Rewriting – Part One

When I first started writing I had no idea what I was doing. The idea overtook me and the book grew like a mutation, bubbling bigger and bigger but with no healthy structure to back it up. It was a monster but it was my monster so I kept feeding it. Every idea that came to my head I tried to slot in because I was writing a book and why else would these ideas be coming to me? Every joke got slid in, whether it fit or not and whether it worked with the continuity or not. I wrote and rewrote, building on what I’d done and trying to make it appealing. Chapters ended where it looked cool and there was so much swapping of characters that it got dizzy. And then I looked at my monster and thought it beautiful. I’d done what so many people before me hadn’t – I’d sat down to write a book and actually done it.

And then I took some time off. I wanted to flesh out some of the characters in the book a little more so I wrote some side stories about them. As these stories were shorter I didn’t have to keep going back over them and wrote them linearly where the main book had seen me bouncing from the end to the beginning to the middle and back again. I detailed the characters and gave them enough life that I would have to totally rewrite their parts in the main book. It was fine. I liked the idea of doing that as it would justify them being there a bit more.

When I came back to the main book I saw it for the monster it had become. It was still beautiful in some places and inspired in others, there was still plenty to love about the book, but it no longer fit my vision. As part of a trilogy it had too many elements in place making it top heavy, especially compared to the almost bare second part. And the fast jumping from character to character that I’d thought showed speed and action actually came across as an author who didn’t know how to write longer sections because that is exactly what it was. Somewhere along the line I’d decided on uniform chapter lengths and had shoehorned scenes together to try and get as close to that as possible.

My solution was to break the book (for the record I still have a copy of the files in their original order just in case this goes wrong) up into individual scenes and start again. I wrote a plan for the story that saw it broken into seven distinct parts and then plotted those parts out. The shorter scenes that had been broken by character changes were now merged and I would write connections between them so they read as one chapter. The heaviest side plot (totalling almost fifty pages) would be mostly moved into book 2, with enough hints left in this book to show how these things were affecting the world. And, of course, there would be major rewrites with the characters I’d given short stories to. In making this plan I had to change the timing of the book a little as one of the major events of the start no longer occurred. Night became day and vice versa in some parts and characters found a little more time for drama and introspection.

So far I’m a week into these rewrites and they’re going better than I’d imagined. I’m trying to do a chapter a day but am managing a little more at the moment and have up to chapter 9 done so far at a little over twenty thousand words. Chapters are ending more organically now and some of them are short while others are quite long. I’m also finding that sticking to one character or group for a whole chapter is giving me more room to show them off. Previously I’d show a scene and then jump away because I had no idea how to naturally transition to the next one, but now I’m finding that these transitions can simply be a line here or a few paragraphs there.

I’m really finding my style with this editing run, and I truly feel this will end up with the final version of this book when it’s done. So far it’s flowing a lot better and the humour works better now that I’ve cut a hell of a lot of it out. The drama has its moments but I haven’t gotten to the places where it really needs to sell itself. The mystery is coming along nicely too, although it’s always been an optional element of the story for the reader.

I’ve at least two dozen of my original format chapters to edit still but there’s no telling how many chapters that will end up as in the new way I’m writing this, especially as the character rewrites haven’t even begun yet. The new way I’m cutting chapters makes it hard to figure out how many I’ll end up with in total. I can tell you that of the seven parts I split the story into I’m still on part one and have at least two more chapters to do there. Some parts take less chapters to tell, and some may take more, but the length of those chapters will also vary. Some are major enough parts to need their own section even if they only have two or three chapters to them at the moment.

So yeah, rewriting is going well at the moment. I’ll drop a line at the end of each section of the story and let you all know what sort of progress I’m making and how well my monster is being shaped into a productive member of society… Hmmm, might be stretching that a bit too far there.

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8 thoughts on “Rewriting – Part One

  1. Good going.

    As far as I remember, when you started on this journey it was more or less an engineering project. You wanted to test some of your tactics, methods of telling stories, character building, etc., founded in your interest in game development.

    Has this ‘angle of approach’ changed along the way?

    • I built the world around that concept and it’s quite unique. Mechanically it would be a pretty cool game with features that would surprise the players for quite a while, learning how things work together would be as much a part of the game as anything else.

