1. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Re-writing 'something old'

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by VM80, Dec 25, 2010.

    Has anyone ever re-written a story they'd come with years before?

    How did you go about it?

    To explain, I wrote a novel-length story around seven years ago.

    I edited it a good three-four times since, but then 'stuff happened' and I put the whole thing into the proverbial drawer.

    Over this last year something's been nagging at me to go back to it one more time.

    What I find is that I still like the story, a lot of the characterisations and so forth, but my writing has undoubtedly changed since those days. I dare say it's become better in some ways, and 'simpler' in style. Also I'm not the same person I was in my early twenties.

    Half of me has the tendency to change 'too much' now, the other half says it's a piece that's testament to a particular time in my life, and to leave well alone.

    Can anyone give me any tips here?

    Thanks so much for reading. :)
     
  2. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    Well, I'm of two minds about this. Some people are good at editing to improve their story. Other writers are better at re-drafting -- basically, they re-read their story to remind themselves of the plot, and they re-write the whole thing from scratch.

    The first group is made up of writers who write silver and edit gold -- they get better and better as they re-write. I've heard that these are in the minority, that most professional writers do a "catching errors edit" and a "tighten prose" edit and they're done. But the editor-writers can be really, really amazing; just look at Patrick Rothfuss. He wrote his fantasy trilogy years ago, and re-wrote and re-wrote the first book until it was basically a pile of awesome sprinkled with grated awesome and a side of awesome sauce. (Yeah, it became a bestseller and continues to make tons of money for him. It's been translated into 26 languages now.) The sequel has also been years in the re-writing stage, and early reviews of it say it's just as amazing as the first one.

    But many other writers seem to distinguish between the manuscript, which is what gets written down on paper, and the story, which is the tale you're telling yourself in your head. If a manuscript is bad, they shrug, set it aside as "this is how I used to write" and re-write the story in a completely new version, a new manuscript. Sometimes both manuscripts are pretty good, and have different takes on the story, so they can be sold separately.

    For example, I have a story about how humans get integrated into a solar system that has already been settled by sentient aliens. One manuscript I've written is about a character who becomes a diplomat and something goes horribly wrong. Another manuscript, a "fresh" one, is about the aftermath of an entirely different negotiation that went sour. The themes, the big events, and the world are very much the same. But there is no overlap between characters, different species are involved each time, and the resolution is drastically different.

    One story. Two ways to tell it -- because for me, the story I have to tell is so much bigger than either manuscript of it. My story is this big clumsy thing about culture shock and resource sharing, aliens feeling each other out and trying to negotiate, and the threat of interspecies war. And right now, I don't have the skill to write all that out. I mean, I could write a book on it and it wouldn't be enough to get everything.

    So instead I wrote the first manuscript as a short story for my Science Fiction writing class, and Haldeman looked at it and pointed out some serious flaws and gave me a B-minus. (Which I totally deserved, although at the time I was like "OMG he crossed out this whole scene as seems extraneous; I'm doomed.") And I did a "fixing errors" edit and it got much better, but still not quite what I wanted. I got a nice check for it later on, but it still wasn't what I wanted to write.

    So this past summer I re-read the first manuscript, set it aside, started Open Office and re-drafted part of the story in my head. It's better. Not perfect or anything, but better, and when I reached a halfway point I set it aside in favor of another project. At some point soon -- now that I have a better idea of where I want to go with the ending -- I'll finish it, and unless I think it's utter garbage I'll send it out someplace and see what an editor thinks.

    In other words ... you can go both ways on this. So. What makes you comfortable? If the novel you finished is pretty decent and you'd like to sort of polish it up, then editing might well be worth the time. But if your novel has serious flaws, like you'd have to move scenes around, delete large chunks, and so on, maybe you would do better to ask yourself whether the manuscript is actually very close to the story in your head. And if the answer is no, why not set aside your old version (don't trash it; it's apparently a huge ego boost to re-read old stories in ten years to see how far you've come) and re-draft the thing from scratch?

    Sure, it's a time commitment. A big one, too. But I'd guess your writing is better now than it was seven years ago. Not just line-by-line writing, but also your understanding of description, characterization, how to set up scenes and foreshadow and rack up tension when you want the reader to be on the edge of her seat. These are things that can make a huge difference in how you would write your book, but they're usually much stronger when you're actively writing than when you're editing.

    I don't know about you, but when I write, half my brain is on the words I'm typing, and the other half is fractured into a million pieces, asking Does this fit with what came before? Is that too harsh a judgement given she's only known him a few days? Did I remember to describe his scar before it becomes important?

    When I edit, my brain is evenly divided between "Does this work?" and suggestions for how to change things. It doesn't get as fully immersed in the manuscript, because when I'm writing, I'm putting in bits and tweaking things, and just generally focusing on the details rather than the big picture. So while I can edit to make things better -- it takes a long time, but I can do it -- I don't really improve my writing to the same degree that way.

    If the first draft is pretty good already, you don't need it to become worlds better. But when the first draft isn't good, well...

    So. What do you think? Is your book pretty good already, so that a final edit will make the difference? Or is the book only "meh," so you'd be better off re-writing in the cherry-red heat of creation than trying to fix it up and only making it slighly less "meh?" Only you can know.

    I just hope that I've given you some things to think about. Good luck, whatever you do, and happy holidays.
     
  3. UberNoodle
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    UberNoodle Senior Member

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    My "first" story is special to me. It's pretty much sums up the meaning of, "the house that Jack built", but I usually come back to it once every few months. Read parts, make changes. I'll keep it because like your story is for you, it's a part of my journey. I really enjoy parts of it, fall asleep in others. There's so much that needs to be changed. I'd rewrite it completely, but there's more work needed than that and I've already moved on. From time to time, I go to it and slice bits off for other stories.
     
  4. erik martin
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    erik martin Contributing Member

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    I have a couple books that I wrote better than ten years ago and some shorts that have been collecting dust. I have been considering revisiting them. About half of them, I have decided are crap. The two books and a few of the shorts I feel are decent stories that I might be able to work with. However, my writing at the time was not as good as it is now, so I will basically be writing them anew. There are bits and pieces of the originals that will probably make the cut. Mostly though, I will keep the plots, characters, etc. and start fresh.
     
  5. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    I'm doing this at the moment, a story I wrote 4 years ago.

    Well, I changed quite a lot as I was only 10 when I wrote it so it was obviously under-developed with bad grammar and descriptions such as 'a big blonde house'.
    You could always write it on a new document, so you don't lose the old rewrites. There's nothing bad about changing stuff, It's probably for the good of your story

    Good luck.
     
  6. Johnny English
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    Johnny English New Member

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    i never rewrited my old stories, because they bring me the ambience of the period of my life.
     
  7. Eunoia
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    Eunoia Contributing Member Contributor

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    I rewrite stuff I've written years ago.
    It doesn't matter if you do or not, but if you are going to make sure you save the changes in a new document so that you keep the original. It's nice to keep the old, original version to compare with the rewrite(s).
    I think rewriting old stuff is nice as it allows you to incorporate what you've learnt since then, and usually it improves the piece or it at least gives you a different perspective on it.
     
  8. VM80
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    Thanks all for the comments. :)
     

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