Rewrite or Revise, That is the Question

This is perhaps the most important question a writer needs to answer in the beginning of the editing stage of a novel. Just exactly how much work does this novel need. It's easy to focus on editing down the words, not as easy to look at your novel holistically and see what is working and what isn't. So let's set up a checklist to see if you need to revise or rewrite. For this checklist, we are considering for the whole novel.

It is possible to apply most of this to each scene, which is something to consider as you work through your next draft.


Rewrite                                                                        Revise
The plot falls apart                                                       There are extra scenes

The book is actually a series                                        There are a couple of missing scenes

The MC is actually a SC                                              The plot is messy

Re-ordering the plot changes later scenes                    Small details change when reordering scenes

A loose thread completely unravels                             A loose thread can be cut

A SC is actually a MC                                                 A minor character upgrades to supporting

Change formal diction to informal                              There are grammar errors

Changing POV                                                             Changing a verb tense

There are probably several others you can think of from your own writing, but just ask these questions. In my experience, a revision isn't any easier than a rewrite. In fact, in some ways a rewrite is easier, because the novel I already made many of the decisions in the novel and all I have to do rewrite the plot point with characters I know well. For the things that I like and are working, I can always just drop them back in at an appropriate time.

On the other hand, problems in the novel's pacing, story arc, or characterization may only need a revision. While it might be a bit more pesky to hunt down all of those threads and make sure to re-weave them back together, it can be done and all of the things that already work do not need to be discarded. Revising is not necessarily more time consuming than a rewrite, but it does require focus and close attention to detail. That can be a very good thing.

If you reach the end of your initial review process and only find a few things that need to be cut to make it a better read, then great. You are well on your way to having a finished novel.

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