The Two Scenes in Your Novel That Will Need the Most Rewriting

Novels are tricky. There’s so much to juggle that no-one gets it quite right the first time round … and most authors end up doing wholesale rewrites, rather than just making a few editorial tweaks.

I’ve come to accept that rewriting is just part of the process of creating a novel. Each time I start work on a new book, I want to be a more efficient writer – and while I have found some things easier, I still end up doing a lot of rewriting and reworking.

Maybe it’s the same way for you.

Whether you’re working on your first draft of your first novel, or you’ve completed a bunch of novels already, there are two scenes that you’re likely to spend a lot of time rewriting:

  • The opening of your novel
  • The climax of your novel

However hard you worked in the first draft, and however much you planned, these are just really difficult scenes to pull off well.

But the good news is – even if your first draft doesn’t quite hang together in these key areas, rewrites can fix anything!

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Choosing the Right Viewpoint and Tense for Your Fiction [With Examples]

Note: This post was originally published in 2013, and was updated in June 2018.

Who’s telling your story?

Perhaps the choice is easy and obvious: you’re writing from a particular character’s viewpoint in the first person (“I”) and the whole story is from their perspective.

Or perhaps it’s trickier than that. You’ve got a story to tell involving multiple characters, and you need to make some choices.

The point of view (POV) or viewpoint is the angle the story’s being told from. For instance, in Emma Donaghue’s Room, the point of view character is 5-year-old Jack.

The story might be told in the first person (“I”), second person (“you”), or third person (“s/he”). It can also be told in past tense or present tense, which I’ll come onto in the second part of this post.

What Viewpoint Should You Use for Your Story?

Second person is rare, but first person and third person are both very common, so I’ll tackle those two first.

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Why You Should Stick to One Name for Each Character in Your Novel

You’re probably known by several different names in your life.

I’m “Alison Luke” when I fill in a form.

I’m “Mrs Luke” to my bank and to cold-callers.

I’m “Mummy” to my kids, occasionally “Mum” (they’re not convinced that I even have another name).

I’m “Ali” to everyone who met me after I turned 18, and “Alison” to some of those who met me before that and never adjusted!

I’m “Kitty’s mum” to a lot of my fellow school mums.

Like real people, your characters will almost certainly have more than one form of their name. They might also have a particular role or profession (e.g. “solicitor”) that you could plausibly “name” them as.

When it comes to your narrative, though, your character needs to have one name that you use consistently.

It’s confusing for readers if you switch between their surname and first name a lot, or if you use descriptions to try to shake things up a bit (“the girl”, “the tall man” “his friend”, “the cop” etc).

Using a character’s name repeatedly is like using the word “said” repeatedly: readers will barely even notice.

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How Do You Divide Your Novel into Chapters?

This post was inspired by an email conversation with Emma from the brilliant blog Science at Your Doorstep.

Pick up the nearest book. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, it’s almost certainly split into chapters.

As readers, we take that for granted. Chapters give us an easy way to discuss where we’ve got to in a new book (“I’m on Chapter 10 now…”) – and provide handy stopping points in the text where we can put the book down.

As writers, though, chapters can be surprisingly tricky.

How many should you have? How long should they be? Do you even need chapters at all?

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Choosing Viewpoint Characters: What’s Right for Your Story?

Sometimes, it’s obvious who the viewpoint character(s) will be for a particular story. Maybe you’re writing a first-person romance novella, for instance, with the heroine as the only viewpoint character.

Often, though, there isn’t a completely clear-cut choice. You might have multiple characters playing a large-ish role in the story: chances are, your protagonist will be a viewpoint character, but you may well have others too.

When you sit down to write any new story, viewpoint is pretty much the first decision you have to make. Who will begin your story? What other voices will you bring in? The decisions you make will shape the whole of your narrative … and they’ll shape the reader’s experience of it.

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How to Write Character Descriptions That Work [With Examples]

If you’re writing fiction, at some point, you’ll probably want to describe the people populating your story.

(This isn’t absolutely essential, mind. I’ve just written a short story that consists entirely of dialogue – no dialogue tags, no action beats, nothing – and neither of the characters is described at all.)

