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Monday, February 19

The Difference Between a Revision, a Rewrite, and a Redraft

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Before I dive in…I’m guest posting over at Writers in the Storm today, talking about The Benefits of Writing a Novel “Just for Fun.” Come over over and say hello.

My current work in progress is one I keep going back to. It’s been written, revised, and redrafted more times than I care to count, and as I’m doing yet another pass on it, I realized I approach it differently depending on what “stage” it’s in.

I have multiple drafts and plotlines of this novel, so I have dozens of favorite scenes and subplots. I have beloved characters who have appeared in one version, but not another. I even have versions where I cut one point of view character out entirely.

It’s almost a Frankendraft, but not quite. I think that’s because no matter what state it’s in when I go back to it, I always have to rewrite the third act (the ending is the reason I haven’t gotten anywhere with this dumb story yet). It’s never officially been “done” so it’s still a work in progress.

The first hundred pages is pretty solid. The next hundred pages (more or less) needs work to cut the old stuff and blend in the new stuff. The third hundred pages needs to be entirely new material.

Which means I’m revising the first chunk, rewriting the second, and redrafting the third. It’s takes a slightly different mindset for each section of the novel to keep the story on track.

Let’s look at the difference between revision, rewriting, and redrafting.

Revising Your Novel


A revision is when you’re only changing the text, and not the story. You’re looking for the best way to convey the information, the right amount of description, the right dialogue vs. internalization balance, and all the technical aspects that make up good writing.

The scenes are the way they ought to be, the story unfolds as you want it, and while you might shift a few things around or even delete entire chapters, you’re basically taking what’s there and making it better. The book works, even if it needs tweaks here and there.

Editing is a big part of revision, because you’re bringing out the best in the text.

The Key Aspects of a Revision
  • The focus is on the text and flow of the scenes
  • Changes are fairly minor and reflect the established story
  • You’re satisfied with the overall story

Revision Mindset:
It’s about taking a good draft and making it better, weeding out what doesn’t serve the story and polishing what does. What’s there is fundamentally good, so the questions are more about “Is this the best it can be?” and not so much “Is this the right thing for the story?”

(Here’s more on when to revise what)

Rewriting Your Novel


A rewrite is more substantial, because the story itself is changing. The previous draft didn’t work, and you have multiple plots, subplots, or character arcs that just didn’t do what you expected them to. Maybe you made some bad decisions or got sidetracked by a flashy idea that didn’t pan out, and now it’s time to trash it and fix it.

On the upside, you usually know where you went wrong and have a decent idea on what to do to get the novel back on track. Some scenes can be salvaged and reworked, so you’re not creating new scenes or coming up with new plots every day.

There’s little to no editing in a rewrite, because the text isn’t ready for polishing yet.

The Key Aspects of a Rewrite
  • The focus is on reworking an existing story to bring out the core idea
  • Large chunks of the novel are often scraped or reworked, but the boned are there to build on
  • Goals, conflicts, and motivations frequently change to reflect the new direction of the story
  • You’re happy with the idea, but the story isn’t quite unfolding the way you want it to yet

Rewriting Mindset: It’s about buckling down and finding the story you know is there. Sure, there were a few detours, and maybe a few chapters that were a terrible idea, but you learned a lot by following those dead ends and have a much better idea of how to put this story together now. You can probably save a lot of scenes if you rework them or shift them around in the story, so there’s work to be done, but it’s not insurmountable.

(Here’s more on how to be your own book doctor)

Redrafting Your Novel


The redraft is the nuclear option of writing. What you have doesn’t work, and you’re better off throwing it all out and starting from scratch than trying to fix it. Nothing you’ve already written is salvageable, and trying to keep it will only make things worse and lead you back down the dark path that got you here. It’s best to go back to square one, and start over.

The Key Aspects of a Redraft
  • The focus is on the original idea and how you can get back to it
  • Nothing you’ve already drafted will work—it’s too fundamentally flawed to save
  • You have to change your approach to the story in a significant way
  • You’re not happy at all with what’s there

Redrafting Mindset: It’s about going back to the story’s roots and remembering why you loved the idea in the first place. You can’t try to save anything, because it’s all the wrong direction for the story. It doesn’t matter if you like it, you know in your gut it’s wrong for this book, and cutting ties is the best thing for everyone.

(Here’s more on filling plot holes in a story)

You might have an entire manuscript at any of these stages, or you might have one with parts of the book in different stages (like me right now).

