Rewriting - when to take the nuclear option – Part One

Perhaps it's taken a fistful of rejections for you to get to the point, or perhaps you just know it in your heart – it isn't right, and you need to get it right. The question is - is it just a tidy up that's needed, or a cleanse and burn?

The truth is, it's nearly always the latter, but here's how to be sure.

The first thing to remember is that there's more to your story than the words you've written, therefore you need to look beyond them and examine your story and your characters first.


There's only one way to know if your story sucks, and that's to pare it right down to the bones and see if it stands up alone – yes, you need a synopsis – the shorter the better for the purposes of assessing the nuclear option. If the synopsis reads great, and everybody gasps when you relate it to them, then you can be confident that your story is strong. If the synopsis is poor, there are a number of reasons why it can be so -

1. the story of the novel is great, but the synopsis doesn't tell it well enough

2. the story of the novel is great, but the synopsis isn't actually telling the right story

3. the story of the novel sucks, and no amount of rewriting the synopsis will make it so

If you've pantsed your way through your novel, then there's every chance that producing the synopsis will be the first time you really get to know your story. There is also likely to be many stories within your novel that you could tell in the synopsis – make sure you're actually telling the main one. If the main story isn't the most interesting one - you already have one fix right there.

If you find yourself at point 3, then it's the novel that's at fault, not the synopsis.

Remember this, if the story of your novel is pulsating, then the synopsis will be easy and exhilarating to write. If the synopsis is a labour, it's most likely because you haven't understood the story of your novel. Or there isn't one.

It may be that the story in your head, or on your plot cards, or hinted at by your pantsed manuscript is actually very good, you're just not telling it in the most effective way. The positive thing is, a great story tells itself, once you understand it.

In summary – learn your story, assess it, then fix it – and give each one of those steps the time and effort they deserve. Don't just fiddle around changing words and restructuring sentences. It may seem like a huge task to change the story - but it isn't - a great story that needs work is always better than a highly polished turd.

Watch this space for Part Two – how to get nuclear on your characters.


  1. Great post! I am pansting less and less, so hopefully these won't be as bad this time around...

  2. Uh oh! Does this mean the synopsis has returned you to "nuclear" rewrites??

  3. @Lydia - thanks for reading and commentating - I read all your posts :)

    @Becca - if you have to know the details ;), it was my synopsis that needed nuking - I couldn't see beyond what I'd written for it, and rather than telling the real story, I was jump cutting to interesting, but not story-progessing scenes, so the synopsis had no real narrative or cause and effect. I was point 2 on my diagnosis chart! So, the synopsis feels much better now and closer to the story. I will reveal the synopsis journey to hell and back on here when I finally finish it.

  4. Hi James! I've just spent the past few months in nuclear mode (and am just writing about it now - have you been spying on my computer?). You make some great points for diagnosing problems, especially the strongest story being hidden and needing to be more in the foreground.

  5. Hey Roz, great minds, and all that...


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