Rewriting, Bah, Humbug. Three Tools

I hate rewriting.

Writing is such a joy. Creating characters with distinctive personalities, riding down the roads my characters take me — it’s true, characters DO take on a life of their own — puzzling over plot twists, grinding out an ending that will be faithful to the characters, the plot and the reader.

Rewriting — that’s like going through old garbage, or cleaning out the garage. Yeah, you recognize a lot of good stuff, but there is the inevitable junk that makes you wonder what you were thinking at the time.

Right now, I’m working on the sequel to The Mark of the Spider, the first book of The Black Orchid Chronicles. The new book is tentatively entitled The Flight of the Spider.

My writing group took a good shot at the first three rewritten chapters a few weeks back and surprised me with the things they liked and didn’t like. I worried about putting in too much backstory; they said the characters required more back story.

I’ve lived with these characters for five years now, at least some of them; I forget that my readers haven’t had that experience. So I’m struggling to balance the need to introduce the characters to a new audience against the need to keep the story moving, especially in the critical first chapters.

I arranged and rearranged the order of the first five chapters several times; I deleted a long dream sequence that started the book and wrote an entirely new short piece from the point of view of one of the antagonists.

Before I got the draft to where I could be happy with it, I had to create three tools. Without them, I would probably still be rewriting over and over those first few essential chapters. Here are the tools:

  • One-line character descriptions. I wrote them (and continue to write them) every time a new actor, no matter how minor, appears in the story. This forced me to focus on the physical description and one key trait for each character. I relied on memory for what I had written in the first book and fact-checked those memories against the continuity file. These brief IDs led to, and contribute understanding to:
  • The backstory requirements. This is a longer list of the characteristics and traits of the recurring characters. Those one-line descriptions I mentioned above also helped me identify which characters are the key actors. Here are the backstory requirements for one of the characters:
Jimmy Beam:
    • Australian intelligence operative of some seniority and ethnology expert in South Pacific island cultures
    • Saved, rescued Sebastian from certain death at least twice

To understand this character early on and to set up his important role in later chapters, I had to be certain that each of these points appears early on. One hopes they flow right out of the narrative. One hopes.

  •  Action outline. I learned this one a long time ago from my high school friend and renowned nature author and whale expert, Erich Hoyt. Most story outlines contain way too much material. An action outline includes ONLY those actions or scenes that propel the story on its upward arc to the climax. This is easier said than done. And this is one place where your chapter by chapter synopsis will help enormously.

Here is what the action outline for The Flight of the Spider looks like:


Action outline for The Flight of the Spider

Terribly unimpressive, right? I count eight action points. I know there is a lot more going on between the points, but these eight items, one of which is marked with a question mark (since answered), MUST be included and the action from one must force the characters toward the next action point.

I used the action outline to find the answer to that first point labeled with a question mark. What would I possibly need the characters to do right at the start to propel them toward the next inflection point.

Of course, you will have to wait until I finish rewriting The Flight of the Spider to see if I succeeded.

You can get your copy of The Mark of the Spider, in ebook or print format, from Amazon.

Buy the print copy and get the ebook free.

Enjoy. (And then write a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Tnx.)

12 Common Writing Mistakes

I came across this post from BookBub that identifies twelve writing mistakes that even old hands and best-sellers make.

Reading it was like being at my monthly writers group meeting. So, yeah, everyone makes these mistakes. I have, my colleagues have, and now I’m told that so do the best of us.
My Three Biggest Mistakes In Prepping For The GMAT Exam

It’s written by Ricardo Fayet, co-founder of Reedsy, which sells editing, design and marketing services to authors. Here’s the start:

Have you ever bought a New York Times bestseller and found a typo or a glaring mistake? It’s happened to most of us. Writing mistakes can detract from the overall impression of quality readers expect of a published book. This can lead to negative reviews and low ratings, which can have an undesirable impact on sales.

The occasional error is practically inevitable in a finished manuscript, but striving for perfection is still a worthy aim. Understanding the most common mistakes can help authors approach their work and editing process with more clarity — and keep them from stumbling on common pitfalls.

At Reedsy, we work with experienced developmental editors, copy editors, and proofreaders. I asked them a simple question: “What’s the most common writing mistake you see even bestselling authors making?” You’ll find their answers below, from big-picture mistakes down to the nitty-gritty of grammar and punctuation.

Read the entire post at BookBub.

And while you’re at it, get a copy of my new novel, The Mark of the Spider, which is available from Amazon.

Buy the print copy and get the email copy free!

Still not convinced? Here’s what some readers say about it.

Back to the Future Fiction

I just don’t know.

This retire-from-the-daily-grind-of-earning-a-living thing and spend more time writing just isn’t working out as I envisioned.

I’m busier now than when I worked for a living. Grandkids living a few minutes away and visiting at least weekly. Volunteering at the food bank. Gardening. Photography. Helping keep up the house and at the same time staying out of the way. Reading.

Where’s all the writing time?

Actually, I AM writing, but as I learned with HOTEL CONSTELLATION, my Viet-Nam era memoir, there’s writing and doing all the other things a writer does.


My book project filing system isn’t pretty, but it works for me.

So here’s the status update:

  • HOTEL CONSTELLATION: Notes from America’s Secret War in Laos — My college alumni association commissioned an article for its magazine, and I had a lovely chat with the young writer assigned to it. Not certain when it will be out. Will be attending a reunion of NGO Viet-Nam volunteers in the fall and am scheduled to appear on the “memoirs” panel.
  • The Mark of the Spider: A Black Orchid Chronicle — Been working on this forever and a day. My writers group assessed the ending last night and found it in need of another rewrite. I still expect to finish it in time to publish in early fall, certainly in time for the holiday book buying season. Worked the last several days on the publication plan and pitch materials; I’ll finish that this week and move back to the rewrite next week. I’ll have a lot more on this in the coming weeks.
  • Flight of the Spider: A Black Orchid Chronicle — I’ve been champing at the bit for months now to get to book two in the Black Orchid series.
  • She Asked for Green Salad — I jot notes from time to time for this family memoir, and it has its own three-ring binder (see photo above) so I must be serious about it.
  • Untitled Short Stories — I’ve got a short piece about a hospital messenger with too many corpses on his hands, but I need to work on the ending. I have another storty about an alien encounter in an elevator, but this, too, deserves a better ending.

And that is the end of this update. (See. I have real trouble with endings. Separation anxiety? I don’t know.)