To Re-Write, Re-Cast or Re-Vise, that is the Question


Almost every writer runs into this sooner or later: you start with great hopes, the story is bowling along. And then either it stops dead and you’re not sure why. (And you can’t get past, even if you want to.) OR and this is arguably worse, you finish the book, but it feels so wrong you don’t even want it out where people will see it.

At which point, you have a choice: discard or change it.

But how do you change it? Do you, having realized you need a climatic scene go in and insert it? Change your male to female? Or vice versa? Or should you ditch the whole thing and rewrite it from scratch?Well, a lot of this is a judgement call. Just as I can’t, sight unseen, tell you that your book is great, I also can’t, without reading it and analyzing it, tell you “you should totally ditch this version, recast it with main character as a purple alien.” or “No, you’re fine, just put a new ending on, and you’re good bro.”  That not how this works.

Even if I read your book, what I told you would be just my opinion. If I had a dime for every time an editor told me to take a story turn it upside down and paint it purple and I either ignored him and no one saw that problem or I did what he wanted and the book got criticized for the things he put in, I’d have a lot of dimes.

So, take everything I say with a serious grain of salt, because I’m not you. Ultimately all of this has to be your decision and your feeling.  however, I can give you some pointers.

When to do a revision:

A revision is basically the same book, although  the wording might change substantially, and you might add or remove scenes.  This is detail work, often on a printed manuscript, with a red or blue pen.

1- you feel (and/or your first readers feel) that your book is basically sound, but you feel like there’s something missing.

2- what is missing can be improved with an extra scene, an extra character, going over with a fine tooth comb and making sure you cut out all your dead scenes, or you add more action or whatever.

3- In all you’ll be changing some wording, and maybe removing or adding a third of the wording.

When to do a Rewrite:

A Rewrite preserves most of the plot, probably the characters, etc. But:

1- you realize a few scenes don’t work

2- your character needs to change sex and you need to do all the attendant little changes to re-orient the plot (even if there’s no romantic involvement. The character will comport differently. No, trust me on this, okay?)

3 – you’re lifting the plot wholesale from planet X and putting it in NYC.  Which means changing some of the scenes and adjusting the plot.

Note, a Rewrite usually requires you to work on the computer. The work is too extensive for pen and paper.  Also in the end you might find you need a very careful edit, to make sure nothing is left of the old foreshadowing, and that ALL the new foreshadowing makes sense. massive work, but you’ll find you end up using probably half of your original wordage.

When to do a recast:

Sometimes when you finish a book, you’re hit with a clap of thunder and you go “OMG, I did this completely wrong.”  More likely, this is when you’re looking back at your first tentative work, ten years later or so, particularly if when you started selling there was only indie, in which case you probably have two or three,and maybe as many as twenty novels in the drawer by then.  And now you’re evaluating them for indie (Well, I’m evaluating them for indie) and you find that either:

1- You can’t finish it the way it is started. Maybe you could one day, but you wrote three chapters and an outline fifteen or twenty years ago, and you’re not the same person anymore.

2- awkwardness that would cause the plot to twist (or did cause the plot to twist) in bizarre, incomprehensible or even repulsive knots can be eliminated if you start the book in a completely different place, with completely different characters, or have the villain’s actions or motivation be completely different.

3- Your aliens are completely wrongly cast. You need to make sure their culture is consistent with biology.

4- Your novel was high fantasy, but you realize the main point is the war, so it really should be mil sf. (Was UF should be space opera or vice versa, or any other genre changing.)

You’re going to have to recast it.  This means you take the manuscript you have, put it in the metaphorical drawer and don’t look at it. All you take in is your idea of what the story should be. And you write it now. With the abilities and understanding you have now.  And you write it as best you can NOW.

Is it worth doing any of this?

Sometimes it obviously is. You know you’re just never going to be happy with the thing as is. And if you’re not happy, even if the readers love it, you’re always going to cringe a little.

Sometimes you have to sit down and do pros and cons of a change, and evaluate it very closely.  And the evaluation would include “time it will take me to write this.”

If it’s the case of a trunk story and you’re doing a full recast, you should only do it if it’s a novel you can’t let go. You can’t ignore it. The characters, or the idea or even the setting still haunt you 20 years later.  (Or thirty five. Ask me how I know.)

