Self-Editing Your Novel Manuscript

★ The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel: A Step-by-Step Guide to Perfecting Your Work (Paperback) by Robert J. Ray, reviewed by C. J. Singh on amazon.com, copy posted February 16, 2010 (23 of 24 people found the review helpful.) – See all my reviews

The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel makes an excellent companion to Ray’s The Weekend Novelist (TWN). But, what if you haven’t read TWN? You still could follow this book — thanks to its 11-page detailed glossary. The book also includes a witty rewrite-in-progress of a draft — a draft that had been completed without its author having read TWN.

In rewriting, Ray focuses on restructuring, not mere copyediting (aka line-editing): “The key to rewriting your novel is not line-editing, the key is fixing the subplots. If you fix the subplots, then the manuscript will shape up” (page 7). The assumption here is that the writer has already structured the main plot with care. Ray suggests many restructuring exercises such as making separate grids for each subplot. Throughout, he presents structural analyses of a number of novels to illustrate craft concepts. The novels include:

literary contemporaries such as,

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler,
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys,and
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje;

literary classics like Pride and PrejudiceJane Eyre, and The Great Gatsby; and a few genre novels like Gorky Park and The Eye of the Needle.

Ray also comments on the screen adaptations of novels and suggests the “Rewrite mantra: to find story secrets, study good films” (p. 35). In both editions of TWN, the short list of recommended books for novel-writing include Syd Field’s The Screenwriter’s Workbook. Field’s pioneering book, “Screenplay,” popularized the three-act structure (based on Aristotle’s “Poetics”) and added two plot points, which he defined “as any incident, episode, or event that hooks into the action and spins it around in another direction.”

The second edition of The Weekend Novelist begins by noting: “Writing a novel in the twenty-first century is made complicated by the world of screens. It wasn’t like that always….Screens have changed the writing world. When the writing world changes, the writer must change.” To learn the new complications in the craft, I studied both editions of TWN.

In TWN first edition, Ray lucidly analyzes the fiction craft in one novel, Anne Tyler’s “The Accidental Tourist,” a great favorite of mine (“Anne Tyler is not merely good; she is wickedly good,” wrote John Updike). Study of this edition effectivley teaches many characterization techniques. TWN, second edition, expands “the plotting section …to give you a range of choices for building your book. The basic concept you need to build a plot is architecture” (ix). The second edition presents detailed craft analyses of five contemporary novels, including two with cyclical structural design. The five novels are:

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon;
Amsterdam: A Novel by Ian McEwan;
White Teeth: A Novel by Zadie Smith;
and the two with cyclical design,
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho;
The Namesake: A Novel by Jhumpa Lahiri (film adaptation,The Namesake DVD).

Yes, the second edition does teach more complex plot-structures. Michael Chabon’s The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is a great favorite of mine as I fully agree with his aesthetic that “a work of fiction must be first of all entertaining” (A recent conversation at UC Berkeley library). Another great favorite is Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, especially its cyclical plot structure. However, if you are plannig a linear plot structure, the TWN first edition (now out of print) might be adequate.

The rewriting guide schedules 20 hours each weekend for 17 weeks for rewriting — at least as many hours as scheduled in TWN for completing the initial draft. I found no particular merit in long sessions on weekends and reverted to the equivalent schedule of daily three-hour sessions.

Although The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel could serve as a guide by itself, it’ll clearly be more effective as a follow-up to the second edition of The Weekend Novelist.

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