Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Re-writing is agony.  Anyone who has ever written anything, be it an essay, report or short story knows that on the first pass everything seems fine, but when you go back and re-read you find yourself changing things around, picking up on inconsistencies and errors and generally polishing things up.

This is something I struggle with.  I am very critical of what I write.  If you look between the two stories I've been posting, Ghostwalker and Satisfaction, you will see that not only do they differ in style but that they are also a long way apart in terms of being a finished product.  There's a couple of reasons for this.  Firstly, Satisfaction is being proofread and critically analysed, to ensure it's a higher quality piece.  Secondly, it's the final version of a simple story, written in an uncomplicated manner.  Ghostwalker is some way behind in both respects.  It's a story that I have rewritten substantially, any number of times, and I think it is suffering for this.

The problem is that when I first wrote it, at eighteen, it was a fast-paced, exciting and fun adventure story about an eighteen year old guy.  Through subsequent rewrites, it became a multi-stranded thriller told from multiple perspectives.  While this may work in some instances, what I found was that I didn't have the experience to tell that kind of story.  I tried to make it into a convoluted political thriller, whereas the original premise was anything but.  I also made the character ten years older, which meant the story didn't work: why was a 28 year old living at his parents and so dependent on them?  I had to create an overwrought back story involving past criminal activities that dragged the story down and presented numerous plot holes.  In order to make this work, I went through several more rewrites, each increasingly turgid and boring.  The word count leapt from 75,000 to 105,000.  That's 30,000 words, or 100 pages of trying to explain why this guy is doing some stupid things.  That's not good writing.  That's pain.

So I have gone full circle and tried to re-write it as a fun story, bringing the word count back to 80,000.  I'm telling the story from Dan's point of view, cutting back on a lot of the extraneous material to keep the story simple and effective.  The opening is supposed to capture some of the bewilderment Dan is feeling, whilst hinting at the distractions Mel presents.  After the first three chapters, the story starts to leap forward as Dan finds himself becoming a suspect for his parents death.  Rather than following a mundane police investigation, the story leaps sideways into adventure, which is how it was written originally many years ago.

Now that's not to say that all the rewrites have been for nothing.  Each iteration of the story has brought elements in that have survived to the latest rewrite.  If anything, the over-analysis of the story has lead it to the final version being far more grounded in reality than the first version ever was.

As an example: in the first ever draft, Dan (called Oliver at that point) smuggled a gun through an airport security screen by dismantling it and pretending it was a lighter and a Walkman.  He also successfully talked an air line attendant into allowing him onto a plane so he could hijack it.

You can see why I had to rewrite it.

In my defense, I was eighteen at the time, and 9/11 hadn't happened.  But still...  I deserve being flogged for such lazy work.  So now, what I'm trying to write is a fun, fast thriller that isn't completely and utterly ludicrous.  I want people to get out of scrapes and situations through good planning and relationships (like real life) not through contrivances and utterly ridiculous, impossible plot devices.  This is why I'm rewriting again.  The fundamental premise of the story - a guy trying to prove his innocence in a race against time - is sound.  The way he was doing it wasn't.  People are far more interesting than any McGuffin, no matter how intriguing.  Let the McGuffin dictate the events of your story, and you will find yourself rewriting again and again and again.

No comments:

Post a Comment