Rolling. Speed. Action. Cut! … Darn, Take Two! Rewriting and the Zen of Film / Author Daco Auffenorde

If the thing to remember when purchasing property is location, location, location, then the thing to remember when writing is…well…not writing at all.  It’s rewriting.

Citing examples from Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway, Lisa Scottoline, Charlie Chaplin and others, author Daco Auffenorde examines the process of rewriting, the strong case for getting the idea down and then molding it, and how absolutely critical rewriting is to achieving artistic (if not financial) success.

(And just so you know, I rewrote this intro 7 times.)

Happy Reading! And may you never run out of extra paper.

Clay Stafford
Founder Killer Nashville,
Publisher Killer Nashville Magazine

Daco S. Auffenorde
Daco S. Auffenorde

According to a 2010 CNN report, famed actor-director Charlie Chaplin demanded 342 takes just to get actress Virginia Cherrill to mouth the words “flower sir” in the silent film City Lights. Iconic director Stanley Kubrick reputedly reshot one or more scenes in The Shining over a hundred times.

Great film directors like Kubrick and Chaplin are often revered for their willingness to reshoot scenes. So why do writers believe their first draft is a perfect, one-take scene, or if they do recognize the need to rewrite, become paralyzed by the thought? I think it’s because rewriting is not only a blow to the ego, it’s also hard and time-consuming. Unlike a movie director, an author can’t call “Cut” and reshoot the scene immediately. Yet, rewriting is as critical to a good book as the retake is to a successful movie.

Stephen King told The Paris Review (Fall 2006), “Every book is different each time you revise it. Because when you finish the book, you say to yourself, ‘This isn’t what I meant to write at all.’” In 1958, also speaking to The Paris Review, Ernest Hemingway revealed that he rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms thirty-seven times and the last page thirty-nine times. According to a mid-2012 article in the New York Times, Seán Hemingway discovered after studying the collected works of his grandfather that there were actually forty-seven endings to the novel. The Telegraph added that not only was the story rewritten multiple times, but that Hemingway also compiled a list of alternative titles before he decided on the final.

What this means is that the key time in the writing process—the time when the book takes shape—is in the rewriting. So, how does the reluctant rewriter make sure her book gets the rewrite it deserves?

Take 3 … and action.

Done. The end. I’d finished writing The Scorpio Affair, the sequel to my debut suspense novel, The Libra Affair. I’d proofed it over and over, corrected typos, tinkered with sentences, cut verbiage. It had to be ready to send out to the publisher. But books are meant to be read, so before submitting my manuscript, I shared it with a trusted beta reader, and he suggested that I yell, “Cut!” and reshoot some scenes. I didn’t take his word for it right away. Instead, I put the manuscript away for a while, and then later read it on my own. He was right.

The Libra Affair, DacoI knew how I wanted The Scorpio Affair to begin and end, and those parts of the book were fine. In between, I’d taken my heroine Jordan Jakes, a CIA covert operative, on a wild ride with lots of action and intrigue. But much of Scorpio was too episodic. Many chapters told exciting, self-contained stories, but didn’t move the plot forward quickly enough. There was only one thing to do—retake. And though at first I found myself frustrated at the daunting task of an entire rewrite, I remembered that most successful authors embrace the rewrite as a fundamental step in crafting a good story. For encouragement, I recalled the King and Hemingway examples, and also this wonderful quote from best-selling author Lisa Scottoline: “They say that great books aren’t written, they’re rewritten, and whoever said that was probably drinking Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, because they’re right.” I bought a dozen doughnuts, brewed some coffee, and started to revise The Scorpio Affair.

But here are the first two lessons about rewriting. If the process doesn’t come naturally to you, first put the manuscript away for awhile. As Neil Gaiman said, “Finish the short story, print it out, then put it in a drawer and write other things. When you’re ready, pick it up and read it, as if you’ve never read it before.” It’s advice that you hear all the time, but it’s difficult to put your baby to bed even for a few weeks. And second, try to find that trusted beta reader, someone who’ll tell you candidly if there’s rewriting to be done.

There are other ways to foster the rewriting process. Writing groups can help immensely, both because you get feedback from an audience—that’s who we write for—and often because you can read your work aloud. I can’t tell you how many times words looked good on the page but have sounded slow and extraneous when read aloud. If you’re not in a writing group, you should still read aloud even if only to yourself. Your ears will tell you if your story has the right rhythm.

A final alternative—there are many good private editors/writing coaches out there. They can be expensive, so not everyone can afford them. But if you’re lucky enough to have some spare change lying around, they can be very helpful, especially in today’s publishing world, where the editorial staff expects ready-to-go manuscripts.

Take 4 … and quiet on the set.

To conclude, I’m going to advise something that might seem inconsistent with the above. In considering how much to rewrite, trust your gut. Don’t rewrite just because someone tells you it should be done. As the artist, only you can decide when your story is ready. The gaffer, grip, production designer, and cinematographer might all have good input, but you’re the director, and the final cut belongs to you.

And that’s a wrap!

If you would like to read more about Daco Auffenorde’s books please click here.

Born at the Naval hospital in Bethesda, Maryland and raised in Wernher von Braun’s Rocket City of Huntsville, Alabama, Daco holds a B.A. and M.A.S. from The University of Alabama in Huntsville and a J.D. from Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law. When not practicing law, she’s encouraging her children to become rocket scientists and writing novels. Daco’s debut novel, The Libra Affair, an international spy thriller with romantic elements, released in April 2013, and was an Amazon #1 Bestseller of Suspense, Romantic Suspense, and Romance in September, 2013. Daco is a member of the International Thriller Writers, Romance Writers of America, Author’s Guild, and the Alabama State Bar. Visit her website at

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