I hate to re-write. It is tedious and difficult, especially the part where you have to shoehorn in new material between existing sections and then repair the damage to the rest of the story.
In working on my novel (Finding Shelley’s Shoes), I had what at the time seemed to be an epiphany. Up the ante, harden the antagonist, make the story more exciting. And so I did that. I thought.
Fast-forward from then through the three years tied up with the pandemic and leaving my part-time job. I’d spent some of that time dreaming up new-and-improved scenes to make my book better, but there was still the work of fitting it all in seamlessly.
I hadn’t yet gone back and added foreshadows of the new drama, nor had I figured out how my plot could work realistically, something that was necessary for this book. Further, I had only tentatively figured out how to tie this new material into the existing ending with minimal displacement of material already written. This had been a completed draft.
Now my little writing gnome, Wendell, was niggling at my brain.
I knew I had to be sure. I was desperate to write the book as well as I could. Didn’t I need the ‘oomph’ that drastic drama provides?
I began thinking about critiques I’d been receiving from my writers group. There is one rule of thumb we all use after being ‘ripped apart’ during a critique (we don’t really work that way; see my Substack post “I Never Thought I’d Do It” to read about our group’s way of critiquing).
Our Rule of Thumb
If only one person is critical of something, it can be ignored. If two people are critical, it’s worth thinking about; and if more than two people are critical of the same thing–something needs to be done.
I think I sighed. It was all too apparent. There was a sort of ongoing complaint–well, criticism–from several group members that I was including side stories that didn’t advance the book’s plot. I included them because “they really happened” (my words). In my fictional world. But even if I’d been writing non-fiction, everything that ‘happened’ didn’t need to be included in my story.
So, okay, note to self; these passages had to be condensed or eliminated entirely. I could do that on the next pass of revisions.
But, how did this affect the question of the changes I’d worked on for months to get right, the scenes that were going to elevate my story?
This time I know I sighed. In fact, I sigh just thinking about it now. The scenes I wrote have not elevated the story but lifted it out of the realm of reality. The writers group had already told me that much.
Now I saw that they didn’t fit. This book is not an adventure book in the sense of wild events or violent action; it’s a book about five sisters going on what may be their last road trip. Even if their history is somewhat dramatic and charged with high emotion, it does not require the kind of storyline I created for them in those scenes, and it never would. Plus, to be honest, I wasn’t writing it all that well.
My sighs were followed by relief. I think I’d known that it wasn’t working. I didn’t need all that furtiveness, danger and drama. Their drama comes from their relationships and life as it really happens. The other stuff has to go.
Now I must undo what I labored to create. I need to repair the ending as well. It may still be altered somewhat though, because I really like leaving the twins behind. (Don’t worry, there’s not enough information there to be a spoiler.)
I took my book down the wrong road, and now I have to take it back. Change is never easy; intentional change is even harder, no matter whether it is changing a lifestyle or 20,000 words of your precious novel. It’s a long way to go back–and then forward again–but it’s a road worth traveling. It makes the trip so much better.