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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Starting Over

   
Author Topic: Starting Over
mythique890
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I'm getting to the point where I feel like my WiP is hopelessly tangled. It's my first successful attempt at something novel-length (96,000 words) and the story itself is 'complete,' but I am increasingly unhappy with it. The plot is alright, but the storytelling is clumsy. Every time I open that massive document, I get totally overwhelmed, because if I change something, I have to also change it at points A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I... you get the picture.

So I'm thinking about starting from scratch, like my whole first try was just practice. I want to do an extensive outline (now that I really know the story) and then start from a word count of zero. Well, not zero. I'll use the prologue I recently rewrote and have the same first 13 (over in the Fragments for Books thread) because I like it, and I'm sure I'll copy and paste some scenes. But as for the body of the story... it needs so much I don't think I can fix what I have.

Do any of you have experience with this? Advice?


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babooher
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My advice would be to first, put the beast away for a nap for at least a month. Just go work on something else and give yourself some distance between you and the work.

After you've had some space, I would try to map out the plot points and I might use something like ywriter5 to help me.

Once you've mapped things out and had some space, you might be able to more easily work on sections instead of the entire thing. You don't eat an elephant in one bite.


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MartinV
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First of all, never have an entire novel in a single document. Break it down into smaller files, one chapter per file.

Then I would do as babooher said and leave it alone for a while. Work on something else in between or just clear your head of writing. Sometimes that is the best option.

You can find some beta readers and check what a fresh pair of eyes sees in your story. It's remarkable how much my own perspective of the story changes when I hear someone else's thoughts on it.

Try making a map of what happens in each chapter. I call this the 'sattelite view' since it's from way up high where you can't see all the detail but just the rough outline of the story.


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MattLeo
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The cooling off advice others have given makes sense.

That said, word count is not a very accurate measure of progress-to-goal, especially if this your first attempt. You could have a goal of 100,000 and have written 90,000 words that don't fit together. Making those 90,000 words work could easily drive you to 200,000 words, which is 110,000 more words to write. So don't worry too much about "starting over" if finishing would be harder than that.

On the other hand (don't you hate people who say that?), if you think you can finish the thing with another ten or fifteen thousand words, I think you ought to try, and not give a hoot if its a hopeless mess. *Then* put it on the shelf of a month or two and come back to it and see how you think. You might decide it's not so bad, that it could be fixed. But if it's a total loss, you've done something that sets you apart from most people: you've finished a novel.

When you do get back to thinking about your novel, think about structure. The old three act structure is a reliable standby. You find two dividing points in the story. The point where the hero makes a choice that inevitably commits him to solving the story's central problem is the end of the first act. The point where the hero hits rock bottom and has nowhere to go but up is the end of the second act.

Now you've got rough targets for where to cut and where to elaborate. The first and last acts are about 15-25% of the MS, the second act is about 60%. Since the second act is quite long, sometimes its helpful to identify a midpoint crisis that divides it into two so you end up with four roughly equal acts: 1, 2a, 2b, and 3. The midpoint crisis can be a false high where the hero thinks he's got the magic solution, and from which he tumbles to the depths at the end of the act. Or it can be the point where he understands for the first time what is at stake, from which he plummets to depths he never imagined.

You don't have to use that structure, but some structure at least gives you a more believable picture of progress to completion. If you're happy with Acts 1, 2a and 3, you're at least 75% of the way.

Have you done an outline?

[This message has been edited by MattLeo (edited September 10, 2011).]


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MikeB
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For me, I found the 3 act structure to be too loose - it doesn't tell me what I need next int he story. I didn't start writing my hypothetical novel until I saw Dan Well's lecture on Story Structure (5 parts on YouTube.) He breaks it down into 7 parts, each part is well defined, and that helps me to know what part of the story needs to come next.

I also use Writer's Cafe - just the StoryBoard feature (I do all my writing in Word). That's the electronic version of a cork board to post index cards, so I can see what parts of the story fit where in the narrative.

None of this is mandatory for me - but A way of organizing IS. Stories can be taken apart and analyzed by the Three Act format, the Seven Part structure, or whatever - but until you do the analysis, you won't know if you should start over or fill in the cracks.

