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How to Rewrite a Novel: Step Four

August 14, 2016 by Diane

hand opening red curtain on white.

Rewriting a novel is like sitting on the edge of a pool. The water’s cold. You can dive right in, get the discomfort over with, splash around to warm up, and then lose yourself in the steady stroke of limbs through water.

Or, like me, you can hang out on the edge while the sun bakes your skin and your feet turn into prunes.

Welcome to week five of my novel rewrite.

This is how rewriting my novel looked:

I attended an outdoor concert with a Meetup group from The Sierra Club. The club turned out to be a bunch of lively women, ages sixty and up, and a grizzled guy who may have been a sea captain. Another guy, wearing a goofy beach hat, stood around grinning like babies do when they have gas. I sat in my low-slung chair behind a woman in a sleeveless blouse who shaded her eyes with one hand, cutting off my view of the stage with her underarm flab. Occasionally, she dropped her arm, so my view became a vision of Michael Jackson–if Michael Jackson was middle-aged and fifty pounds overweight and stuffed into black leather pants–strutting and doing that pelvic bump, while a four-man horn section dipped and pivoted like the backup for The Temptations.

After three songs, I folded up my chair and left.

The next day, I went swimming. The pool was packed. I swam laps in the shallow end. The woman sharing my lane trudged back and forth in hiking boots, talking on her cell phone the entire time. One hundred dollar hiking boots. In chlorinated water. And a cell phone.

Some days, I stood in the middle of my room, thinking.

Had I stumbled once again onto Resistance Highway? Or was this non-writing activity actually accomplishing something?

Well, a little of both.

I was noodling loglines.

It’s part of my action plan for rewriting a novel. I had arrived at:

Step Four

Write a logline.

What’s a logline?

It’s a sentence that describes the novel, and answers the questions:

Who is the protagonist?
What does the protagonist want?
What’s at stake?

Ya gotta know the who, what, and why-bother, otherwise, how can you rewrite the dang thing?

So, I contemplated. I gnawed on ideas. I engaged in other activities. And then I took a hike with my niece, who was on a whirlwind visit through town.

We talked writing. She wanted to know what my novel was about. I launched into a lengthy description and ended with an exasperated, “I just wish I knew what’s driving my protagonist!”

And my niece said, “It’s funny, we wonder what our characters want, but we’re the ones making it all up.”

We’re the ones making it all up!

D’uh. Head slap.

All I needed to do was pick something, and go with it.

Write ten possible loglines. Twenty. Twenty-five. Whatever. Then PICK ONE.

Jump in the pool.

Stuck? Or Avoiding?

Sometimes, we get stuck in our writing, and need to occupy ourselves elsewhere so the idea we’re searching for can swim into our consciousness. But there’s a fine line between taking time away, and staying away because the water’s too cold.

That’s where those vows come in handy. You know, the ones that start: I promise to show up for my writing every day, no matter what.

So, how do you know what side of the line you’re on?

Look for signs of resistance.

I know I’m in resistance when I start doing what comes easy, rather than what comes hard, like rewriting. “I’ll just answer a few emails. Shuffle papers. Blog.”

I know I’m in resistance when I force myself to write, and I lose track of time.

But If I force myself to write, and resent it, I know I need to go back to noodling. Nothing wrong with that.

At least this time, I recognized the highway, and hitched a ride out. I was digging through some boxes of books in storage, looking for some good reads to bring on my vacation, and found a copy of Sell Your Story in a Single Sentence, by Lane Shefter Bishop. A whole book about how to write a logline! Had my intuition guided me to that box? Could be.

I read the first few chapters. Jotted down a rough idea. Refined it. Refined it again and again and again, eliminating excess words, homing in on the want, the stakes, until…Bingo! I had my logline.

Is it the perfect logline? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s something I can work with.

Onward, to Step Five!


  1. Pearl Allard says:

    “Or, like me, you can hang out on the edge while the sun bakes your skin and your feet turn into prunes.” This had me in stitches! Loved reading how you went from prune-y feet to jumping in and even found a book that helped you! Yay! 🙂

  2. Bun Karyudo says:

    I’m glad you’re still showing up for your writing no matter what! It’s so easy to get sidetracked. I know sometimes if I’m trying to finish a post, Angry Birds somehow begin calling me from my iPad. I can only imagine the temptation must be a hundred times greater when you’re tackling an entire book. Keep at it, Diane! 🙂

  3. Joan says:

    A lady was in the pool with hiking boots? That and the concert were quite the visuals!!! Yay for Nica!!

  4. mydangblog says:

    It’s so hard when life gets in the way of writing. I wish I could be like Stephen King, who apparently sits down every day and writes a minimum of 2000 words. But then again, he has external deadlines, unlike me, who can just say, “I promise I’ll do it tomorrow.” I’m so happy you found your logline though!

    • Diane says:

      Yeah, some writers can churn out 2000 words a day, or ten pages, or four hours of writing. But they probably aren’t working an eight-hour-a-day non-writing job, and doing all the cooking and household chores. Or, maybe they are. In which case I bow down to them in admiration.

      That kind of output is hard for me physically and mentally. Realistically, with my other obligations, I can write 500 – 1500 words a day, usually on the low end. I’ve come to accept that. I tell myself that 500 words a day is better than none.

  5. Paula says:

    You just described every Meetup I’ve ever been to. And I’m glad you took time out of worrying about your logline to do so. 😉

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