Thursday, January 24, 2013

Evolution of a story: GhostWalker

This week, I finished reviewing the latest and what I hope is the final version of my novel GhostWalker, which I first conceived of and wrote in 1993, when I was 18. It was initially written as a screenplay and it was appalling: laughable dialogue and phenomenally bad plotting meant that, in retrospect, it was unintentionally hilarious. That initial version only exists as a hard copy sitting in a folder under a bed somewhere in England. I need to get it back one of these days.

Between that version in 1993 and the version of the story that exists now, some twenty years later, I made numerous attempts to rewrite the story. The amount of effort I put into the story is a testament not only to how incredibly awful that first version was (I'm not even exaggerating here; when I do finally get my hands on that original copy, I'll scan it and upload so you can see for yourself) but also that at the heart of the tale lay a pretty good action adventure.

Honestly, I've been toying around with this story for so long that I've lost track of when I started to rewrite it again and how the plot and characters began to evolve. Apart from the first missing draft, I think I still have all the subsequent versions. The problem is they were written on so many platforms that there was never any version control and numerous copies and saves has wiped out any trace of when they were first written.

Based on a bit of deduction and memory (the latter of which can best be described as hazy), I think I began rewriting the story at around the 10 year anniversary mark, in 2003. This would make sense, firstly because 10 years seems like a logical time to revisit a long dead story, and secondly because at that time I was living with my ex, not having a great time and I would avoid reality by sitting behind a computer screen and working either on college assignments or this story.

If I ever do publish the finished version of GhostWalker, which I fully intend to do this year, and it's successful, and there's interest, I'd like to publish an essay on how the story evolved, both for my own satisfaction and also as a guide to other writers struggling with their creations. The amount of work that's gone into the story far outweighs any financial benefit that it could ever bring me, but on the other hand it's been an incredible learning exercise on how not to write a story.

So, and this is really for my sake than anyone else's, I've decided to try and map out the various iterations of this story and figure out where the story changes occurred.  As to why I made the changes, I can't be sure. I can only assume that as I re-read each version I realized that some elements - characters, pacing, structure - didn't feel right and I altered things until the general pace and atmosphere of the story matched my imagination. It's fair to say that where the story is 20 years after it was originally conceived is so far removed that the two stories are hardly recognizable.

My first pass at sorting out the mess is to figure out the order all the drafts hang together. This has taken me about four hours to do, but I think I have it. 20 years of labor and several hours of headscratching has resulted in the following list:

 A              1993       -
 1               2003       42
 2               2005*     44      
 3               2005*     43
 4               2005       35
 5               2006       79
 6               2006       92
 7               2006       108
 8               2010       105
 9               2011       79
10              2012       83

This bit of organization threw up a couple of interesting things. Firstly, although I have 10 different drafts, there are some which are minor and only five that have substantial changes: drafts 1, 5, 6, 7 and 9 have the major alterations. The biggest change was between 8 and 9. By draft 8 the story had become a boring, bloated mess. A year after writing it I tore it apart and completely rebuilt the first half of the story as draft 9, changing it from a interminably boring opus into what it was supposed to be in the first place: fun and exciting. Draft 10 rewrote the second half of the story.

Rather like draft 8, this blog post has become overlong and far too dull. I'm bored of writing this now, so I'll stop. If you want to hear more, a) let me know and b) get a life.

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