Rewriting can be done for many reasons; to clarify or rework plot, to improve dialogue, to correct spelling and punctuation, to improve the style, or just to generally craft better prose – removing or modifying adjectives, adverbs, clumsy metaphors and so on.
However, once in a while, a book demands to be completely rewritten. From page 1.
Writers have to assess, having gone to the bother of writing a book once, whether it should be done a second time. Or even a third or forth. Writers as diverse as Ernest Hemmingway, F Scott Fitzgerald and JRR Tolkien undertook page 1 rewrites of existing drafts, and we are all thankful for their endeavors. But it is certainly hard work and only worth doing if you are convinced you have a basic premise that you really can’t bear to live without.
I am currently undertaking a page 1 rewrite of a book I wrote several years ago – the middle segment of a trilogy. This book has always been the weakest link in the overall story, and every bit of feedback I received, from many different sources, confirmed this. For a long time I was unable to see the point of view of those who kindly read my work, but as I reread the manuscript last summer, I finally understood that a complete overhaul was needed.
What encouraged me to grit my teeth and actually put finger to keyboard was the knowledge that these same people that had read the trilogy loved books one and three in the saga. Consequently I now face the task of getting from A to C, via a newly devised B. I have had to devise a plot that is about 90 per cent different from what existed previously.
The new second segment in this trilogy will follow a lot more closely in the footsteps of the first, within the formula and world I created. The previous version of the second novel in this saga was too deliberately different to work as the first had, and that was my big mistake. As I have discussed in a previous post, sometimes departing from formula is a really bad idea, as you risk sacrificing what made readers fall in love with the story in the first place.
These books, incidentally, are a trio of young adult fantasy stories which I have been working on since 2002. Time will tell whether I am successful with this rewrite, but so far I am confident.