A novel rewrite is a big task. A daunting task. But sometimes, it’s necessary.
I’ve been writing about best friends Hollie and Fayth since I was 18. In that time, I’ve written four and a half novels, and a few short stories. I’ve rewritten their first adventure, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun at least 12 times.
A few weeks ago, I met with a couple of writers to discuss Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. One of them had read it and written and in-depth editorial report, whilst the other knew nothing about it. They had no idea about where the story came from or any of the background on it, so could view it objectively.
It made me realise that as I had grown, so had the story. Except I was still attached to scenes that didn’t work and were just too over the top.
I needed to decide what I wanted to do next. I could keep working on what I had, but could I remove my emotionally attached 18-year-old perspective? I could ditch the project. Or I could start again.
I knew what I wanted the characters to be. Trouble was, because I was so attached to scenes that belonged to older versions of the characters, those scenes didn’t work anymore.
So I decided it was time for a rewrite.
I’ve taken the heart of the story—the characters and their relationships—and put it in a new location. The core characters are the same, as are their close friends and family, but the rest has been abandoned.
Except it wasn’t a waste of time.
If I hadn’t written all of that, the characters wouldn’t have become who they are. And if they hadn’t been such a mess, I wouldn’t have decided on a rewrite. And if I hadn’t have decided on a rewrite, I wouldn’t have been as happy with the story.
Studies suggest that you have to do ten years, or 10,00 hours, of studying a craft before you’re an expert of it. So spending all those hours working on it and its sequels wasn’t a waste of time, but a learning curve. A learning curve that bought a smile to my face as I wrote it, and to those that have read it already.
I’m now 38,000 words into the story. I’ve got a potential new title, and the most important part of the story—the relationships between the characters—is very much still there. The sassy grandmother also has a larger part in the story, which I’m not complaining about.
If you’ve got a piece that you’re working on, and there’s an element of it that you like but you’re not happy with the rest of it, consider taking the good elements and putting them in a different context. If you don’t like your protagonist, there’s nothing stopping you from changing them. Gillian Flynn changed Libby Day in Dark Places from being chirpy and upbeat to depressed, and the story works better because of this. Having a chirpy and upbeat character narrating a novel about mass murder would just be creepy if you ask me.
There’s nothing wrong with rewriting. Even if everyone around you is telling you that the piece is great, trust your instincts. You know the characters and the story better than anyone else: don’t let anyone try to tell you otherwise.
If you’re thinking of rewriting your novel…
Ask yourself why.
What is it that you’re unhappy about? What is it that you plan to change? What do you want to keep?
Think about format.
Are you going to rewrite it as a novel? Would it work better as a script, or maybe even a poem? J.K.Rowling chose to tell the story of the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as a play because she feels it’s the best format for the story.
A rewrite is a lot of work. You need to have a clear idea of what you want to keep and what you want to trash. You may change your mind as you go along, but at least when you start you should know what you plan to do.
Learn from your mistakes.
There was something that’s made you decide to do a rewrite. Perhaps it’s plot inconsistencies, or a terrible character. Ensure you don’t make the same mistakes by planning out an inconsistent plot, or interviewing a character that doesn’t quite work.
Trust your instincts.
No one knows the story better than you do. Don’t let them try to convince you otherwise.
Have you ever rewritten one of your pieces from scratch? Did you feel better for doing it? I’d love to hear your stories!