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Why I Decided to Rewrite My Novel From Scratch

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.

bender

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.

Sometimes you just have to jump into rewriting your book.

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.

Think carefully.

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!

Inspire a friend
Category:Editing, Fiction
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Kristina Adams

Kristina Adams is an author of fiction and nonfiction, writing and productivity blogger, and occasional poet. She has a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Derby and an MA in Creative Writing from Nottingham Trent University. When she's not writing she's reading, baking, or finding other ways to destroy the kitchen. She can be found under a pile of books with a vanilla latte.

11 Comments

  • 14th July, 2015 at 20:41

    Good for you! It’s a tough decision to take, but sometimes a rewrite makes all the difference.

    REPLY
    • 14th July, 2015 at 20:44

      Thanks Cathy! It was a really tough decision, but it’s one I didn’t take lightly. I feel so much better about the story and the characters since I’ve started rewriting it.

      REPLY
  • 15th July, 2015 at 09:30
    Terry Tyler

    I frequently change my character’s personalities on the second draft; usually, somewhere during the first draft, I’ve thought of a better slant to the storyline which would necessitate them being more strong/forceful/bitchy, or whatever. I write myself reminder notes all the time: ‘make Megan a bit more laid back’, or ‘Elias – nicer.’ ‘Elodie should be more resentful of Ben’, etc etc. I’ve also completely rewritten two novels from I wrote in the 1990s, to publish on Amazon – that was a massive task; you wouldn’t believe how much updating was necessary, too!

    REPLY
    • 15th July, 2015 at 21:13

      Wow, that sounds like a lot of work Terry! The world has changed a lot since the 1990s, especially in terms of technology and how that affects relationships. How long did it take you to rewrite them?

      I hear you on the making notes as you go along – I’ve recently started doing the same thing. I find it stops me from dwelling on things I don’t like and continue on with the story.

      REPLY
  • 17th July, 2015 at 08:29
    Ana Salote

    Agree – relationships are core. I’ve also taken good elements from less good stories and dropped them into different contexts where they’ve glued loose stuff together in a surprising way. I’m always amazed by the alchemy of writing. You’ve made a brave decision, but instinct usually wins out. Enjoy the journey.

    REPLY
    • 17th July, 2015 at 20:05

      Thanks, Ana! I’m enjoying it so far. It’s getting a bit more difficult now that I’m further into it, but I think it’ll be worth it.

      REPLY
  • 3rd September, 2015 at 06:02

    […] shared with you a few weeks ago about why I’ve decided to rewrite my novel from scratch after having worked on it for seven years. Well…I’ve now finished writing it and […]

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  • […] been focusing a lot on What Happens in New York lately, which is why there haven’t been many blog posts the last few weeks. Any spare time […]

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  • […] romance is as much escapism as it is fantasy. Most of us won’t get the epic love story that we crave because life sucks. If we do find true love, it won’t be as dramatic as it is […]

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  • 27th March, 2016 at 13:57

    My first novel made me so proud back in 2002, but now I have the opportunity to rewrite it. I find that out of the whole thing, I love the second half best. After checking into the state of the publisher, I’ve discovered no one owns the rights to it but me! So now, with fourteen more years of writing experience behind me, I’ve recently made the decision to rewrite it. I have a suspicion the plot will change dramatically and by the time I’m done it will no longer e a romance, but will change genres completely. The characters have never left me alone and their story has always been a part of me. Thank you for re-affirming what I already felt was the best thing for me.

    REPLY
    • 27th March, 2016 at 18:42

      Hi Carolyn, that’s such an interesting story, thanks for sharing it! Good luck with the rewrite; let me know how you get on with it 🙂

      REPLY

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