Traveling the Wrong Road

4 minutes

I hate to re-write. It is tedious and difficult, especially the part where you have to shoehorn in new material between existing sections and then repair the damage to the rest of the story.

In working on my novel (Finding Shelley’s Shoes), I had what at the time seemed to be an epiphany. Up the ante, harden the antagonist, make the story more exciting. And so I did that. I thought.

Fast-forward from then through the three years tied up with the pandemic and leaving my part-time job. I’d spent some of that time dreaming up new-and-improved scenes to make my book better, but there was still the work of fitting it all in seamlessly.

I hadn’t yet gone back and added foreshadows of the new drama, nor had I figured out how my plot could work realistically, something that was necessary for this book. Further, I had only tentatively figured out how to tie this new material into the existing ending with minimal displacement of material already written. This had been a completed draft.

Now my little writing gnome, Wendell, was niggling at my brain.

“Do you really want to write it this way?”

I knew I had to be sure. I was desperate to write the book as well as I could. Didn’t I need the ‘oomph’ that drastic drama provides?

I began thinking about critiques I’d been receiving from my writers group. There is one rule of thumb we all use after being ‘ripped apart’ during a critique (we don’t really work that way; see my Substack post “I Never Thought I’d Do It” to read about our group’s way of critiquing).

Our Rule of Thumb

If only one person is critical of something, it can be ignored. If two people are critical, it’s worth thinking about; and if more than two people are critical of the same thing–something needs to be done.

I think I sighed. It was all too apparent. There was a sort of ongoing complaint–well, criticism–from several group members that I was including side stories that didn’t advance the book’s plot. I included them because “they really happened” (my words). In my fictional world. But even if I’d been writing non-fiction, everything that ‘happened’ didn’t need to be included in my story.

So, okay, note to self; these passages had to be condensed or eliminated entirely. I could do that on the next pass of revisions.

But, how did this affect the question of the changes I’d worked on for months to get right, the scenes that were going to elevate my story?

This time I know I sighed. In fact, I sigh just thinking about it now. The scenes I wrote have not elevated the story but lifted it out of the realm of reality. The writers group had already told me that much.

Now I saw that they didn’t fit. This book is not an adventure book in the sense of wild events or violent action; it’s a book about five sisters going on what may be their last road trip. Even if their history is somewhat dramatic and charged with high emotion, it does not require the kind of storyline I created for them in those scenes, and it never would. Plus, to be honest, I wasn’t writing it all that well.

My sighs were followed by relief. I think I’d known that it wasn’t working. I didn’t need all that furtiveness, danger and drama. Their drama comes from their relationships and life as it really happens. The other stuff has to go.

Now I must undo what I labored to create. I need to repair the ending as well. It may still be altered somewhat though, because I really like leaving the twins behind. (Don’t worry, there’s not enough information there to be a spoiler.)

I took my book down the wrong road, and now I have to take it back. Change is never easy; intentional change is even harder, no matter whether it is changing a lifestyle or 20,000 words of your precious novel. It’s a long way to go back–and then forward again–but it’s a road worth traveling. It makes the trip so much better.

Smuggle and Stitch, part 2 – with samples

I promised I would share some examples of this type of revising. This may not be the best illustration I could offer, but I didn’t want to make things run too long. It is taken from my current work-in-progress (wip) about five sisters who set out on what may be the last road trip they will ever take together. Remembrances of their past and revelations about the present threaten their relationships and their future. You might suspect that this is a dense novel – relationships amongst five women equal 25 relationships to illuminate – and you’d be right. So part of the task is telling the whole story fully in as economic a way as possible. Which means I’m in for several passes of revisions.


In these side-by-sides samples, the Original version has blue highlights where I took out the sections that do not appear in the Revised version. The Revised version has the added/new material highlighted all in green.

This revision encompassed three tasks.

  • First, it eliminated unnecessary words. (And, of course, in compiling this post, I’ve noticed more I need to remove, but that’s for another day.)

