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Monday, July 27, 2009

Rewriting Scenes in Fiction

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

Each writer is different when it comes to rewriting scenes, but I want to share with you what works for me. I print out the whole scene or chapter. I'm the type that can read or edit online and in print, but something about rewrites makes me want to print it out and make notes all over it.

First, I read it through to determine if I have anything that can be of use. Then I think about what is missing and what would make this scene better. If there is hardly anything I can use, I mark through it all and begin working on a new scene on my AlphaSmart or on my laptop. If a few paragraphs will work as written, I start marking on the printed pages themselves. At this point I begin dissecting individual sentences. Does this sentence make sense? Could I use a stronger action verb? Is the dialogue appropriate? Is there enough action to get my characters to where I want them to go?

While I'm working, I'm thinking on an ending for that scene that will somehow leave a hook. I may not know what this hook will be when I first start the scene, but I will get around to it, and if not, I work as far as I can. Then I set it aside and let my mind brainstorm on a few scenarios and come back to it when I'm ready. This may be a few hours or a few days, once in a while it might take a few weeks, but that is rare.

I have a little numbering system. If I need to reorganize sentences, I number them and draw arrows. I draw the arrows because sometimes I have a number system going on for more than one paragraph on a page. When I used the backside of the page to write, I write a number for the next sentence and write -OVER- as a signal to myself where the rest of that sentence is written.

If someone were to look at my rewrites they would think it is a disorganized mess, but I promise, it's a good organized mess. Like a room, I know where each word belongs, where each sentence goes, and how each paragraph should look. When I type it out, it will be much cleaner than what it was to begin with.

How do you manage your rewrites and edits?


Hi Jenn,
This is a very timely post for me.
I think I do a couple of things as far as rewriting scenes. #1 I rely on my critique partners and their comments. and #2 I use track changes to make my own changes/comments.

However, I can see the benefits of printing the work out and using your style. I think the expense of ink and paper must be my driving reason to dry and do it all on the computer, but it's easy to miss things when you don't print it out!

very interesting to see how other people do things!

With my rewrites, I imagine it in my head first. Not completely, or the fun would be gone, b/c I never know how a scene is going to end until I get there. It kind of writes itself, which is spooky and cool.

Like Christy, I'm usually rewriting b/c I got advice or a tip from someone, either my editor or a writing group. So I already know what I need to change.

And then I pull up my computer and get started. I prefer to do everything digitally on my laptop. By changing one thing in the first sentence, it casts the whole scene in a new perspective, and the rewriting just kind of does itself. It's much easier than rough drafting, in my opinion.

Nice post. My way is a bit different. I learned it from David Goldschmidt.

I chunk. A chunk is a group of chapters, a single chapter, a group of scenes,or a single scene. Whatever works for you. Look at these chunks as vital pieces to your story. Answer questions like, 'What's next?" "Why is it important?"

Now write one sentence that sums up the chunk on an index card. One normal sentence. No run-ons or semicolons allowed. Go through your story doing this and then pick up the cards and read them aloud. You'll notice stuff you didn't notice before.If a sentence on a card doesn't belong, put a big red X on it. In other words, if it doesn't move your story along out it goes. Keep reading and putting X's and you'll be surprised at what you end up with. Also, you can rewrite the sentences as you go. You'll notice the junk and keep that wonderful story you wrote.

Good luck on the revisions. I'm querying and have started a new WIP. I'd better get those RED pens ready. I know of a writer that writes a first draft in such a way, that she hardly has to make any revisions. That stifles me though. When I write, I just fly. Letting the characters take me where they will. I have a lot to do in revisions. But it's all worth it! :)

For a major rewrite, I work on screen. I start at the beginning and focus on a chapter at a time. I determine if any of it can be used. If so, I salvage that portion. If not, out it goes. Nearly half of the story I'm currently revising had to go due to a much better beginning, but I was still able to use portions of a previously written scene now and then.

For editing, I prefer to work on hard copy. I mark everything I see: redundancies, weak verbs, overuse of proper names instead of pronouns. Once I've made the changes, I input them.

This was interesting.

I do everything on the computer because I find things flow better on there. I basically just bring up another page and do the re-writes on there and then copy and paste to the original manuscript.

Hi Jenn -

I do 99% of my edits on the computer. How do you like the AlphaSmart? I've been thinking of getting one (or putting it on my Christmas Wish List). :)

Thanks for the great tips.


Thanks everyone for sharing. It's interesting to learn how others work. This is how I do my own personal edits before I send it out to critique partners. I have another method for how I work when I receive comments back from critique partners. I'll share that next week.