Re-write to get it Right

So, I’ve taken the plunge and entered the Wheeler Centre’s Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. A good friend of my partner’s sent me the link for it, and after a little consideration, I thought I’d give it a go. Nothing to lose and all that.
However readers of this blog will know (if there are any) that I haven’t written anything of note since its creation and far beyond that. Indeed, the irony is I’ve spent more time blogging about not writing than actually writing itself. Go figure.
So not having anything fresh to put forward for the competition, I was reluctant to enter. But after thinking about it for a while I decided to go with my second novel, that I wrote around 2006/7. This meant of course that I had to do a substantial re-write to get the novel up to date, polished, and ready to be scrutinised.
Re-writing is a peculiar experience. Reading the manuscript again after all these years felt extremely strange; Some of it I could remember, some not. I smiled at some bits, cringed at others. And throughout I had this feeling that the novel had been written by someone else – someone very much like me, but somehow not. A mirror image, perhaps. Although that sounds ridiculous, I think there is an element of truth to it. Any piece of writing reflects in some way the thoughts, feelings and experiences of the writer at that time. I’m obviously a different man to the one of 2006, I’ve shed a few skins since then. If the characters came to me now instead of then, would the novel have turned out differently? Almost certainly. So every novel is a product of its time, and I got a strong sense of this on re-reading.
When it comes to editing there are loads of problems to address. The main one is length. I think every writer is guilty of padding, particularly early on in a novel when the pace of the story is rough in the mind. I have probably done two edits on the manuscript before this re-write and I still managed to knock another 2000 words or so out. I enjoy that part of the process actually; every novel is collapsible to some degree and it’s good to get into the habit of deleting stuff that is irrelevant to the story, no matter how well written. You have to be ruthless in this regard. If I find it boring or extraneous, the reader surely will too.
Continuity errors crop up on a regular basis too. It is amazing how these things can be missed, even on revision. It’s the usual thing – incorrect colours of clothing, a character entering a scene when it is impossible for them to be there, etc. Errors of knowledge came up quite a lot in my manuscript. I had a couple of occasions where a character said or did something which they should have had no knowledge of. For example, towards the end of the novel there are chapters that run at virtually identical times from different viewpoints and a character had knowledge of the protagonists location without any justifiable reason for doing so. I only noticed that this time around and added some extra content so that it made sense.
The novel was set at the same time it was written so I had to remember that in my editing. Although it’s only 9 years ago a lot has changed since, particularly in the world of technology. I had to remind myself that it was plausible to still have a Walkman in those days and that not everybody had a mobile phone. Prices of things had to be correct too. These are only small details but they stand out a mile if they are incorrect. Having to do this gave me added respect for authors who write historical fiction. Making sure everything is historically accurate must be nigh-on impossible, for readers do notice and they are not afraid to point it out.
The main reason for editing in my mind is to take out everything that isn’t to the point of the story, and make sure everything that remains is taut, and hopefully well-written. The most oft-repeated question asked of writers is: ‘So, what’s the book about?’ You should have an answer, and everything in the manuscript should highlight that answer.
With regards to the competition, the shortlist is announced on May 19. The judges may well have already read and discarded my manuscript, most likely in fact. All the same, I’m glad I entered and I learnt more about the craft in the process, which can only be useful.

One thought on “Re-write to get it Right

  1. Pingback: Playing With Fire – The Beautiful Fight – Tales from a Writing Novice

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