Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Getting Back to Revisions - Rewrite or Start Over

Time to get back to revising.

Heard from my writing group in a fillet session, er. . . constructive criticism session. Actually, they were quite kind and actually very complimentary, which was unusual. Must have been the wine.

But their comments brought up one very important point that's worth discussing and getting your thoughts. Rewriting or Starting Over.

Before we get there, let me explain. My current novel is actually a revised version of a revised version of an earlier work. Essentially, I took concepts and basic plotlines from an earlier work and deconstructed the novel, re-concepted the plot and characters, wrote new story arcs for each character and wrote a new outline for the new story. I did however make one major mistake that has come back to haunt me over and over, which is the title of this post.

Whenever possible, in order to save time, energy and writing, I reused some of my old book parts. At the time, I thought I was being clever. If I could reuse a chapter here or a plot line there, make some minor changes, I'd make my writing faster. Turned out to be wrong.

Here's the problem. In reusing some of the old stuff, I ran into a few instances where the character motivation for doing a certain thing was actually no longer valid. Since I wanted to reuse the part, I simply changed the motivation in my current form, thinking it would solve the problem, but it didn't, it created new problems.

Let me give an example. In my first version of the book, after the police come to the lab and my hero and his research partner make a daring escape, they go back and meet at the hero's apartment. At the time, this was crucial, because my hero desperately needed to do something with their research project and time was of the esscence. It had to be done right then. Afterward, they went on the run before the police found them at the apartment. Are you following this?

In the new version, after they escape the police I decided they would still go back to the apartment and do the same repair of the research project. The problem is, the reason they desperately had to do it before, no longer existed. Now, they just did it, to which my entire writing group could only ask "why?" And my answer? Well, there really isn't one, is there. My characters did it because I was lazy and wanted to keep some old scenes rather than rewrite them. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

I violoated one of my own ten immutable laws of revising: Know each character's motivation.

My advice then, when confronted with a similar situation in your rewriting, is not to reuse old scenes. Rather, it's always best to rewrite them. When you rewrite them in the flow of your current writing, the character's motivation is more organic from the story, not contrived by the author just to be able to reuse some segments. And this is the key lesson from this experience. Each action that the character performs, each motivation, has to be organic to the current book. If you're going to reuse some scenes, make sure that the motivation and action still makes sense in your current writing. If there's any question, it's probably best to just rewrite it.

I'm doing that now. Fortunately, I'm very near the end of the novel, and this is a quick fix for me, but I'm going through each line, making sure that any old vestiges from the last novel still make sense now, that the reasons are organically grown from the current state of the characters.

Then I'll be done and it's off to the agent!

We'll write about query's and synopses then.

1 comment:

Angel said...

Gosh. That is very relevant Todd. And very good advice. As I have been re-writing I had done exactly that-bringing in paragraphs/sections from other stories etc to help me! And interestingly when I look at the pieces I COMPLETELY re-wrote they are much better!.
Hmmm. Real food for thought. Thank you. I'm now up to 85,000 words and off on an Arvon Course next week-cannot wait. Although I will probably be doing a lot of re-writing once I return!

Hope you are soon done and get it off to the agent. Ah, I can dream...maybe you can do a post on how to approach/get the right agent sometime for when I eventually pluck up the courage...

warm wishes