Repairing the damage
Last week I talked about discovering that the book I had been working on for months was unacceptable, both to the friend I asked to read the first few chapters, and to me. This week I will talk about my approach to repairing the damage.
The first step to repairing a broken book is to acknowledge that it isn’t working. Whatever fantasy you had about how wonderful the idea was, it hasn’t translated to the page.
The second step? Decide whether you are going to fix it or junk it. I was tempted to do the latter. I had worked diligently for months. Did I really want to start at the beginning? I had 100,00 words. Were any of the sentences, scenes, and chapters worth saving? Were any of the characters interesting enough to work with? I decided that the answer to these questions was yes. There were two characters that every time they showed up, I perked up. And there was something that still intrigued me about the plot. So the decision was that I thought there was enough to the story to tackle a major rewrite.
The third step was to analyze where I ran off the rails. In previous books when I realized that things weren’t going well, I could usually find a scene that wasn’t true to the story. But in this case it was something different—I started the story too late. Usually a story that doesn’t work has too much lead-in in the beginning. What I realized was that I in my zeal to avoid that error, I had robbed it of suspense. I thought about why some scenes came alive while others just lay there and I realized that I didn’t know enough about the villain.
Finally I started replotting. I thought carefully about not only what the antagonist was up to, but how he had approached his villainy. I realized the protagonist was reactive rather than proactive—and thought about how to change that. I constructed a new timeline a timeline. And rewrote it. And rewrote it again. And with all that, something started to emerge that excited me.
I copied the whole manuscript and then started stripping out whole chapters and rearranging others—bringing some from the end to the beginning. And something magical happened. The characters started to speak up and take their place as if now they had a place in the book. And by some miracle, I realized that there were whole chunks of the book that actually worked.
I’m now feeling something I haven’t felt for a while. I want the world to go away so that I can get the book rewritten. I feel rejuvenated and excited.
I Like what is happening. In the end, I don’t mind so much if no one else likes the book—but I have to like it. I have to hand over a book that satisfies me. And I think I’m getting there.