I only WISH I could feel your pain - I'm only 10K words into my book, and even finding out that I have cracks in the flow is too far away for me to contemplate. I envy you a bit - you've done a lot of work. Don't despair in looking at what needs to be done: you've come a long way just to get there!


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Meredith
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I always rest the ms before I start any revision.

First draft--wait a month.

Second draft--try to find some alpha readers (which imposes a minimum of another month while you wait for those critiques. )

Repeat for the third draft.

I've come to the conclusion that I need to wait a minimum of six months after the fourth draft before looking it over again and even considering doing anything like submitting it.

So, don't scrap anything yet. Start working on something else, even if it's a short story or two.

ETA: That said, I've recently started a complete rewrite (as in I'm not even opening the old file) of my first novel. I had to wait until my brain could completely re-imagine it and toss up a few ideas that make it different and fresh for me before I could even start.

[This message has been edited by Meredith (edited September 10, 2011).]


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MattLeo
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Well, Mike, if you really want to know whether you're making progress, more defined points are clearly better.

I don't like the system you mention because it's bit arbitrary, and it puts the point where the hero falls through the trap door of commitment at the midpoint. Usually that's too late. If I were going to elaborate more parts, I'd do a structure like this for most "heroic" stories.

code:

I Introduction Phase
The characters and problem are defined
II Debate Phase
The protagonist wrestles with the decision
to take action.
III Commitment Moment (about 25% through the story)
An irrevocable decision by the protagonist
to face the problem.
IV Initial Engagement Phase
Protagonist makes his initial attempts to
solve the problem. May be appear superficially
successful, or may seem to be just holding
his own.
V The Banana Peel Moment (50% through the story)
The horrible wrongness of the protagonist's
approach is made plain to see. This is where his
apparent success crumbles, or where how far out
of his depth he is.
VI Things Get Worse Phase
All of the successes of the initial engagement
are undone; OR the consequences of the protagonist's
life falls apart.
VII Things hit bottom Moment (about 75% through the story)
This is where all the bad things could happen have
happened to the protagonist. Friends turn their backs
on him. His dog bites him. Good place to kill the mentor.
VIII Life in Ruins Phase
A brief interlude of rubbing the protagonist's
nose in the mess he's made of his life.
IX The Lesson is Learned Moment (about 85% through the story)
The hero gets his second wind here. It may be an
epiphany which shows him the solution has been
staring him in the face, or it may be that he
finally decides to straighten up an fly right.
X The lesson is Applied Phase
Applying his new knowledge or resolution, the
hero puts an effective plan into action.
XI Enemy is Vanquished Point (90% or later)
The moment of triumph when the hero's work is
accomplished and the enemy vanquished.
XII All is Made Well Phase
A brief interlude in which the protagonist's
triumph is vindicated. In movies this might be a
montage over the credits.

I'm not so sure about the percentages, but I think this is fairly generic for an adventure story. The thing is, the more specific you get about structure, the less certain you can be it will work in every case. Three act structure works for just about any story, because it corresponds to beginning, middle and end. A more elaborate structure like that above might not work for every story.

[This message has been edited by MattLeo (edited September 10, 2011).]


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posulliv
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quote:
Do any of you have experience with this? Advice?

Yes, I know that feeling.

Regardless of how you feel about your first novel finishing it is a major accomplishment, something that most people only dream of doing. Celebrate that major milestone then start from scratch on a different story. Chances are with some distance the first will look a lot better than it does now. Use all you learned on the first one to make the second better. Then go back and look again. If you still feel like redrafting the first one then go for it. By then, though, it will be just one of your novels and it will feel different to you.



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mythique890
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Thank you, everyone!

It's tough for me to think of shelving it for a while. As it is, it IS complete... I finished the first draft way back at the end of January, but then dove right into revision. I've been putting a lot of pressure on myself to get it done because I'd really like to start the submission process. One of my New Year's resolutions for 2011 was to submit something (anything, it doesn't have to be this novel) for publication, which I've never, ever done.

Oh, no, I forgot, one time for a college class it was part of our grade to submit an article to a children's magazine. They kept mine forever, but sent it back in the end. That was before I decided I wanted to try and earn some extra money by writing, so I don't really think of it. Also, it wasn't a story, it was a nonfiction about the Nazca Lines.

