Power Your Rewrite

To Rewrite, Rewire or Rip Out…

In the process of making a stab at rewriting my latest work in progress, I had an epiphany, of sorts. Well, not a lightning bolt to the temple kind of moment, but more of the rub your socks on the carpet kind of jolt. Enough to get my attention, but thankfully not enough to turn me into crispy bits.

Over the years, I’ve had this love-hate thing with revision. It wasn’t “creative,” or it was “boring” to sit there and reread a manuscript for the umpteenth time. Part of that perception was because revision is hard, it’s ugly and revealing. Revealing, in that the creative nugget you shat onto the pages is a rancid, disconnected pile. This – this is what I’ve been toiling over for months? It’s fricken depressing.

Manuscript Mess image from elisabeth d'orcy via flickr creative commons

Manuscript Mess
image from elisabeth d’orcy via flickr creative commons

I’m elbow deep in manuscript entrails, trying to figure out why a character, or a plot point connected to the story line. If the work in progress was a living, breathing thing, I’d be contacting the next of kin and making arrangements for a dignified recycling. Since I’m the only one willing to claim this monster, I’m thinking fire. Fire is good. These plot points don’t connect. Connect. That’s when my mini-ephiphany showed itself.

Rather than stitch together broken parts and reanimate the manuscript into a half man, half zonkey creature, I started thinking of the story as an electric circuit. If the smallest capacitor, wire or connection is faulty, then the whole thing fails. The circuit isn’t completed.

The Disconnect image from excelglenn via flickr creative commons

The Disconnect
image from excelglenn via flickr creative commons

The story line and character arcs must flow through the manuscript and power the lightbulb at the conclusion.  My job is to be the electrician and tighten all the little wire nuts, and diagnose the missed connections. That character that pops up in chapter three, never to be seen again, is a missed connection. Rewire that sucker into the story, or cap it off and rip that unnecessary wire out of the box. Remember that neat little plot twist you came up with? The electrician tells you that it does nothing to the lightbulb at the end of your story. It’s like a light switch that’s not connected to anything. Flipping that little gimmick on and off is nothing but a distraction and it need to be eliminated from the circuit.

A wiring diagram for your story needn’t be look like a control panel for a nuclear power plant.

Too Complicated? image from kendra via flickr creative commons

Too Complicated?
image from kendra via flickr creative commons

Sometimes, simple is better. Simple, clean and easy for the reader to turn on their own lightbulb.

Simple Connection image by yxmox via flickr creative commons

Simple Connection
image by yxmox via flickr creative commons

You can have a complex, twisting plot with all sorts of surprises hidden along the way. I just need to remember to rewire the manuscript to make sure all the switches work, because there is nothing worse than getting to the bottom of the basement and having the lights go out. The switch, plug or dongle that has no purpose in the circuit has to go.

It’s just a different way to visualize the rewrite and revision process.  Power up your rewrite. In the immortal words of Johnny Cochran, “If it does not click, you must not quit.” Or something like that.





  1. Oh boy, brings back memories of having to re-write half a manuscript because the time line made no sense. But you’re right – it’s gotta click! Best of luck with the dreaded re-writes!

  2. Thanks, Jan! I get too attached to all the “little darlings” and this seems to help me get some distance and look at it in a more abstract way. Got to make it click!

  3. Love the similes, Jim! This is a great way to think of story as a whole. I’m doing the same, making sure everything clicks, lights, and brightens at the right time.

  4. Thanks, Sue! I’m unplugging wires in the latest manuscript right now…where did I put those fuses? I’m starting on a prison crime post for you also.

  5. stephanie710 · · Reply

    I like your thinking-as always. I’m in the same crowded boat, my friend. I. Hate. Revisions. I told my partner that writing the manuscript was easier than writing these damn revisions. Tough. Like you, I’ve been at it for months but I agree, it’s all a matter of our mindset. Thanks for this because I really, really needed to read it today. 🙂

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