How I Rewrite My Fantasy Novel (A NaNoWriMo Insight)

I've been getting into the whole "inspiring words" thing for cover art. Apologies.

I’ve been getting into the whole “inspiring words” thing for cover art. Apologies.

Hello fellow NoWris.

While I’ve spent a whole lot of time not writing this past month, and even though I’m supposed to write in the NOW, with editing in the future, it’s important for me to map the steps out. Usually I have a pad of paper beside my keyboard where I scrawl, in barely legible handwriting, something about “develop society” or “name of continent is ___________.” It’s not complex, I manage to keep it separate from the rest of the book, and I move forward while glancing back every once in a while. This is important for my writing process, and maybe by explaining how I rewrite my novels, after finishing the first draft, some of you might find inspiration or disagreement. I hope. 🙂

So I blast through my first draft, a la inspiration, muse, time crunch, or NaNoWriMo. It’s on screen. It’s ready to sit and percolate like grapes into wine. But if you know anything about making wine, you know it takes more than dumping grapes in a barrel and sealing it off for a few months before drinking it. Usually.

It is the same with my rewrite. My early novels started with excerpts, moments of blasting inspiration I had to write down. Boom. Fight sequence. Boom. Dream sequence. Boom. Conversation. I still do it, after a fashion. Especially if it came from a dream I had the night before. As I grew older, my writing has become much more linear. Depending on where you are, as writers (and you don’t have to go in the same order I did; it’s just me), you’ll need a certain amount of fleshing.

I’ll assume none of you are new to deviantart (and if you are, check it out here). After casually browsing that site for over ten years, I come across a whole lot of how-to’s in Photoshop art. Usually it starts with a sketch (outline), shading and basic color is added for a two dimensional shape (rough draft), crisp lines are then added behind that, to accentuate mood and the like (1st read-through), and usually it ends with lighting, foreground, and background details, if it isn’t already a nature environment (2nd read-through). Writing is exactly like this process for me.

Here are a few recommendations to improve your book, as experience has taught me, after the rough draft is written (1st read-through):

  • Sometimes you need more peripheral people. Seriously. Whether it’s an epic fantasy trilogy where a group of five hobbits go on a legendary quest or a romance where the two (or more) lovers don’t leave a sleepy town the whole book, adding more people adds to the scope. I don’t necessarily mean speaking parts. I don’t necessarily mean a whole army. Even if it’s a sentence. Even if it’s half a sentence. “A scout troop obscured the barber’s windows, garbage bags over their shoulders, laughing and skipping and picking up cigarette butts.” Boom. The town exists (I say this because it’s a great, easy, simple way to add depth to your rewrite). You CAN have too much detail, and constantly talking about everything going on around the character definitely bogs the flow.
  • Give out more speaking roles. You aren’t paying these made-up characters. You can have as many people talk about whatever they want whenever they want. Try to keep it relevant, or at least metaphorically concise, but again, this is a great way to flesh things out. Again, I don’t mean to have some random guy crawl out of a rock and start praising the restorative properties of snake venom sans request. Background noise, when properly applied, adds depth. Random musings, sometimes, adds satire. It’s gold either way you look at it.
  • Have a meaningful conversation with one of your characters–not directly related to the goal of the book. Pick something you find inspiring or shared, relevant or on your mind. Equality of gender, race, religion, the frustration of watching a loved one die, finding a job, making the right coffee, God, the lack of God, insecurities brought about from weight, height, self-esteem, parenting, growing up, etc. Inject your essence into the book. It’s your book. And even if it isn’t directly related, it develops one or multiple characters, and do you know what? I can’t be the only one out there that does this: I know inspired writing when I read it. Absolutely. Why? It takes on a life of its own. It stands out from the rest of the book like a shining light through clouds. Sometimes, a single conversation elevates the novel to dynamic heights. Sometimes, the whole novel is inspired.
  • Give every important character a hobby, but don’t necessarily talk about it. This is fun, because I use deduction to figure out who does what. This one person, in my high fantasy Nautilus, loves to write. She also loves light-colored clothing. So? She has a secret way of cleaning her clothes that get the ink stains out–and blood–and somehow manages to make any not-white clothing a shade lighter in color. It isn’t important to the story, but it adds depth to the character and gives her something to do. She exists for a reason, if only to clean clothes and write (sounds like me).
  • Make your scenery do storytelling work. I can’t emphasize this enough: your scenery talks. Jung/Frye archetypal symbolism discussions aside, your trees can denote calm or tension. Your grasses, the same. Your barren desert or dilapidated bungalow or warm cottage. They talk if you let them. So let them.
  • Get in other characters’ heads. Regardless of 1st person, 3rd person limited or omniscient, or the dreaded choose-your-own-adveture 2nd person, you wrote your story, chapters, scenes, with certain people in mind. So, change perspective and look at the other ones. It might bring some inspiring moments.
  • Take note of symbolism, for no matter what you think, your book is rife with it. Be it one girl always wears silver, or another character sees a wolf, or a third character always seems to gravitate toward the color green, or the whole book takes place beside a lake, these things are important to the story. Some might say imperative. Don’t forget about them.

