I’ve come to love and appreciate what you can accomplish during rewriting–streamline the plot, deepen the characters, clean up those dangling participles and comma splices. All kinds of improvements are possible inside this slow, but necessary process.
As to what works, this is truly subjective.
What seems to work for me is the chapter by chapter technique. First I have my premise written and in front of me; this has to state exactly what the story is about–what happens, who it happens to, and what changes. (I always write this one to two sentence premise BEFORE I begin writing in the first place.)
I read chapter by chapter and make notes about what happens in each one, when and to whom. Once that’s done I’m able to see if I have events out of place, or if I have any “ho hum” chapters where the story doesn’t move forward, or if I’ve repeated something I don’t need to repeat. About now, I might find my premise doesn’t match the book. So what to do? 1) Adjust the premise. 2) Adjust the book. 3) Both.
When I’m satisfied that my premise and my book are on the same track (a very gleeful moment), I focus on my “embellishments”–all those threads that I want to weave into that “Red Thread” or “Premise” to give it texture. A writer friend recently gave me a great idea and when I tried it I was pleased that this technique shortened this part of my rewrite.
I shrank my manuscript by single spacing and reducing my font, making it a more compact piece. Then I went through one thread at a time–an important bracelet, a toy with special meaning etc. I made each thread a different color font, so it was easy to note where they were mentioned, if it appeared too frequently or not frequently enough, if it added to the story as I intended.
With each pass through the manuscript I’m always on the look out for shallow characterization. I dump descriptions that don’t do more than give, for example, eye or hair color for no reason. If a character talks, it should be to show who s/he is. If a character talks, that dialog has to move the story ahead. By the time I’ve “finished” rewriting I want each of the characters to be a person I might know in the real world. Actually, by the time I’m finished (sometimes a bit elusive this finished business) I do know them and they are real in my mind.
I love to let a manuscript marinate after I think it’s exactly how I want it. A few weeks being tucked out of sight does wonders, so when I return to read it again I see it with fresh eyes.