The Rewrite

Laurie King is not, as regular followers of this blog will know, a writer who outlines her books before she begins them.  Some people call this being a pantser (as in, by the seat of her…) but I refer to it as Organic, as opposed to the Organized outliner.

(In our writing manual Crime and Thriller Writing, my more Organized co-author and I came up with these terms after starting with more, shall we say, judgmental labels. I had to admit that there’s no point in alienating the outliners by calling them “anal”.)

At any rate, my brain doesn’t work by planning out a story before it starts. I’ll sometimes list a sequence of events, to keep an upcoming section in order, but when it gets more than a chapter or two into the future, I feel the fog descend, the blindfold tighten.

That means, the rewrite is where the novel is actually written.  A first draft is a short, meandering, half-developed heap of paper that no one but an experienced editor can make any sense out of.  Its main job, for writers like me, is to lay out the machinery of the plot, to set its unadorned and largely meaningless pieces in order and make sure that the events and people mesh.  The rewrite is when that….okay, call it an outline, even though it’s a 300-page one—is turned from a list of events involving half-developed characters into a full-blooded narrative with people we care about.

Again, some writers produce a first draft by throwing in everything including the kitchen sink, the cleaning supplies beneath it, and the dirty dishes waiting to go into the dishwasher.  I write a sparse first draft.  The oft-given rule of “Cut every third word” would leave me with short stories.  Instead, my second draft puts on maybe thirty percent of its original length, for a final version of 400-450 pages.

But I do cut.  And often, it hurts to put stuff into the Cuts folder.  Clever asides, interesting speculations, material that develops a back-story… chop.

I do always go back through that Cuts folder, to make sure there’s nothing there that’s really too good, too illuminating, too intriguing to leave out.  And I almost never find anything worth fighting to find a place for.

Every so often, I have a battle with my editor over cutting material.  Sometimes I hold out, and make only the briefest of compromises.  Other times I let them take the argument, because really, was Stephen King’s The Stand a better book once he succeeded in getting its massive cuts put back in?  I sure didn’t think so.  Sometimes editors are right.

But it also means I occasionally have material that can go into the supplemental pages.  I don’t know that I’ll have much from my Riviera Gold Cuts folder—certainly nothing like the vastly whittled-down Testimony that got pulled out of The Language of Bees (which, if you haven’t seen, is the second link here)—but it’s possible.

But if I end up with a scene where Russell dances the Charleston and I have to cut it, I promise to put it on the book’s page.  Just for you guys.

(Other blog posts about the craft of writing are here.)


  1. Jack McKinney on December 10, 2019 at 2:13 pm

    I’m not too proud to admit that I was unable to get through the second paragraph of this post without snorting out loud. Now I’m going to have to order ‘Crime and Thriller Writing’…

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