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The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel: A Step-by-Step Guide to Perfecting Your Work Paperback – February 16, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

ROBERT J. RAY is the author of eight novels, including the acclaimed Matt Murdock Mystery series, and has also written several practical writing guides, including The Weekend Novelist and The Weekend Novelist Rewrites a Mystery. A resident of Seattle, he runs writing workshops and formerly taught writing for the University of Washington’s School of Distance Learning. He is a member of the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Watson-Guptill (February 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0823084434
  • ISBN-13: 978-0823084432
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #242,462 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

robert j ray phd
born in texas, 1935
snow ice wind heat dust-storms sunday school rule red brick streets horses cows guns
school tennis paper route heartache journalism sports editor growing pains modest HS aptitude for english, Latin, Spanish; zero aptitude for math
more school at Modesto, Austin, Georgetown in DC (russian, chinese), U-Chicago (hindustani)
gradschool at UT: MA, PHD
college teacher - U kentucky, beloit college, chapman U (OC)
nightschool teacher - San Diego, Irvine, Seattle
studied tennis with 4 teachers who helped me become an intuitive inner game
tennis teacher San Diego, Beloit
married, divorced, remarried, moved with wife Margot to Seattle (for the weather)three cats so far

books:The Weekend Novelist(+ revised Weekend Novelist), The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery, The Weekend Novelist Redrafts the Novel (London), Bloody Murdock, Murdock Cracks Ice, Dial "M" for Murdock, Murdock for Hire, Merry Christmas, Murdock, The Hitman Cometh, The Art of Reading: A Handbook on Writing, Small Business: An Entrepreneur's Plan (5 editions) The Heart of the Game (tennis), Cage of Mirrors

courses taught: memoir, starting your novel, keeping going on your novel, rewriting your novel, key to your style, dialogue, intro to screenwriting, writing practice, going deep with myth-base, verbs
recommended writing guru: natalie goldberg
writing/teaching partner: jack remick
students taught to writer better: approx 10,000
world-view: the worst writer can get better; the best writer can jettison the ego and strive for perfection
advice: write every day, use a timer, don't cross out, keep the hand moving, go for the jugular


Role Model for a Fledgling Writer

Matt Murdock, my detective hero, sprang from John D. McDonald, the prolific crime writer (1916-1986) who created Travis McGee. McGee, the hard guy protagonist, starred in a 21-novel series that ran from 1964 to 1985.

McDonald wrote 78 books. The titles of the twenty-one McGee books were coded with a specific color: The Deep-Blue Goodbye, Darker than Amber, and A Deadly Shade of Gold. The first Cape Fear film (starring Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, and Polly Bergen, 1962) was an adaptation of McDonald's novel, The Executioners.

Like Chandler's Philip Marlowe (and later Robert B. Parker's Spenser), Travis McGee narrates his stories from the First Person. He calls himself a "salvage expert," which means he helped friends in trouble, friends who could get no help from cops or lawyers. For his fee, McGee took fifty per cent.

For thousands of male readers trapped in desk jobs and sedentary lifestyles (I was a college prof who sat around a lot, feet on the desk), Travis McGee offered a momentary escape. He was single, handsome, witty, and smart. He was the archetypal hero, St. George on a white horse, who slew the dragon and rescued the maiden. McGee was a smart guy, with a wry wit. He was a knight-errant who lived on a houseboat, The Busted Flush, that he had won in a poker game.

A hero needs a sidekick. Holmes had his Watson; Spenser had Hawk. And Travis McGee's sidekick was an alter ego named Meyer, a Ph.D. in economics, who took over the explanations, saving McGee from drowning in pages of exposition.

For each McGee book, a new lady-friend stepped onstage. When the book ended, the ladies exited, leaving the stage empty--except for McGee, Meyer, and The Busted Flush. When McGee needed motivating, McDonald the writer killed the lady-friend to stoke the fires of vengeance.

The Birth of Matt Murdock

When I wrote Bloody Murdock (1986), I was hoping for a series similar to the books starring Travis McGee. But I was not a fiction writer, not a teller of tales. I had no practice in character development or dialogue. I didn't know about the need for an establishing shot to lock down location. I had yet to learn the importance of motivation, agenda, and core story. I had taught expository writing, guiding students through essay writing. I had read novels, but I knew nothing about writing one.

The questions still haunt me: How do you start writing your novel? What do you do first? Where do you open the story? How do you hook the busy reader? How do you get those characters out of cars, down corridors, through doorways, and into rooms?

When in doubt: imitate your betters.

I aped John D. McDonald. He had McGee. I had Murdock. McGee had Meyer, the brainy sidekick. Murdock had Wally St. Moritz, smart, well-read, educated, and sedentary. McGee's home was his houseboat, The Busted Flush. Murdock had a bachelor's apartment above a surf shop, The Silver Surfer, on the beach near the Newport Pier. McGee's playground was Florida, with forays into Mexico and the Caribbean. Murdock's playground was Southern California--Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Irvine--a rollicking source of money and power.

