Rewrites Can Be Painful But Fun

Sometimes when you write a story it feels so wonderful. Things feel right and you enjoy what you’ve created. Yet, there can still be something that is lingering someting that makes it just not quite right. Often in those situations there’s no amount of tweaking that can fix the situation. It comes down to the simple fact that no matter how much you are trying to avoid it, you need a rewrite. You need to scrap down what you had previously and build it back up.

Rewrites terrify me. The thought of a rewrite sends shivers down my spine and elicits a strange desire to vomit. Rewrites by their very nature are admitting that what you’ve done previously wasn’t right. It’s an admission that I messed up and now I need to fix it. Heck, it’s an admission, that I messed up at such a fundamental level that going through and adjusting reordering and tweaking would take ages to get my story into the place it needs to be. Accepting that I messed up is tough.

One of the scariest things about a rewrite is the idea that all the effort your are putting in to rewrite this story can end up being for nothing. Just because you rewrite the story, doesn’t mean that you’ve actually root caused the problem and implemented a fix. Even scarier is when you know you’ve root caused the problem, but the rewrite just fails to deliver the simple stuff that was nailed previously. It’s a scary problem to face especially when you are in a vulnerable state of knowing that you’ve messed up somewhere. Two failures, can make you feel like maybe the story wasn’t meant to be.

Though there is one major benefit from admitting that you need a rewrite. That is the story has a problem and it needs to be fixed. As a writer, being able to acknowledge when you’ve screwed something up is valuable. It is a sign that you are able to look at your work critically and analyze what is missing and what isn’t landing. Sometimes deciding that a rewrite is in order can be a difficult decision. Other times, it may be the most obvious thing to do especially if you are finding multiple elements just not working.

Last year, I worked on a project called Echoes. It was the story of a woman who was made into a villain. It was her story and her journey that led her and pushed her into making bad decisions and eventually becoming what the average person on the street would have no problems identifying as the bad guy. It was written in third person and progressed linearly. I wrote 74k words approximately 3/4ths of the book. I stopped. I almost immediately knew that it was missing something.

Even before I’d started the project I was toying with writing the story in first person. I had the idea of the story starting with my main character about to die. Something about knowing she was dead and finding out how she got there compelled me. Instead I wrote the story from the beginning, and in third person because I was most comfortable with it. Yet, I couldn’t get it out of my head. Something about my character was off. She was supposed to be unhinged and unpredictable, perceived as evil, but driven by a noble cause. She just felt too good and I couldn’t get as deep into her head as I wanted. I wasn’t able to break the fourth wall and let her breath all her crazy out as she recounted her story, full of regrets, self-deprication, and longing for her once idealistic nature. It wasn’t happening as it was. The story needed a rewrite.

I’d accepted that it was going to happen. I prepped and was thrilled to undertake this. The novel was going to be fun and spunky. Then I started to read those early chapters and I cursed to myself. Yes, the story was missing something, but damn so many of those words, sentences were good. They slow and sensible build to learn about everything that made her a character. The story unfolded nicely. The words were fun and kept me reading. It had been a year and much of what I wrote was holding up so nicely. Was what I was about to do the right thing. I pushed it from my head and started to right. She had flair and was nutty. Breaking that fourth wall was what the story needed. Her snark made me want more, but then I had to get into her past and it was still so good.

So you may be wondering what I am doing at this point. It’s an experiment. A hybrid rewrite/edit. The story is now most certainly transitioning from 3rd to first. She’s telling a story, so her thoughts are from the present, but she’s reflecting. So there are a lot of changes being made, but I’m also lifting some of the great action and dialogue directly from the story. I’m using the words from before and making them new. So far, I’m happy with it.

How have you tackled rewriting a story you thought was good?

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