In my current manuscript:

I revised the first chunk that was in decent shape. I focused on strengthening the story and plot so it would be in a solid place for me to run with when I got to the ugly spots in the middle. I laid the groundwork for ideas that would blossom in the middle and become stronger elements of the story and the new direction I saw it going in.

I rewrote the second chunk so it grew from the solid first act and built upon the established themes and subplots. Some scenes I could re-purpose, changing the internalization but leaving the action as is. What happened was fine, but the reasons why and the results because of it changed. I ignored what I had done before, and kept asking, “How does this work with the first act and the direction it now goes in?” If it didn’t serve that plot, I deleted it or rewrote it so it did.

I’ll be starting the redraft in a few days, and the last third of the novel will be all new material. I have a new ending planned, several new subplots, and some deliciously fun storylines that appeared during the rewrite that tie the whole thing together (yay!). I’ve kept none of the original draft(s), and I’ve outlined an entirely new third act based on the rewritten second act.

It’s taken a very long time to get here, but I feel good about this version of the story. I think I’ll finally have the book I knew this idea could be, but it’s taken a lot of work. It’s been hard not to go back to older versions and steal a scene here and there to make my daily word count goal or feel like I’m getting more done. The book has become a “new” book, and I have to approach it as such or I’ll wind up with the same mess I have the last ten or twelve times.

(Here’s more on shifting between drafting and editing)

Some books go through a lot of drafts, and what we need to do at different stages of those drafts changes. If you have a tough story in the works, don’t be afraid to step back and look objectively at what the draft needs from you. Are you really revising, or does some of it need rewriting or redrafting? Trust your instincts and your story and give it what it needs to be successful.

Have you ever had a tough book that needed different things at different stages? How do you approach revising a difficult book?

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Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book.

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

When she's not writing novels, she's teaching other writers how to improve their craft. She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing.
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14 comments:

  1. This is my life right now. I've finally returned to the novel I drafted during NaNo 2016 when I became sick about a third of the way through the month. To the first plot point is solid and has only required revising. I love it. After that, though, it's a Franken-mess, but with exceptions. There are what I'll call "anchor scenes." It was as if my clouded, wandering mind occasionally crossed paths with where I needed to be. Those scenes only need rewritten. I'm thankful there are many of them clustered in the last quarter of the novel and enough sprinkled elsewhere to act as a framework. I just scrapped four scenes in a row. They served no purpose. Today I'm going to start drafting what I should have written. It took awhile to come up with a plan, but I'm finally there. So, yeah, as always, you're exactly right.

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    1. Sounds like we have the same type of manuscript :) I hope this is the final draft for both of us (baring normal revising of course, lol)

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  2. Thanks, Janice, for shedding some light on the strange phase my novel is going through. I'm at 'draft 5' and now realise that involves revising some scenes - mainly in the first half - rewriting some key scenes with a new POV as my protagonist has change, and finally re-drafting the climax-related scenes. This post has shed light on that process. 'Revising Your Novel' is my go-to guide on my desk, although I'm also using some editing software called Fictionary.

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    1. Aw, thanks! Fun title for writing software. Best of luck on your revisions

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  3. I like how you clarified the differences because I thought I was doing a re-write, when I'm actually doing the dreaded re-draft. But re-drafting is a must, for the reasons you specified. Plus, I had to up the age of my protag.

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    1. It's a silly thing, but I've found that just specifying the terms changes perspective and can make all the difference. I see it happen all the time.

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  4. Timely advice as always. My draft is somewhere between a rewrite and a revision with the occasional new scene needed. I had this idea that after four drafts it would be done... I see now that each novel takes as many drafts/revisions as it needs to be the story in your head!

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    1. They really do. I think my average is 3-5 drafts, but I've had more and less depending on the book.

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  5. I'm going back to a novel I wrote a couple of years ago. In a nutshell the protagonist was poorly drawn out. This opinion did not just come from me but other writers as well. On the other hand the foundation, the bare bones, of the story is solid which will make it a lot easier once the problem with the protagonist is fixed. It's nice to see I am not the only one who has faced this problem.

    Great stuff as always. Thank you.

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    1. I think a lot of us do. It's part of the process, really.

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  6. Thanks for much for the clarification! @sheilamgood at Cow Pasture Chronicles

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  7. Before I got sick last month, I thought I was working on a rewrite of a novel I'd love to publish eventually. However, reading this post, I, now, realize what I want to do is a redraft. For some unknown reason, the task doesn't seem as daunting.

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    1. It's odd how changing the way we describe things changes how we think about them. But I do it, and I see it work all the time. Hmm...maybe I need a post about this? Thanks!

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