My hero needed a voice. I tried Murdock in Third Person--that voice, distant and authorial, morphed into a prologue--and then I settled on First Person, like McGee. Like Philip Marlowe, Chandler's Los Angeles sleuth. And like Spenser, who operates with steady, brilliant success in Boston.

In my search for the right opening, I wrote hundreds of pages--and those were the days of the typewriter, carbon paper copies, and bottles of Whiteout. I wrote a dozen versions of Page One with Murdock waking up. It seemed logical and "natural." The day starts, the book starts. But you can't start your book where the first move is a yawn, and the next move is a weary stretch.

Desperate, I painted word-pictures of the Newport Pier. I sketched the ocean beyond the pier. I daubed in a sleek sailboat sliding across the horizon. Ahoy there, yon sailboat: Anything happening out there? Anything I can use to open my book?

I tried opening with dialogue--it sounded wooden--then with a masterful monologue from Wally St. Moritz. Nothing worked, and I was avoiding the important stuff: killer, victim, crime, crime scene, discovery of the corpse.
Pray for an Arresting Image

If you are a writer, you pray for the right image--a trigger for your writing brain--and so one day my wife Margot and I had lunch at the Blue Beat on the Newport Pier and when we came outside I saw the figure of a girl walking along the pier, quick steps, medium heels. She had red hair like Brenda Starr, girl reporter from the comic book pages of my youth. She was willowy, the writer's code for young and perhaps innocent. That unnamed girl with her skirt pressed tight to her legs by the wind, her hair flying like a TV ad for L'Oreal, that distant vanishing girl turned into a character named Gayla Jean Kirkwood, a Hollywood starlet wannabe, fresh off the Greyhound from Texas.

I costumed her in a party dress, rushed her to a fancy party deep in Laguna Canyon, where she hooked up with a small-time film star who was making a deal with the killer. Back then, I had a Ph.D. in literature--but I didn't know that when you write mysteries you better create the killer first.

Create your Killer First

When Jack Remick and I wrote The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery, our first lesson was: create your killer first. By then, I had written five Murdocks. And with Jack's analytical eye, I saw, at last, that the key to each book was the killer.

To get to the killer in Bloody Murdock, I followed the trail of the victim. Gayla Jean lusted for stardom. She took up with a man who promised to help her. He was a rich man with a big house in Laguna Canyon. His name was Philo Waddell and the opening scene-sequence takes us inside Philo's house, into the heart of a hot party where the entertainment is a series of cockfights. Philo's guest list is an eclectic mix of people from Hollywood, people from the rich beach cities, and Mafia people from Las Vegas. To find out why Philo kills Gayla Jean, you need to read the book. But for me, Philo was the key. I stumbled on him. With each page, his evil grew. By the time readers reach the climax, they want Philo dead. If you are a writer, you can learn more about these writing tricks at:

Have Fun Quoting Yourself

When you write a blog about your writings, there is a great temptation to quote yourself at length. But when I read my writing in those early books, I wonder: Who wrote this?--because the images that landed on the page were not the images I conjured in my dreams. Reading my early writings, I am reminded that when you are a writer, you do your best with the words.

You hold your breath as the image in your brain morphs into the word-picture on the page, and then you suck in a quick breath as the word-picture gets squeezed by syntax. English syntax is elastic--it expands, it contracts, it writhes when you fling it into the face of the world.

You keep writing: the right word, the best sentence, the perfect paragraph. You do your writing practice, writing under the clock a la Natalie Goldberg, and some days you are hot and other days you are cold, but you keep writing because writing is what you do.

The quote below comes from the early pages of Bloody Murdock. Murdock has a gig. His client is Ellis Dean, who hires him to look into the death of Gayla Jean Kirkwood. Dean is a passive no-action guy. His function in the book is to act as a contrast to Murdock.

Quote: "Back at my place, Ellis Dean sat on the edge of a director's chair, watching me strap on the leather shoulder holster. For him, this was the action big time. The first couple of dozen times, strapping on a shoulder holster can be an exacting ritual. The smell of leather and mansweat. The flat emptiness before you insert the pistol. The knowledge that this is a harness of death. I don't like shoulder holsters, especially in summer heat, when society forces you to wear a jacket to hide the straps. But they are the way of civilization. I knew an old Chinese dude in Saigon who put everything into symbolism. Politics was the dagger up the sleeve, he said. Government was the gun beneath the armpit. The gun I chose was a .357 Magnum, six-inch barrel, with half a box of extra ammo."

