Sunday, November 19, 2006

Rewriting the Unrewritable

Going through my old files, I found a story I wrote about 10 years ago. Reading it is a painful exercise in the futility of major editing. In order to bring this book up to scratch, I'm going to have to start from page one, sentence one and start all over again. Sometimes that is just easier than fixing an existing file.

It had been about 7 years from the time I finished one draft of By A Silken Thread to the time I did a total rewrite and sold it. - The majority of those seven years (about six years, nine months) it spent stuffed in a drawer somewhere while I worked on other projects. By the time I thought to bring it out of moth balls and mouse droppings, the technology had changed so dramatically, I was forced to update it. But that was all right. In the intervening years, I'd learned a lot about craft, character and plot development and knew I could do much better. I never gave it a second thought about delving in and beginning a fresh draft from the very first word.

-That's how I feel about this book. I call it "Timeless" though I doubt I'll stay with that trite title. It's a reincarnation tale that originally took place between NJ and Scotland. But as I started thinking about this story again about six months ago, I thought why did I bother to set the damn thing in Scotland when NJ has the exact topography I need for the death scenes? This state is so rich in history for the same time period I'd set the original story in. I would have information more readily available, since I live in the area I'm writing about. (Northwestern NJ not far from the Delaware Water Gap).

I can still keep the basic premise and action, reactions ect. but I will need to tighten the cast of characters and make more parallels between the past and present. I think with the changes I'm thinking of I may be able to pull this off.

There is something comforting to me about rewriting a story I've already written a few times. I don't know if it's because the characters have lived inside me so long I no longer feel as if I'm getting to know them, but already am very intimately acquainted with them. Or if it's because I already have a good idea where the story is going, even if I've changed it drastically. There is an inexplicable confidence in rewriting a book from scratch.

Have you ever taken something out of a drawer and totally rewritten it from page one, starting in a brand new file? If so, what are your feelings before, during and after the project?

-Kat

3 comments:

Bernadette Gardner and Jennifer Colgan said...

I've tried this a few times, Kat, but foundthe amount of work involved was just too much. My very first novel was a sci-fi without much romance in it, and I've wanted to update it for years. I've rewritten about half of it, but the feeling for the characters just isn't there anymore. Kudos to someone who can salvage the 'drawer' novel, I'd love to, but I just can't.

Jennifer Elbaum said...

OMG -- I love choosing the setting of a novel based on the death scene, that's great!!!!

I've tried rewriting a screenplay as a novel and I failed miserably. I'm in awe that you can do it!

Skylar Masey said...

I bow to you Kat for jumping into rewrite By A Silken Thread:0)

I have always had an "ew yuck" mentality to edits, which is closely related to rewrites. But over the years, it's become a neccesity, so I don't complain (much) about it anymore.

I've gone back and read some of my short fiction from high school. To date myself that was fourteen years ago. The premises aren't bad, but the way it's written makes me cringe. Though I think that's because a) I had little idea of what I was doing and b) the way books/stories are written these days have changed. I think that's evident from picking up any older title from the 80's or 90's and comparing it to today's market.

Take Me In Your Heart, now TIES OF VALOR, was a drawer book. I'd tried to sell it, but didn't have much luck. I entered it in a contest and got some fabulous feedback. That's when I decided to rewrite the parts that didn't work. So I gues that would count as a heavy edit, not neccessarily a full rewrite. But afterwards it started finalling in contest, and is now at Trisk. So I did something right:0)