  • Second, it smuggled in details that were important for the reader to get an accurate view of the scene, and to foreshadow, or at least drop clues to the reader about something the sisters were missing.

  • Third, it stitched in the beginning of my new material, hopefully integrating it with the original material smoothly.

In addition to what is shown here, I had to go through earlier parts of the  manuscript to smuggle in further hints and information so that this section made sense. When I make the next, full-manuscript revision, I will watch out for where my efforts did not work and what kind of fixes they require.

This may be the most difficult kind of re-writing there is. Certainly it holds up a project. But, from past experience, I can tell you it may be the most important kind there is to face down and conquer.

It may be difficult for readers to spot what I mean in these examples. This kind of coaching often works better in an interactive environment. If you have questions about what I’ve done here, or even if you disagree, please feel free to comment and we’ll have a conversation.


Smuggle and Stitch

I am mostly through a major revision to one work-in-progress (wip), and facing something similar in another. I’ve been talking about this revision for – like,  I don’t know, five years now. I have probably gone over and revised the same material the standard dozen times, and I still don’t have it quite right.

Problem – in part – is that I’m having to add new material. What that means is that I have to create the new character/storyline/words to add this to the story, THEN I have to figure out where to fit it in, including bits and pieces scattered throughout the existing writing. It’s HARD!

I don’t care how much better it will make the story (well, yes I do) but IT IS HARD!

The other aspect of this is that I have to go back and cut as many words as I can. This consists of eliminating unnecessary words as well as getting rid of any information dumps (okay, exposition) that is unattractive and uninspiring for the reader. They want the story, but they want to be entertained while learning about the character’s past love affair or the minor childhood incident that changed a lifetime.

There are only two ways I know to go about this revision, and it still is tedious, time-consuming, and , well, HARD. I’m referring to Smuggle and Stitch.


Smuggle is a term some writers use to explain how to present certain information about the story, especially the characters, to the reader.  The idea is that rather than dump a whole pile of information in straight exposition (even if it comes via a character’s dialogue), bits and pieces of information should be dropped simply into the narrative along the way. This builds the reader’s knowledge of the character gradually and allows them to draw on it in an organic way when things come to a head.

My cardinal rule of thumb is that you don’t want anything to break the reader from the story. Jarring notes such as misinformation, eg, Alaska is located on the North American continent at a latitude lower than that of Hawaii; speech patterns inconsistent with the character’s previously demonstrated patterns; an off description, such as unexplained inconsistencies about the protagonist’s hair style and color.. Other ‘sins’ can include inconsistent or inaccurate locale description, historical gaffes, out-of-date slang, or even anachronisms such as a cell phone in the 1890s. (short of a time travel story). The point is, anything that even momentarily makes the reader stop reading and think “Hey wait, that can’t be right!” qualifies here.

“…you don’t want anything to break the reader from the story”

Also in the bucket are long paragraphs or scenes of exposition, description, or the phenomenon called ‘talking heads’: characters doing nothing but sitting around talking about what is happening, has happened, or will happen. These are absolute ‘no-nos’, because nothing will throw your reader out of a story faster than boring passages, even if the information conveyed is necessary to the story.

You, the writer, are here to entertain. Inform, too, but in an entertaining way. Allowing your story to feature passages that throw the writer unceremoniously out of their reverie, out of the world you have spent precious time creating is at least counterproductive to reaching this reader or getting them to read your work again.


Writing is sometimes like a quilt, patches sewn together with tiny – preferably invisible – stitches to make a complete and cozy blanket to enshroud the reader in a new world.  Adding new material to a blanket already completed is no small feat, but it must be done so as to be undetectable in order to make the quilt good as new.

So it is with new material being added to a story. Some patches, or scenes go in wholesale, between other rows of patches. To keep the pattern consistent, however, a writer must work in individual ones here and there, or adjust an existing patch with a stitch or two.  Some quilts even require added stitching all over to unify the design properly. To make the story come out reading as if it were never any other way is artistry.  Also, hard). 

My next blogposts, published within a day or two, will have specific examples of the smuggling and stitching I practiced while revising my current wip.