Anyway, back on topic... I was really, really hoping this manuscript would be the thing I submitted, and I keep setting goals for myself to have it finished (instead of just 'complete' if that makes sense) and not meeting them.

You guys are probably right. I've been putting an insane amount of pressure on myself to finish this for a year now. I could do with a break from the stress. Maybe I'll work on my short stories and try one of those instead.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Several years ago, I had the opportunity to give some feedback on stories at a convention with Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch as two of the other critiquers.

One of the things I remember most clearly about that experience was Dean's recommendation, when rewrites are not working and the process is making you crazy, to put the manuscript away and then write the whole thing over again anew, without looking at the original manuscript.

He explained that this would allow the writer to tell the story using all the skills learned in the original writing process, and to make the manuscript fresh instead of rehashed.

So, go ahead and do that, since the story is complete. You will be applying all the things you've been learning and you can make a new version even better than it might have been if you continued to battle with a rewrite.

Sometimes rewriting can actually kill a story. Starting over is the best answer when that may be the problem.

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited September 10, 2011).]


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LDWriter2
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I sympathize with you.

My original emotion was that basically said it can't be that bad, doing a rewrite would be like saying the first was a failure. All that work for nothing... it feels like nothing anyway. But logically doing one might be what it needs.

And I just recalled that I am in the same boat, even though perhaps not for the same reason.

Six or seven years ago I wrote a 320,000 novel. All I knew about writing was what I liked in this type of novel and that I wanted to write.

Since then I've learned so much even though not enough yet but still, back then I didn't that I didn't know. I have decided it's still a good story and I still want it published. But it needs so much work that it would take way too long to revise it. So one day I will take what I now know and start over. It will be much easier and quicker than going over it again.


Now I say to you go for it. Make it the story it was meant to be. You've learned things and I would think it's still mostly fresh in your mind, so you can do it.


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mythique890
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Thank you, KDW and LDWriter. I think I'll probably take a few weeks off from this and then try to start over. There's no way I'm going to delete the entire manuscript I already have, so if things don't go well, I can always fall back on that. In the mean time, if I get inspiration while on "break" I'm going to write it in my notebook instead of on the computer.

I have a feeling starting fresh is the right thing to do.

And thank you so much, hatrackers, for your support! I don't know any other writers in real life, so no one really gets why I'm having problems. This forum is awesome!


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axeminister
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Mythique,

I believe our writing experiences are parallel. I spent nearly a year writing my first novel. Then the following year revising it. While knowing people's first novels don't generally (ever?) sell, I thought I'd break the mold. After all, don't we hear that all the time? (This is his/her first novel.)

Debut novel is the more accurate term. Maybe an author pubs their "first" novel - but it's probably their third through tenth.

My MS has now been idle for around four years. I'm almost afraid to look at it because I've learned SO MUCH since then. Perhaps some day I'll go back and edit it and see if I can make something of it, but in the meantime, I will keep writing new stuff. That's how you get there - a million words.

I'm up to four novels now and each one was better than the last.

I'm not saying don't submit - go for it - that's part of the novel writing process. What I'm saying is put it to rest for a bit and let your mind enjoy conjuring something completely new and different. Writing and editing are different muscles. Time to flex the other one.

OSC says, and I agree, that in order to look at your own work fresh (novel, not short story) it must sit an entire year.

If you truly believe in this story, it will still be there in a year. Let it rest and write something new.

Then you'll have two novels to your credit which I can personally guarantee will feel twice as awesome.

Axe


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Robert Nowall
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While cleaning my office out (see other posts for parts of the saga of that), I found a number of old manuscripts, including an outline from 1998 that, I realize, is basically the same story I completed a draft of a month or so ago. I trotted it out a couple other times over the years, but this one is the first time I ever finished anything.

Lots of things changed from 1998...originally my characters were going to be military or paramilitary, but I decided a while back that I knew squat about being in the military and decided to avoid that...the characters were going to a place where they'd catch a horrible disease, but the disease itself, symptoms and details, kept changing...and, ultimately, all those false starts meant I was starting in the wrong place and needed to pick a point further along in the story, which I did.