      For the writing though, that got pushed to the back burner. Spending the time writing up that essay of how the world works really let me get to grips with it, and I don’t feel the need to push all those details into the narrative anymore. They exist in an official form elsewhere so I don’t have to include them just to make them exist, if you catch my drift. I know what is there without having to show it all at once. Things that have happened can simply be mentioned as a passing fact, without having to push the details of it too much. It lets me spend more time with the characters and less trying to explain the world to readers. I think this sort of confidence in the readers to pull those details together allows for a more fluid read.

      It’s all a learning experience in the end, and I’ll probably find this to be the wrong route at some point as well. For now though it seems to be working for me.

      • I absolutely understand. I do things the same way when I try something new. I listen to advice, I nod and say ‘Thank you, sir’, but in the end I choose my own ways. This means that if things become a mess, I can’t excuse myself by claiming that I just followed a stupid advice. It’s my own bloody fault, and the only one who can fix it is me. I have found that I learn better this way than by reading books, watching tutorial videos, listening to advice and such. All this I do, of course, but I regard these things as sources of inspiration, not as given orders – you know what I mean.

        To me the planning phase is the most important ‘level’ of any sort of work, being it building a garden fence or a writing a book (yes, the same thing, totally). If I can make as detailed a plan as possible, I will be spending less time on fixing errors, than if I had no useful plan.

        Of course, sometimes I just sit down and write something, intuitive, spontanous, out of momentary inspiration. But we’re talking about books here, not poems and rubbish…

        • I’m a half and half kind of guy, I’m finding. My stories get plotted out then split into sections and those are plotted to a degree, with some cool dialogue thrown in for fun. I then write around that structure and it kind of works. Usually a chapter will be half an A4 page of ideas in 12 point font and that’s what I write around. A separate file will contain the structure of the story itself so I can see where chapters fit.

          Having said that, the novelette I wrote in a week was completely free form and worked out really well. I’m adding the finishing touches (mostly image files) to it when I can be bothered so that it feels the way I want it to, but the writing itself is done.

          One thing I’ve found handy to keep track of what details I’ve entered is spreadsheets. I use rows for chapters with the columns being each specific viewpoint or group of people that will be focused on. That way I can keep track of how subplots and the like are playing out across the book. At the end of each chapter I do a read through and note down things that will be referenced or built on later as well as details that need to be shown for things to make sense.

  2. I’m curious how this rewriting has impacted the piece you posted previously, or if it still exists at all after you’ve sliced great clumps off the monster with your Sword Of Furious Editing 😉

    • Half and half. The starting point in the mages college has been cut entirely and will be rewritten to mix with the story from the next book. This makes a bit more sense as that takes place in the city for the most part and will visit that character again.

      The part with the old woman in the cottage had been moved up to be the second chapter now, with very minor rewrites to it as it was pretty much in the format I wanted before. Once this draft is done I’ll go over it all again and I’ve got a note to experiment with that one a little more as the exposition and dialogue are in very separate sections and it doesn’t flow as well as others as a result.

      The book actually starts with the main character now as well which I thought would probably be a good idea.

  3. In general, I hate to re-do things, this is why I can equate with Martin’s way: listening to advice then doing my own way, through planning. If something goes wrong… well, it’s my own fault.
    Good luck!

    • I’m not fond of redoing things either. I feel like I’ll mess it up somehow. I also hate throwing away anything I’ve worked on. So far I’ve cut about fifty pages that will be reused in some form or other in the next book and the one after that, although with different characters and circumstances. I may only get a line per page of usable material from them but I’d prefer that to just dumping all that and starting again.

      What I’m doing at the moment is finding the scenes that match the chapter I’m writing and copying all their content into one file, cut into pieces to match the way I want it to flow. Then I edit, cut and write around all that until it’s barely recognisable. At the end I compare with the original scenes and cut out what has been used or rewritten in ways that make it sound better. Whatever is left in that file gets renamed for content and moved to an offshoots folder where I might call on it again for another chapter. I’m all about reusing as much as possible, even if every word of what I reuse gets rewritten.

      At the end, once I’ve done this editing pass and determined whether anything will be useful or not, I might see how these deleted offshoot scenes are and put one or two of the non-spoilery ones up as tasters of the world.

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