When it comes to a description, you want to avoid doing anything remotely like this:

Julia gazed into the bathroom mirror, assessing how she looked. Her hair was neatly parted and just skimmed the top of her shoulders. Her blue eyes were perfectly spaced, and her nose had a smattering of freckles – just right, she felt. The new shade of lipstick, a reddish-pink, went well with her top. But her cleavage was non-existent …

This might just work if you want to convey a character who’s particularly self-absorbed and who frets a lot about their appearance, but, otherwise, it’s a boring and – often – annoying way to introduce your character to your readers.

So what can you do instead? Firstly…

Keep Descriptions Fairly Minimal

Some authors don’t describe much about their characters. Maybe we get a few key characteristics, especially if those are relevant to how the characters behave and interact with others (e.g. they’re unusually tall / short / skinny / fat / hairy / bald …) but we don’t have long descriptions of exactly how they look.

I think this is a good way forward. Personally, as a reader, I don’t really care what characters look like – I care who they are underneath the surface. Sometimes, their physical characteristics are important because they tell us more about who the characters are, or they’re significant because of how other characters relate to them.

In this description, from Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, it matters that Celeste is so pretty because it affects how other characters relate to her, and reminds Jane of trauma in her own past:

Madeline’s expression changed. She beamed and waved. “Oh! She’s here at last! Celeste! Over here! Come and see what I’ve done!”

Jane looked up and her heart sank.

It shouldn’t matter. She knew it shouldn’t matter. But the fact was that some people were so unacceptably, hurtfully beautiful, it made you feel ashamed. Your inferiority was right there on display for the world to see. This was what a woman was meant to look like. Exactly this. She was right, and Jane was wrong.

What to Do (and What to Avoid) When Describing Characters

When you’re describing characters:

  • Don’t give us a huge chunk of description all at once. This is a bad idea not only because it halts the forward momentum of your narrative but also because the reader’s unlikely to remember most of it anyway!
  • Try describing one character through another character’s eyes. This can help reveal a lot about the person looking at them as well as the one who’s being observed, and it works very well if you’re using a third-person limited perspective.
  • If you’re writing a first person narrative, avoid having the viewpoint character describe themselves in painstaking detail. Instead, bring in key characteristics that are relevant to who they are (e.g. they’re overweight and trying to shed excess pounds – or they’re unusually tall / short and it bothers them).
  • Choose two or three key characteristics to focus on, especially unusual ones (e.g. eye colour probably isn’t worth mentioning unless it’s fairly striking, or unless one character is staring into another’s eyes…)
  • With any kind of description, word choices matter a lot. There’s a huge tonal difference between “long yellow hair” and “flowing blond hair” and “long golden locks” … even though all of those could describe exactly the same thing.

Description in Practice

Description is the thing I struggle with most in writing, and I try to do a fairly minimal amount of it! I’ll give you a few examples from Lycopolis, though, and explain why I wrote them in the way I did:

Example #1:

Kay sipped uncertainly at her hot chocolate. Seth was taller than she’d imagined him. His blond hair hung perfectly, parted in the middle to fall to his chin, just like his profile picture on Messenger. She’d brushed her own hair into fierce plaits as usual, but the wind had whipped strands of it loose.

This is the very first paragraph of the novel. Kay’s the viewpoint character, and the reader hasn’t met her or Seth yet – so I’m trying to get in a bit of description of both of them, and hint at the backstory between them (e.g. “taller than she’d imagined him” – she knew Seth already but hadn’t met him in person before; she’s clearly spent at least a bit of time imagining what he looks like). There are some basic physical details (Seth is tall with longish blond hair; Kay has plaits).

Example #2:

A few paragraphs later, we’ve got:

She lifted her head, and met his eyes. They were a greyish blue, like stonewashed denim, like the pebbles on the beach back home.

I’m not generally interested in character’s eye colour. But I’m hinting here not only at Kay’s crush on Seth – she’s noticing his eyes – but also at her homesickness (by this point, we know she’s a first-year student at Oxford).

Example #3:

Later on, we get a description of Seth from a different perspective, 14-year-old Edwin:

Seth was pretty much how Edwin had imagined from his Messenger profile picture. He was tall, and his hair was cut longish and floppy without looking gay. He wore dark cords and a grey denim jacket over a shirt which, unlike Edwin’s sweater, didn’t seem to have spent the last few days in a heap on the floor.

