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Re-write Your Novel One Line at a Time

An idea for a novel has been wandering through your mind for days, weeks, or even years, with no time to write it. Now that time is available, you're anxious to use it, right? The story has been gestating long enough and is ready. But when you try to write the first sentence your mind goes blank and you don't know where to start. Frustrated, you begin to think you're not destined to become a writer after all. Where did the ideas go?

Stop, back up, and rethink. Most everyone has a story to tell, and it will demand to be written sooner or later, but only when it’s ready. Have you ever dealt with a stubborn child? Experienced writers have a difficult time forcing the story from their mind to their fingertips; new writers find it almost impossible because they haven't learned the importance of practice yet.

Remember, this is most important: no one gets it right in the first draft. My advice? Don't worry about it. Relax and let it happen freely, naturally.  Writing the first draft, outline, plan, whatever you choose to call it, freely, allows your creative side to get the story idea down on paper.  Then you have something to work with, something your logical side can make sense of.  Using free-writes as prompts gives you a head start and writing can be more fun.

I suggest beginning with a scene. The 55 word, flash and short-short story contests are excellent practice for writing complete scenes. The hosts usually give you a prompt, but you can always continue to expand it to suit yourself. Prompts are wonderful boosters to get you started; sort of like a kick in the pants. Take advantage of them.

Then, write another. Before long you’ll have enough for a chapter. Don’t write in terms of chapter though, because you’ll worry about keeping the story in sequential order. Write the end first if you want to. Write the battle from the middle of the story. Don’t be afraid to make changes as the story develops, you’ll discover new and better ideas. Chances are, you don’t carry a whole story in sequential order in your mind, and you have only vague ideas of the characters or theme. Maybe all you know for sure is the setting. Scenes are easier because they carry one idea at a time. If you work on that one idea enough, you'll learn how to bring it to life.

Action first - Reaction second. Write a scene of action, follow with a scene of reaction.

Write each scene on separate pages and title them by topic .  Keep them simple and clear so you know exactly which scene you’re about to open in your writing program. They're not ready to be posted and read by the public yet.

Instead of thinking in novel form, which is a huge undertaking--think of a scene. Keep it short and work on it until you can see and feel everything as a movie. If this paragraph brings a new idea to you, great! Open a separate page and write it down for later. Finishing the first before changing topics helps develop the discipline you'll need to actually finish a complete story.

I realize this sounds like a haphazard way to write, but don't dismiss it too quickly. It's a bona-fide form of practice that can be used to learn how each element: emotion, sentence structure, settings, voice, etc, work together to bring a story to life. If the same character is used in each scene, it allows you to learn how to 'flesh out' your characters. Novels are conceived with a seed of an idea; they are not born fully developed and perfect.

A pleasant bonus of perfecting a paragraph or scene is you may find yourself actually finishing a couple of exciting chapters. At this point continue with the story before it runs off to hide again, and it will.

If the story is truly your child, you won't try to force it to come out of hiding. That never turns out well. You'll entice it through curiosity. Write a few paragraphs and listen. Write a few more. Don't worry, it's still there. Eventually it will be coaxed out, persuaded to take over and lead the way. When that happens, all you have to do is be there. Enjoy the journey knowing you can clean it up later.

Thanks for reading,