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MattLeo
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As usual, KDW said what I wanted to say, but more succinctly.

I was listening to some back issues of the Grammar Girl podcast today and one of them happened to be advise to first time novelists from author Scott Sigler (linky-link: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/how-to-write-a-novel.aspx ).

His recipe for becoming a novelist:

code:

Step 1: Write every day
Step 2: Write a bad book first
Step 3: Finish the bad book, then put it away for six months
Step 4: Start writing your “good” book
Step 5: After six months, read that “bad” book, learn where you're weak, and address those weak areas.

The interesting thing about this advice is most people will still be going hammer-and-tongs on that second book when the six month moratorium comes up. That means their head will be totally in the second story and well out of the first. They'll experience the first book much more like a reader would.

Although it seems pretty harsh to write a novel you don't expect to become publishable, GG points out that most people who land publishing contracts don't do so until they've written three or four complete novels.

[This message has been edited by MattLeo (edited September 11, 2011).]


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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axeminister, if that old MS tells a story you still like, DON'T look at it. Write the story fresh.

Or incorporate its ideas into a story you're creating now.

I wrote my first novel in high school, and then I wrote a novella in my first year of college. Then college studies got in the way, and I'm not even sure I know where they are any more.

I didn't start writing again until I'd finished grad school, and when I finally sold something, I was afraid to dig them out and read them--what if I hadn't really improved all that much?

So don't get it out. But if it's still worth telling, tell it all over again fresh. If it isn't, you're doing exactly the right thing by moving on to other and better stories.


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axeminister
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Kathleen, the timing of your advice is pretty incredible.

Just *this morning* I re-read a scene from that novel. I was planning to send it to the Action Scene Group. Eight pages later I knew I wouldn't.

I was doing little corrections here and there, as is to be expected after such a long absence, but it was more than individual words or sentences - it was the whole feel of the piece.

I wondered if I could fix it with patches, but by the end I came to the realization that if this novel ever saw the light of day it would require either a ton of work, or a re-write.

Having re-written short stories from word one, I'm not scared to do it. In fact, I'm confident in it, but this sucker is 500 pages. Not worth is at this point in my life. I'd rather raise my novel total to 5, instead of keeping it at 4.

Thanks for posting that, however. Too funny to have my thoughts echoed mere hours after thinking them.

Axe


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rstegman
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Here is something to think about.

Before the computer, one had to completely retype the piece for each edit pass. Back then, completely rewriting was the norm.
(It was why I could never write without the computer. the though of retyping ten pages because I changed a paragraph,,, yuck)

Publishers wanted the work without any typographical errors and they would also reject the work if they suspected that you had someone else type the final copy for you. Each pass you always found things to fix and they wanted your touch in the final copy.

On the computer, therefore, re writing might be the way to go to fix a problem work.
Back at the "turn of the century" I wrote a 450 page first draft novel and knew it had to be cut back. I am not sure if I can find the original text, but even if I did find it, I would start over from scratch as I now know how to write better, and I know how to fix the work so it would be readable.

It is all right to be a bit lazy and depend on the powers of the word processor, but don't be afraid to rewrite based on what you did before. It can make all the difference in the world.


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LDWriter2
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Kathleen's second not reminded me of something. Patricia Briggs sold her first novel years ago. Recently as in a couple of years ago, she finally came up with a sequel to it. She grimaced when she read the first one. She had learned so much that she was surprised the first one sold at all. She had to redo and have them republish the new version. The book was obviously good enough to sell but she still had to improve it with what she had learned since.


Her writing of the first one was kinda like my first one but she obviously knew more instinctively than I did. Of course her grammar is probably a whole lot better than mine. That is one big area I've been told I need to work for my stories, I assume it's the same for my novels.

So who knows your first might be better than you think. But if not your rewrite will be better so expect it to be good.


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Robert Nowall
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I'm not a big fan of writers who go back over published work and extensively revise it...I remember one (and can't remember who right now), who revised a first-of-a-series to make it consistent with later volumes and squeezed some of the juice out of it. Was better the first time. (Also think George Lucas and his endless mucking with Star Wars.)
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