 'don't sound right'. Write in the margins
comments like: 'char. boring'; 'slow', 'use dialogue here', 'dramatise!' and so on.
- Read through the manuscript more slowly a second time, stopping to
analysewhythe 'slow bits' are slow,whatis wrong with the dialogue, and so on. Too much introspection? Does the
story stop for a descriptive passage? Does a flashback slow the story down? Does a character behave
- Do a line edit-that is, read through for spelling mistakes, typos, incorrect usage and
grammatical errors. A computer can do a lot of this work for you, but it can't do it all.
Is it tight? Have you eliminated all
unnecessary words, phrases, sentences, flashbacks, descriptive passages etc.?
Is it clear? Does the reader know what's
going on at all times? Have you checked for ambiguity?
Does it have emotional depth? Do we identify
with the main characters' problems? Do we want to see them win? Do we want to see the villain behind bars? Do we
worry with them, suffer with them, laugh with them and triumph with them?
By going through these checks, you will give your novel the
best chance of achieving publication.
Occasionally, however, when an author reads through a novel,
her or she realises that rewriting is not enough. The novel needs (at least in places) to be completely
Part 2 of this
article will look at
the REDRAFTING process.