For NaNo, I decided to rewrite an old novel. I thought it’d be great to write a little about this process.
Some people might feel I’m cheating here. I know the story. I’ve written it to its conclusion. There’s no surprise in terms of the larger beats of the story. This much is true, but in some ways this is much harder too. Because even though this is a rewrite, it’s more of an original story all over again.
Let me just say the first draft…well, if you are one of the unlucky ones to have read it, I am sorry. There really isn’t a nice way to say it, but that first draft is horrible. Atrocious is also a good word to describe it. The idea is awesome. So awesome I don’t think that I will spoil it. As a concept it’s amazing and interesting. The stories I can tell in this world are virtually limitless. That said, the first draft had a lot going against it and I thought I would make it clear what the big mistakes are.
1. I knew very little about the novel process. The rewrite here was only my second novel. I’ve had no formal training at this. Most of the stuff I picked up was pretty much through trial and error. While there is a certain bravery to doing a novel in this sense, it’s almost a guarantee that it will have problems. Not least of which the choice of style I went with. The style? George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire style.
Yeah. That same style that takes Martin years and years and years to write and perfect to get to the point he is releasing new book. There was a five year gap between Dance of Dragons and Feast of Crows for a reason. (Small aside: GRRM is without a doubt an awesome writer. I’m nowhere close to his caliber yet. But this was the style I chose.) So yeah, putting the whole thing together and making a book out of it…yeah, not so cool.
2. I didn’t know my own strengths and weaknesses. This one is quite huge actually. As a writer you spend much of your time writing alone listening to music and occasionally taking breaks so you don’t lose what little sanity you have. Your weaknesses in particular are something you don’t always catch. You’re just too close to the work. Having people to read your work is a must. It takes a thick skin and a desire to improve, but the weaknesses will come out. I know them a lot better now than I did back in my younger days. I make some of the same mistakes, but at least when I do rewrites I catch them.
3. I over-edited the shit out of it. See errors one and two respectively and you get the problems here. The last draft was a gutted down and destroyed story. I needed to step away from it before I tried and fix it.
4. I didn’t give my characters the time and space to breathe properly, especially in the beginning of the story. Rereading it, I only liked on of the characters in the story with how they began. Mostly, I just limited myself to about five pages a character. That’s a little under 800 words. Sometimes, that is all a character needs to speak, but sometimes the characters tell you more. I didn’t listen to that voice at all.
Now here I stand ready to try again.
I just did the first chapter and I like it much better than the previous version. Here’s what I did:
1. I let the character speak. Instead of 800k minimum, I let the thought process drag on. I let people get inside the character’s head a lot more. This character is one of my favorites from the last book and to little surprise, is still one of my favorites here.
2. I know my weaknesses – I also know my strengths a lot better. This time I hope the mistakes I do make are smaller and more correctible.
3. More readers – I have four people I’ve sent the first bits to. All of them will be brutally honest with me. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
4. I’m wiser – how much wiser though remains to be seen.
So far I wrote one chapter at 2500k. We’ll see how it continues to go.