Again, these are just things I learned while rewriting several novels. We all have our own processes. And for those currently writing and don’t want to think about this, maybe keep those thoughts in mind while you’re writing. The more you focus on this, the better you’ll be as a writer.

Remember, You can always remove whatever you think is irrelevant in the second read-through. This is what the second read-through is all about: balance, tying off loose ends, grammar, continuity, spelling, etc. Get it all on the canvas in the first read-through, so to speak, so you can move forward with your story. It’s always better to have too much on the page than too little.


4 thoughts on “How I Rewrite My Fantasy Novel (A NaNoWriMo Insight)

  1. See, I’m a too little girl from the beginning. I tend to add and add and add. Something that starts out at 50,000 words becomes a cool 100,000 by the time I’m done. Then again, my first draft is basically a stream of consciousness pooping experiment smeared on the bathroom wall that is my brain. Three pages of action, seven pages of Main Character Molly smoking in the car, a page f dream sequence, ten pages of bar fight, featuring the complete lyrics of Leonard Cohen, so on and so forth, until the story is stumbled through.

    Good point about symbolism. Symbolism happens, often, I think, in our subconscious minds–we don’t set out with the intention of making wolves symbolize fear of conflict, but they do by the time we’re done writing. Best thing you can do is make note of it in your read through and see if you can make it work for you in other places.

    • Hey that’s cool to do, too. Of Salt and Wine ended at 70k words when I first finished. I mean, it was super short, relatively speaking. Now I’m broaching 115k. He has a lot to say. haha

      And I love the images. Hahaha Symbolism just is, you know? Like, it’s there. And does its thing. And when you look back, aha!

      So deep I wasn’t.

  2. These are great pointers. I love reading about others’ processes so I can see if there is anything I can take for myself.
    I’m always surprised at how much symbolism I end up putting in and then “discovering” on the next read through. Most of the time they are happy accidents, but they tie in to the story or ending so perfectly I cannot imagine the story without them. The subconscious is an amazing thing.
    I like how you liken the writing process to the art making/drawing process. How did I never notice the similarities? Hello, I went to art school and have been making art for a long time. How did I not put 2 and 2 together? Talk about oblivious to the obvious.

    • Yes! I feel the more well rounded the writer is (among other things), he has a strong assimilation of symbolism in his work. Usually, he doesn’t know it when he writes it. It’s just there, and needed, and conveys the abstract pattern that is storytelling.

      I feel any artistic process is similar in one way or another. Singing, songwriting, painting, book-construction, sculpting. It’s like honing a blade, stone by stone by leather belt by leather belt. Until, like Pratchett’s Death, you’re sharpening your scythe on words. Haha Apologies if you haven’t read him.

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