A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
At some point, I’m sure you’ve heard the old “Writing is rewriting” mantra. BUT one cannot rewrite what has not yet been written.
Your story does not have to be perfect, but it does have to exist.
Assuming you’ve finished your first draft, DO NOT go back to the beginning as soon as you type “The End”. The longer you can bear to leave the manuscript you have just finished, the more perspective you will gain.
Six minutes/days/weeks later the fun can begin…
The three ‘R’s
Don’t read your book like you wrote it. Read it like someone else has. No pen to jot things down in the margin, no skipping bits you think you can remember. Read. Every. Word.
Like a cow. Let your story ferment. Gaze into the middle distance, chew the cud. Figure out how you feel about it.
Get a notebook, scribble down your reaction to reading your first draft. Too long? Too short? Too confusing/repetitive/rushed/like the book you were reading at the time/much sex and swearing even for a YA novel, Non?
Pratt’s patented pace-notesTM
Pace-notes is a term I’ve stolen from rally driving. They’re the instructions that the co-driver reads to the driver as he races across each stage of the course. They form a kind of abbreviated verbal map of what happens. They stick closely to the truth and they give you a sense of the course as a whole.
When I edit, I read a chapter then I write a summary paragraph of what happened in that chapter (I don’t allow myself to flip back through what I’ve just read, memory only). After I’ve written the summary, I make additional notes in each of these categories:
Once I’ve written pace-notes for my manuscript, I read them over. They show where the tricky bits lie, the boring bits, the repetitive bits. It’s like zooming out… and gaining perspective.
With this new perspective, I review my five categories across the whole book.
Write a synopsis. Be brutal. No more than two sides of 1.15 spaced, 11pt, Font of Your Choice. This will force you to focus on the most important parts of your story. It will draw a firm line between your plot and your subplot and it will show you the bits you can skim.
Don’t like writing synopses? No one does. But if you’re struggling with writing one for your own book, try writing one for something else you know really well. Crack open the contents list of Prisoner of Azkaban and aim to summarise that bad boy in two sides of A4. Summarise book after book and you’ll see how plots crystallise through a synopsis.
In which chapters did you fancy a nap? When did you put your own book down and not want to pick it back up? What bits were you tempted to pass over to get to the next bit? Or was your book so packed with action that you can’t quite differentiate between chapter 5 and chapter 9? (Stories need to be compelling, but not relentless.)
A good test, is to be reading a published book alongside your own – any time you think you’d prefer to be reading that (either because you’re bored or you’re exhausted and need a break) is a good indication of the weaker parts of your own story.
I do a lot of character work before I start a book, but I revisit it all at this stage too. Having read over your work, you should be able to chart every character’s journey, but you also need to be able to firm up their identity. Think about every single character the same way as your main ones – what they like, who they hate, where they live, what meal they’d order in McDonalds. Every character needs a reason to exist on the page and to do this, you need to have given them a life off the page.
Found a character you can’t be arsed to do this for? Cut them. Found a character who likes all the same things as another? Combine them.
And, like I said, I do a lot of character work before I start. You do this too, right? So your characters’ diversity reflects the diversity of your readership? Now is a good time to double-check your defaults.
Time and space. I get together a calendar (doesn’t really matter whether it’s this year’s or not) and I write down what happens as it happens across the calendar. I mean, I’ve usually done this during the draft, but… I’m flakey and change my mind and my school timetables at the drop of a hat. Also seasons make a difference. If y’all have been sitting in the park for six Friday nights in a row, the time the sun sets will have changed and so will the weather.
As for space, well, in every scene, do we know where the characters are, is there a sense of place? And, erm, is there anyone else occupying that space, because you need to address that too. If I have a conversation going on during a French lesson, the teacher’s going to notice and the people sitting nearby might hear. (Also, I really need not to hold every conversation during French lessons across seven days of the week…)
Anything that occurs to me after I’ve written notes on everything else.
So I end up with a shit ton of notes. Then I print out my manuscript, go through it chapter by chapter and apply every single note I’ve written to it, crossing stuff out, scribbling notes in the margin or writing whole scenes by hand in my note book using some kind of barely comprehensible cross-reference coding system.
Then I go back to the beginning, and I type ’em all in.
Repeat after me: writing is rewriting and rewriting is rewarding. (Kinda.)