There are tons of degrees of rewrites: the little tweaks here and there; the nuke-it-from-orbit, scorched-earth policy; and everything in between. The sort of rewrites I’m conducting right now are part of a larger effort to expand the outline of a manuscript, all the way from A to Z. New scenes get inserted, old scenes that no longer fit get removed.
There are also plenty of previously written scenes that still fit into the outline pretty well- but by the time I’m done with Scenes A through Q and get to Scene R, for instance, so much has changed concerning events in the story, characters, etc. that Scene R as written may no longer make sense or be adequate.
So, what to do with Scene R?
There’s a strong temptation to edit Scene R in-place- leave things mostly as they are, and just fluff here and there as needed. However, I think with A through Q being different, it’s better to give R the chance to breathe and be what it needs to be now.
Here’s how I do that…
1) I avoid re-reading Scene R. By this point, it’s been a long time since I’ve looked at it (around 5 months), and I’ve forgotten most of what’s there. I don’t want to remind myself, because I might be tempted to keep things that don’t really fit anymore.
2) I open a different word processor. On my Mac, it’s TextEdit. In Windows, it would be Notepad.
3) In a fresh new document, away from my manuscript, I outline what I think Scene R should be now. I start by writing down the big events in sequence- then I go and add detail to each event, chaining them together. Sorta like this:
Characters enter The Place- describe
Characters encounter The Thing in The Place
And so on.
I have the rewrites of Scenes A-Q fresh in my mind (sort of, LOL). I know who the characters are now, versus who they were pre-expansion. I keep in mind what new events are shaping the outline and affecting the characters. I try to remember what everyone is thinking and feeling, and consider the scene from every point of view.
4) Only after I’m happy with the quasi-outline do I revisit old Scene R. Hopefully, I’m horrified by what I see! New Scene R should be better!
I take a snapshot of old Scene R using Scrivener (creating a backup copy), then go through and see if anything previously written can be salvaged for the new Scene R. Good lines, good dialogue? If so, great- I copy and paste that stuff over.
5) I delete everything in the old Scene R that no longer fits. New Scene R and the salvaged bits are pasted in its place.
6) I flesh out the new scene. In a first draft, I’m putting down sentences, not really worrying how good they are, just trying to squeeze out every detail I possibly can. I revisit the prose quality later.
This is obviously more work than just modifying old Scene R directly, but I think it leads to a better, truer result. Otherwise, there’s too much temptation to twist things to conform to what you previously wrote, even if it makes no sense, simply because that’s what you’ve already written.
How do you like to handle rewrites? Let me know in the comments!