Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Whether these are requested by an agent, suggested by an editor or undertaken on my own, rewrites are the most un-fun part of writing for me. I’ll do them, and I’ll do my best, but I always approach them with a feeling of mingled dread and inertia. And no surprise, considering that with Redemption I had to scrap everything after the first part and start again (that wasn’t so much a rewrite as a re-imagination of what the book was supposed to be). Before the Storm fared better, but even then, the latest rewrite I did was about thirty thousand words long.
My guidelines for rewrites, what I sometimes remind myself of to stop the procrastination and start the work, are simple.
1. Get into the right frame of mind.
Revision can feel like a tiresome task, one more hurdle to crawl over even after all the writing, editing, submission, etc, but I owe it to myself to make sure that I'm writing the best possible story. In the end, my work will be able to compete with the rest of the submissions in the pile (and hopefully win).
2. Don’t be afraid to delete.
I have separate documents for sections of text that I’ve cut out of the story, and there’s the Track Changes function. It’s often easier to write a different sentence or paragraph if the original text is removed.
3. Have a plan before beginning.
As well as planning what has to be done – major overhaul or just correcting one problem – I try to decide what I absolutely must have in the story. I may need a character who backstabs the hero, but I may not need Judas McTraitor, the villain with no redeeming qualities who was in the first draft. I realized with Redemption that there were really only four characters whom I needed as they were; everyone else could be improved or replaced. Having a clear plan of action at the start helps to overcome the inertia.
4. Be open to what the story needs.
As opposed to what would be easiest for myself. I kept trying to revise Redemption and I kept coming up against a mental brick wall until I realized what I was doing wrong. My original draft had had four parts – let’s call them A, B, C and D. In the revision, I kept A and D, and was trying to rewrite B and C so that they would be better. But if I did so, they wouldn’t lead to D. They would take the story in a different direction (and would incidentally mean I’d have to scrap the sequel as well).
I wasn’t happy about this, but when I read B and C again, I saw that I could mine them for bits of descriptions, dialogue and so on while still allowing the story to develop more realistically. I’m not sure whether I’ll write B and C or B and C, but I know the story is going to be better at the end.
At least until the next rewrite, that is.