In the end, it is again your call.  Does this story need to be sharpened till it is exactly what you want or — taking in account no story is ever perfect — can you let it go out like this, and not mind the flaws (which after all, is possible only you can see.)
I can’t tell you that. Only you can.

But now you know the different levels, and how much work it will all be.




  1. When I’m unhappy with a story, I drag out the Hero’s Journey and see how many points I’ve missed. Or graph out the try-fail cycles. I have a bad habit of missing the deepest low point, that mirror moment.

    The worst thing though, is realizing your MC can’t solve the problem. But this other guy can, and you need to go back and make him the MC.

    1. Just how bad of a “sin” is it to change main characters through the story? I can conceptualize a hero who halfway through becomes the mentor of an up and coming hero who then becomes the main protagonist of the story. Where the narration might go from first person from the first MC to first person of the second MC because the first person died, left, was captured, etc. and the 2nd MC found his/her/its notes that detailed the prior’s exploits and training of the second. Granted, this sounds more like a case where these should be separate stories; but what do you do when you only have 20 to 30 thousand words to say about either, rather hand 60,000 for both?

        1. _If_ you can start the story from the POV of the second Main Character long enough for the reader to fix on him as “this is his story” then you can drop into the original fellow’s POV for a while, kill him, and go back to the first POV.

          I would recommend using third person, though, since you’re planning on killing the one fellow.

  2. I’ve got a novel that has haunted me for thirty plus years, which at least now has a first draft that is mostly the right shape. It is what it is.

    I’m practicing the cycle back method for my new novels, even if I find it difficult to judge when a cycling through become a revision, but that’s mostly down to being ill and not remembering what I wrote last year as I try to finish the story this year.

    Again, it is what it is.

    1. “I’ve sweated Chthon for seven years. Now it’s your turn.” — Pierce Anthony, to his readers

  3. Is it just me noticing this, or do such re-whack problems happen more frequently to plotters than to pantsers? cuz a pantser follows the story wherever the hell, and a plotter tries to make it behave up front. And as we all know about battle plans and contact with the enemy…

    1. I think it depends. (As my mother used to often say and likely still does.)

      Are we talking about a pantser who ploughs through their first draft where ever it takes them and then does a serious assessment about the sorts of things that Pam mentioned, does it hit the highs and lows and do everything it’s supposed to do? Or are we talking about a pantser like the one lady in my first ever NaNo attempt group (she may have been the local contact person, I don’t recall) when Lulu was a bright and new option pre-Amazon ebooks? She had finished her 50K words 15 days in and on day 16 she hit “publish” on Lulu.

      (And I’ll admit that the experience impressed some assumptions on me that I’m not able to really get past, and I need to work on that.)

        1. No, because…. there were supposed to be pants??

          Wait, what’s that the plotter is printing??!

    2. They happened to me mostly when I was pantsing. With plotting, I generally have to hammer out the big issues when I’m making the outline. With pantsing, I would inevitably end up in some deep cul-de-sac with no way out and absolutely no clue where I made the wrong turn that led me here…

    3. The story I’m currently working on was pantsed, and it ran originally for 14/K words before stopping like a drunk who’s hit a bridge abutment. The problem with pantsing is that without a clear path forward, when the words dry up, sometimes it’s just stumbling around in the dark, trying to figure out what went wrong or what goes next, and eventually giving up.

      In this case, about 4 months after I put it aside, I could see where the story had likely gone off the rails about words before it dried up… but I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. Now, it’s back with a different plot, and so it’s rewriting the beginning, and recasting the rest…

      We’ll see how it goes!

    4. I am deep, deep in the pants of my samurai “short” story right now and the story is departing rather wildly from where I sketched it out.

      Obviously the sketch was done before I consulted the characters, who all laughed at my idea and then ran off to do what they wanted. As usual. I’m reeling them in a little and making them use period technology mostly, no lippy robot spiders with megawatt railguns in Edo Japan after all. People would notice, right?

      On the bright side, it is at least staying pretty short. Ish.

      Before I was banned for life at TheMarySue (which did not take long) I said something in passing to some author of medium repute who mentioned her outline and how she followed it to the letter. I was impressed that the characters didn’t screw up her outline like mine always do, and she was Very Insulted that I thought she was so infantile she couldn’t write to a script.

