There is one thing that writers hate. I am a writer and I hate it, so I think it must apply the same way for other writers. The overhaul edit. That seems an appropriate word for it. This form of edit requires the writer to go through the entire manuscript, making the same minor changes over and over, which will have a major effect on the final version. It is something akin to producing a brand new manuscript.
In my case, I am converting from first-person to third-person limited. In my literary novel, A BEAUTIFUL CHILL, I have split the story between two protagonist's point of view. His side is in normal third-person and her side, because she has a unique voice that I wanted to get into the story, is in first-person. I couched her first-person accounts as journal writing and talking with a counselor, or simply thinking her thoughts. Because the female character has certain issues that are the result of her particular experiences, experiences of a rather negative mieu, some readers have taken exception with my portrayal of her.
One comment that I read on an agent's blog--not something which was ever posted in relation to this novel--was advice not to write a female character from first-person unless you are one. The same advice did not seem to apply to female authors writing male characters from first-person; perhaps men are so transparent that anyone can effectively write the man's POV. Anyway, I decided to try writing a new first chapter, completely new in style and also in third-person. I liked it. Others thought it more powerful, more compelling. So I decided to proceed with the overhaul edit.
Half the chapters are from her POV, which meant that half the book needed to be converted. It was not simply a matter of changing pronouns. I also had to change verb forms to match the changed subjects of the sentences. And other problems quickly became apparent, too. I could not easily include her thoughts; I had to add "she thinks" a lot (I chose to keep her chapters in "present" tense, though much of the text has her recalling what has recently happened so those are in past-tense). Eventually, I found an easy way to introduce her thoughts: I let her use her word "ja" to open a passage of reflection or analysis.
Here are two passages, to show the difference . . . .
The Original Version:
I hear the branch of the big walnut tree outside my window tapping on the pane and I awaken suddenly, “with a fright” my mother used to say. The end of a week of pain has left me with a painful dream, and with a moment more to recognize where I am—still in my room, in my bed—I understand where I was—back in Iceland, on a hillside above Akureyri, in another life.
When I was nine or so, Magnús led me up through the pasture to see a newborn calf on his brother’s farm. We hiked the green slopes, dividing the sheep as we went. I wore my red boots with the silver buckles, a birthday gift Heiðr had brought from Reykjavík. My slicker was bright yellow and often hot so I hated to wear it, but since it was a cool, damp day, my father insisted. The silver pendant with runes carved around the rim and the five-pointed star at its center, usually hidden under my shirt from my Lutheran mother, bounced freely against my chest. On that day, and in my dream, Magnús wore his usual britches-and-braces, a dull orange anorak, and his blue sailor cap with the white brim. He looked ungainly on land, taking unsteady steps with his bowed legs, steps that took him increasingly farther from the fjörður and through a land thick with the spring grasses, full of blossoming wildflowers, and dwarf birches that clustered alongside a creek.
The New Version:
The branch of the walnut tree outside the window taps furiously against the pane and Íris awakens. Another bad dream.
The old house she lives in, the bike ride to campus each day, the pressure of competition, the paintings she tries to finish—or start—everything at Fairmont College is different than she expected. It is a Master’s program, she reminds herself, and with a year already completed she must push herself to create more works for the graduate exhibition, a showing that she must rely on to get more commission work or a teaching position somewhere.
After only two hours of sleep, she sits up, feeling the dream still hanging on her like a shadow. She was not in her bed, not in the long, narrow room that is hers, not in the large Victorian house she shares with six other students. She was back in Iceland, on a hillside above her hometown of Akureyri.
Magnús was leading her up through the pasture to see a newborn calf—just as he had done when she was ten. They hiked the green slopes, dividing the sheep. She wore her red boots with the silver buckles, a birthday gift Heiðr had brought back from Reykjavík. She wore the bright yellow slicker only because it was a cool, damp day and her father insisted. The silver pendant her father gave her bounced under her shirt, hidden from her Lutheran mother. Magnús wore his usual britches-and-braces, a dull orange anorak, and his blue sailor cap with the white brim. He looked ungainly on land, taking unsteady steps with his bowed legs through a land thick with the spring grasses, blossoming wildflowers, and dwarf birches that clustered alongside a creek.
To get the same information across requires some flexibility and even some subtle manipulation. Since we are outside of her head in the new version, we need to decide whether or not to include some of the information or, if it must be included, how to convey it in a believable manner. In these excerpt examples there is also the problem of verb tenses. The original version starts in the present but not in present-tense, then shifts to past tense as she recounts her dream. In the new version, because I am using present-tense instead of normal storytelling past tense, it is a little more complicated.
Also, as the opening paragraphs of the chapter, and because I wrote a new first chapter in a different time and place, I needed to add some sentences to re-introduce her in her new setting. That results in a lengthening of the text compared to the original.
I have continued this kind of conversion and am now close to the end. This round I am converting pronouns and verb tenses, with some minor editing of other sentences, especially to convey thoughts in third-person that used to be in first-person. I will then go through the manuscript again to smoothe the text out and make sure it flows well in its new form. As I recently told a colleague, this is the rough cutting; next is the polishing.
If you wish to compare more, here are the links:
original opening chapters
new chapter 1 in 3rd person