Analysis: The passage opens with the character contrast I mentioned above. Ellis Dean is a passive man, brainy and sedentary. Murdock is all action. Murdock needs money; Dean has money. Money from the hesitant Mr. Dean puts Murdock on the trail of Gayla Jean. Once Murdock gets going, once he starts questing for revenge, the money loses its importance. That's what makes him a white knight.

The heart of the passage is the warrior girding himself with armor. Instead of a sword or a battle-ax, Murdock straps on a .357 Magnum. When I was writing Bloody Murdock, I had sage advice from a gun-guy in one of my writing classes. To be a writer, you need to know the right people.

When in doubt: ask an expert.

My thanks to Catherine Treadgold, the publisher of Camel Books, who is reprinting all five Murdocks, who has thereby engineered the rebirth of my detective hero, and who launched me onto this handy blog .
Thanks, Catherine.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By C. J. Singh on February 16, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
THE WEEKEND NOVELIST REWRITES THE NOVEL makes an excellent companion to Ray's "The Weekend Novelist" (TWN). But, what if you haven't read TWN? You still could follow this book -- thanks to its 11-page detailed glossary. The book also includes a witty rewrite-in-progress of a draft -- a draft that had been completed without its author having read TWN.

In rewriting, Ray focuses on restructuring, not mere copyediting (aka line-editing): "The key to rewriting your novel is not line-editing, the key is fixing the subplots. If you fix the subplots, then the manuscript will shape up" (page 7). The assumption here is that the writer has already structured the main plot with care. Ray suggests many restructuring exercises such as making separate grids for each subplot. Throughout, he presents structural analyses of a number of novels to illustrate craft concepts. The novels include:
literary contemporaries such as
The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler,
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys,and
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje;
literary classics like
and a few genre novels like "Gorky Park" and "The Eye of the Needle."

Ray also comments on the screen adaptations of novels and suggests the "Rewrite mantra: to find story secrets, study good films" (p. 35).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mindy S. HALLECK on July 14, 2012
Format: Paperback
Yesterday I was interviewed by a local blogger about my writing life. As the interview went on I realized I kept referencing Robert Ray's The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel and so had a eureka moment; that book's been my best editing partner. Editing my novel has been a mind maze. Bob's book has helped me through that maze, guiding me with step by step actions, charts, graphs, sage advice and easy to follow structural development. Using his methods has greatly enhanced my skill set and given me the confidence to complete the story I imagined in the first place but that go lost somewhere along the way. Every writer needs this book, whether editing or beginning a narrative. Mindy S. Halleck, Seattle WARomance & Money: 12 Conversations Every Couple Should Have
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By margaret_yang on February 15, 2014
Format: Paperback
from Margaret Yang of the "Writing Slices" blog

THE WEEKEND NOVELIST REWRITES THE NOVEL is the sequel to THE WEEKEND NOVELIST, which I found quite useful. In that earlier book, Ray took the huge task of writing a first draft and simplified it by breaking it into 52 parts, to be finished in a year of weekends. He tries to do something similar here, but instead of simplifying, he’s made rewriting so complex no one will do it. If I were a new author, I’d find Ray’s method too intimidating to try. Now that I am a seasoned author, I just find it silly.

Ray’s rewrite plan has seventeen steps. If you write only on weekends, it will take about four months to finish. But even then, you won’t be done because at that point, you've only restructured your novel. Ray’s plan leaves only two weekends to polish the prose.

The main problem with THE WEEKEND NOVELIST REWRITES THE NOVEL is that it breaks things down too finely. For example, Ray instructs writers to make a grid of every character who opposes the main character, detailing when they enter and exit the story, what their resources are, what object symbolizes them, and what they want. But really, only the last one is of any use. Once you know what the bad guy wants, and how it’s in opposition to the good guy, you know everything. This is just one example of the tasks Ray sets forth. Even if you had all the time in the world, there is no reason to do most of them. They are wasted effort.

I’m a person who loves story structure and loves rewriting. I color code my outlines and think of index cards as toys, yet I found THE WEEKEND NOVELIST REWRITES THE NOVEL tedious in the extreme. I’d rather spend my money on a better book and spend my time doing actual, productive work.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Margie Read VINE VOICE on May 18, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a very helpful tool for any writer, especially the ones who say, "I sit down and write a book and then never go over it again." And never see it in print it could be added. Writing is an intense emotional expression and it is easy to get so wrapped up in a personal approach, the overall picture is neglected. This book gives a good overall examination of a manuscript and following the suggested action can result in a much better final product. We recommend any writer, especially a beginning writer, take heed of the good advice here.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By L.M. Archer on February 12, 2013
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Finally. A pragmatic, practical approach to re-writing that awful first draft. Full of hope, humor, and helpful hints, and guaranteed to help you see the light at the end of the re-write tunnel. Well worth the investment in time and treasure.
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