      Apparently pantsers are weak minded. Who knew? ~:D

        1. That’s probably true in this case. Its departing from the snotty social message I was thinking about, because the characters are better people than I am. Even though technically one of them is not a human. They saw what I had planned and said “That’s idiotic.”

          When listening to The Voices makes you -smarter- and you make better decisions, you might be a writer.

      1. Okay, I am going to have to read comments later today, when I can finish a whole sentence before decoding its meaning. “I am deep, deep in the pants of my samurai…”

        1. Silly observer, samurai don’t wear pants. ~:D

          Still, I was wondering how long it would take for somebody’s evil mind to throw that one out…

      2. I was impressed that the characters didn’t screw up her outline like mine always do

        The key I’ve found is to have those fights with the characters during the outlining phase. When a character says, “Wait, I would never do that!” it’s better to listen and re-write the outline than to put down that they did it anyway, then have to re-write half the novel…

        1. “The key I’ve found is to have those fights with the characters during the outlining phase.”

          Mine wait until we get there, and then laugh raucously at the plan. Then they take the whole thing off route and go cross country. Every single time since Miss Charlotte Smith decided being an automaton simply would not do. “No, we will not be doing that.” That was a surprise, let me tell you.

          I’d say they were contrary for the sake of being contrary, but since its my own brain here I should probably take it easy. ~:D

          1. Yeah. This is why my outline shrunk to near invisibility.

            “Xen gets marooned on a cross dimensional world, with his magic badly inhibited. He has adventures and meets other people, figures out what’s going on and eventually rescues himself. Or maybe his sister fetches him home. Probably ought to add his girlfriend somewhere in there.”

            I mean, how can a Muse mess that up, right?

            “Hey! There was no robot dog anywhere _near_ that outline!”

    5. I have more problems when I carefully plot, so I tend to be more of a pantser. That said [typed {hush, Editor!}], I generally have the end-point of the story in mind when I start writing the thing, and a very rough sense of what major action points will be, with more getting added in as the story is written. The story will still “break” on occasion, and I’ve had some very astute Alpha and Beta readers catch massive problems that I missed.

    6. Plotting is the only way I’ve ever gotten my incoherent messes of patterns to move any real distance, much less from some beginning to some end.

      I sometimes pants in nonfiction. I also recall a time when I was drifting and lost in a nonfiction project until I stepped back, rethought things, and outlined to a purpose. I’ve used an outline to write a thank you email.

      In conclusion? Writing processes show extreme variation from implementer to implementer. Plotter and pantser are a case where a bunch of different processes divide into two sets of recommendations for a subset of all possible useful types of suggestions. Do plotter and pantser have any useful meaning outside of that subset? Can they be used to collect meaningful data about practices outside of that subset?

      1. Anyone attempting my method would rapidly find it ridiculous. Because it is ridiculous. But that’s what’s working, where all the other ways didn’t. So I’m running with it.

  4. I just heard back from my second reader on the manuscript for the novel I finished revising in early August. She really liked it; said she probably read too fast to give detailed feedback, because she HAD TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED NEXT ASAP.

    I take that as very good sign, since one of the things I was revising for was pacing. My first reader had found the pace of the unrevised ms. lagged after its gripping opening. Clearly my second reader did not have that problem with the revised work.

    I count my revision as revision. It wasn’t re-writing or re-casting. But I added 20k words worth in new scenes. And weaving the changes produced by that new material into the existing ms. proved fairly intricate. I definitely had to do it on the computer.

  5. I had a trunk story that I sat on for years until I showed it to someone and they said to publish it. I thought no one would ever like it. Now people are begging me to go back and write #9 in that series.

  6. It’s undoubtedly a sign of my frivolous nature but I am now contemplating what stories would be better recast with a purple alien.

  7. Jane Yolen had a wonderful piece about elves showing up in the story and what you have to do about them. My problem no is bad guys that can’t cut it. I didn’t mean to make my MC so powerful, but there it is.

    1. Too powerful good guys need wives, children, mortgages and . . . distractions.

      Or you have to ambush them and/or mob them. Or have the bad guys plot two things to go down at the same time, so one of them will succeed.

  8. I knew what the problem in my latest was, but it took me about a week before I decided to actually do it, because inertia.

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