Do-Overs: How To Write Your Book Again Without Crying

I started writing Creepy Faces, oh, about a year and a half ago. And for the first few months it was all rainbows and kittens, nothing could go wrong, I’d be done in under twelve weeks and the whole thing was going to be super easy and where had this story been all my life because HELLO, BESTSELLER.

I asked my husband to read a few chapters. He was hooked.

I asked my football coach friend to read a few chapters. He admitted to being creeped out.

I asked a couple of high school students to read a few chapters. They loved it. One of them read the whole manuscript and gave feedback as he went.

There were a few issues, sure, but I was confident I could work them out…

…until I couldn’t.

One of the characters lacked motivation. Another lacked purpose. (Yes, I had an ENTIRE CHARACTER with no reason for being there other than being “cool,” which is sort of like putting dinosaurs in a TV show for no other reason than YAY DINOSAURS.)

Although, to be fair, YAY DINOSAURS works for me.
Although, to be fair, YAY DINOSAURS works for me.

Then there was the plot, which was fine until I started adding this twist and that backstory, and by the end of my first draft, there were too many loose ends and not enough reader satisfaction, if that makes sense. Instead of the reader saying, “Ahhhh, so THAT’S what that was!” It was more, “Ahhhhhkay I don’t know what you’re trying to do here but help me understand?”

And the ENDING. Have mercy, the ending.

Finally, in early June of this year, I reached the point of sending it to a professional, e.g. Fabulous Agent Emma, for her expert opinion.

The version I sent her didn’t have an ending…at all. It was more of a LOL BET YOU THOUGHT THIS STORY WOULD RESOLVE, DIDN’T YOU?

We talked.

She was brilliant, obvs.

I reworked some things. LOTS of things. I made a revision schedule, and I stuck to it…

…until it hit me, sometime around the 45,000 word mark on Version 3ish of the manuscript, that the story just wasn’t going to work. It was unfixable.

I had to say it out loud before I would believe it.

Unfixable. Unfixable. Unfixable. 

It’s like buying a house that looks awesome, but then you start poking holes in the sheetrock and what do you know, there is black mold in your walls, and then you go down in the cellar and, wait a second, is that a secret colony of rats that have burrowed beneath your floors? And then it turns out your roof is held down with nothing but thumbtacks and the pipes are just large drinking straws and BODIES, OMG, THERE ARE BODIES IN THE ATTIC, and suddenly it is very clear to you that the only way this house will be functional AT ALL is if you bulldoze the whole thing and rebuild it from scratch with roofing nails and real pipes and clean sheetrock and an absence of animals and/or dead bodies.

That’s where we are, folks.

(By the way, I have no idea if rats “burrow” or not.)

(I’m not sure why I felt the need to clear that up, especially after I managed to work dead bodies into my metaphor.)

The point is that I still want to write this story. DESPERATELY. But as it is, it’s just not working. The whole thing has got to be taken apart, large elements have to be thrown out and replaced, and essentially I’m going to treat it as a new project.

Lolcat

Here are some of the major structural changes I want to make:

Changing the POV from 1st Present to either 3rd Omniscient or 3rd Multi, and using past tense. (For the record, I’ve never written in 3rd Omniscient or 3rd Multi, and I do realize I’ll need to study up on technique. But I’ve read a few books lately that do it well, and I think I can use them to help me.

Cutting a few major characters. I’m just confusing myself and my readers. They gotta GO.

Changing the setting to a fictional town instead of a real town. The story of Creepy Faces is actually based on a real event that happened in a small town in Spain. I used that actual small town at first, but found I was wasting a lot of time trying to be super accurate with my descriptions. This town is TINY–like, less than 2,000 people–and there’s just nothing notable about it, so even Google has a hard time pulling up anything useful. I considered switching to Alcala de Henares, Spain, where I actually lived for a while, but ultimately I’ve decided to create my own town and give myself ultimate creative license.

What I’m doing this month is plotting the new story out very carefully so as to avoid the pit I fell into last time. Then, come November 1, I’ll start writing it. My goal is to finish the first draft by New Year’s Eve, then take the rest of winter to revise and edit. If all goes according to plan (HA), I should have it in Beta’s hands by March-ish.

So how will I do this without having a breakdown? Well, for starters, it helps to know that the book won’t go anywhere until I make it what it needs to be. And second, I know this is a process, that I always have something to learn, that I can always improve, and that an excellent story takes a lot, A LOT, of work.

Wish me luck, Grasshoppers, and somebody put the coffee on.

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4 thoughts on “Do-Overs: How To Write Your Book Again Without Crying

  1. Amanda J. says:

    I had a book like that once. Ultimately I realized it had become a dumping ground for ideas rather than an actual story of its own, so it just sits on my hard drive, occasionally acting as muse. Knowing when to let go or start over is always so rough, and it’s worse when you’ve put so much time and effort into it, like relationships. But I’m glad you’ve figured out what to do with it and have a plan to move forward. Best of luck! Also, dinosaurs go with everything, obviously.

  2. Emily says:

    Oh boy. Do I ever know how you feel! I’ve been working on the same novel for years and have done a major “this isn’t working” re-write three times. It’s a painful realization but it’s so much better to put in the re-work than to give up on it. Good for you!

  3. Alexandra Shostak says:

    I’ve had to do this before! Twice, in fact!

    You’re awesome! You can do it! Also, I love LOVE love all forms of third person, and write and prefer to read in both of them, so… *volunteers enthusiastically as a beta*

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