“Hey,” Edwin said, and found himself suddenly nervous. Did he look sort of stupid, with collar-length hair and studded bracelets and head-to-toe black?

Again, Edwin knows Seth online, but this is the first time he meets him in real life. Unlike Kay, he did picture Seth as tall – he’s rather more in awe of Seth than Kay is. I’ve got comparison going on again: with Edwin’s rather less careful attitude to clothes, for instance. And just in case Edwin hasn’t reminded the reader recently enough that he is Properly Goth, we get a quick description of what he’s wearing (and how insecure he is about it).


You can probably tell that, for me at least, character description is generally a way to bring in all sorts of other things: to hint at and establish relationships between characters, for instance, and to tell us about the viewpoint character, who’s describing someone.


Have you come across any character descriptions that work particularly well (or that just didn’t do it for you)? Share them, and the books they come from, in the comments.


Take the Plunge: How to (Finally) Start Your Novel


Image from by tatlin.

You want to write a novel.

It’s been your New Year’s resolution more times than you want to admit. And you might well have been day-dreaming about it or scribbling notes about it for months or years.

But you’ve never quite started the actual writing. And you’re not sure that you’re ready.

Wait, that’s not you? You ARE writing a novel but it’s taking forever? I’ve got a post for you too – How to Finish Your Novel (While Life Goes On)).

If you’re still with me, here’s how to take the plunge and get your novel going:

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Let’s Get Spooky: Writing Workshop Recap

I’ve not been to nearly as many workshops and classes this year, due to a certain little person taking up a lot of my time…


But my friend and fellow writer and blogger Lorna Fergusson of fictionfire runs inspiring Saturday afternoon “Focus Writing Workshops” once or twice a month at her home in Oxford, which is just ten minutes’ walk from me.

You can find her on Twitter at @LornaFergusson and on her blog, literascribe.

I signed up for her workshop Let’s Get Spooky: Tales for Dark Evenings because while I’m no Stephen King, my novel Lycopolis and its sequels have a supernatural slant and a good dash of spookiness.

If you’re writing something – or might one day write something – that involves ghosts or vampires or werewolves or demons or suchlike, read on…

(All of this is based on my notes from Lorna’s workshop, with a few thoughts of my own added in places. If you read something particularly insightful, it’s almost certainly Lorna’s insight, not mine!)

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Four Ways to Cut Your Novel’s Draft (and Make Your Story Stronger)


Image from Flickr by adrperez

Is your novel looking a little bloated? Do you have a sneaking feeling you’ve repeated yourself a few times? Are some of your scenes really just unnecessary padding between episodes of action?

Believe me, I’ve been there. I cut my novel Lycopolis from 135,000 words (Draft 5) to 85,000 words (Draft 6).

It made for a much stronger novel, and I’m hugely grateful to my editor Lorna Fergusson for her invaluable help in deciding what to cut.

Now, I’m hoping your novel won’t require quite such drastic pruning as mine. Chances are, though, that you’re going to have some cutting to do.

How can you tell if you need to do away with some of your hard-won words?

  • Most writers over-write. Unless you’ve been told (by a writing friend or an editor) that you under-write, it’s a pretty safe bet that a bit of cutting down will improve your work.
  • You might need to get down to a certain word limit for a competition, or for the requirements of a particular publisher. It could simply be that a shorter book will suit your chosen genre better.
  • Feedback from beta readers may tell you that you need to trim down your novel. They might say something like “the story seemed to drag here” or “your scenes were a bit slow to get going” or “this bit was quite repetitive”.

So, you’ve got work ahead. But where do you start?

(I’ll assume that the basic building blocks of your story need to stay; you’re not about to cut out a whole character or a massive chunk of your plot at this stage.)

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How to Finish Your Novel (While Life Goes On)


Maybe you’ve been working on your novel for months, or even years.

(Or maybe you’ve not started yet, because you’re waiting for a chunk of free time to come along.)

Life is busy. You’d love to have all day, every day, to write, but of course you don’t.

You have a day job or your own business or young kids or elderly parents or volunteering commitments or other hobbies or health issues … or quite probably a combination of several of those.

The good news is that you can do it. You CAN produce a finished novel – without your fairy godmother waving a magic wand and granting you six months away from your regular life.

And here’s how I know …

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