Wednesday, August 12, 2015

How To Rewrite (The Easy Way)

I tell you what, finishing a novel does wonders for a person. I learned things about writing and about my own "voice" that I never realized before. Foremost of all, I got into the habit of letting the characters tell the story. It's not something I have entirely succeeded at in anything else I have written, but like I said, I had never actually realized the difference until I actually started doing it. That, plus the story I was writing that will become a screenplay and then a web series (hopefully! Stay tuned!) which taught me something I call "The Art of The Flip"—

These two, I think, are most instrumental in enabling me to rewrite "A Writer's Tale." If you're a writer, you know how much of a pain rewriting can be. If you've ever seen The Shelf, you know that rewriting is pretty much Bottom Shelf stuff, that I actively avoid doing just because of how distasteful it is.

The biggest problem in rewriting comes when you're faced with the reality that the original is terrible—but you take one look at the story and you automatically can't think of it any other way than the crap that it is! Most writers would then execute a complete overhaul: start the plot again from scratch and write a completely fresh story.

If it sounds like a butt-load of redundant work, completely rewriting something you've already "completely" written... It is. And it is awful.

A Writer's Tale
In the case of this current project, though, I have actually managed to complete six chapters out of ten (maybe eleven... We'll see how this goes) in a relatively short time, like the last couple weeks. The new version is considerably longer than the old, and yet the new details function seamlessly with the old plot. So much so, in fact, that I am able to actually preserve the best bits from the original and paste a whole paragraph here and there.

So how do I do it? What is the secret to simplifying the rewrite process in a way that works with both your writing style and your ever-maturing "writer voice"?

Step 1: Figure out the plot
As it turns out, rewriting is not all that much different than writing, except that I am not coming up with fresh points, I am picking out events and things from what is already there.

At least for "Dragon's Quest", I had already divided the original section into ten chapters (because I am still trying to use the "formula" system* with which I wrote it) so to rewrite it, I simply looked at the part of the story under the chapter heading and made the usual bullet-pointed list that I always use in writing. (As in "Art of the Flip") *The Formula System: Basically, when I wrote "A Writer's Tale," I developed a system by which I could write the whole 50K in the shortest time possible, while still heeding my penchant for "chronological storytelling"; ergo, I developed the simplest plot formula possible: Intro, conflict, mission, failure, success/transition, and applied it to each setting, thereby enabling me to write essentially the same plot arc in multiple settings at a time. It worked, by the way, and I would highly recommend it as an exercise!

For example, I start with a section like this:
            We trekked all the way across that long field in the blackness. As we neared the fire, enough to make out the burly creatures that looked for all the world like crumpled masses of flesh-colored clay, one of them stood and placed himself between us and the fire.
            “What be you doin’ ‘ere?” he demanded in a gravelly voice. The firelight glinted off the gold ring in his triangular ear.
            “Hold off,” Galen cried, stepping forward, “we mean no harm. We are only weary travelers looking for a place to rest till moonrise. I met the unicorn and the human on my way to town.”
            All the buzz of conversation that had been happening between the trolls ceased. The burly one reached around and planted a hand on my back, pushing me closer to the light of the fire.
            “A human, eh?” he looked me over, pulling at my clothes (covered in dust from the road and slime from the vines) and running the ends of my hair through his pudgy fingers. “Well…I ain’t never seen the like! She’s a rare creature, all right!” He turned to Galen, “Can she talk?”
            “Of course I can!” I answered for myself. “May I sit down, please?”
            I didn’t like the way the burly troll leered at me; perhaps they were not evil, but they certainly didn’t strike me as friendly! He gestured toward an open seat behind me, “Yes, we’d be delighted to have you join us.”
            I sat between two squat trolls. They grunted in greeting and continued slurping huge bowls of strong-smelling soup.
            “My name is Griggum,” the big troll said, resuming his seat. “Welcome, strangers.”
            I glanced at Jerak, wondering if it would be proper to return the favor and introduce ourselves, but the unicorn remained silent. After the meal, the troll on my right pulled out a squeezebox and began playing a slow tune. For the first time in a while, I was actually comfortable, the fire was warm and bright, and the music was gentle…

            I blinked at the realization that I was suddenly chilled to the bone. I wanted to wrap my arms around myself, but my hands had been mysteriously tied behind my back. I remembered how Galen had said the trolls were magical folk; no doubt the music had contained some sort of charm to lull me into a trance. Now I found myself bound yet again, for the second time in two days. This time, it was rough troll-rope rubbing my skin raw. I saw Jerak, miserably hobbled, himself. In fact, the only free creatures were the trolls—and the dwarf who had brought us there. I glared at him.
            “Galen!” I cried, “How could you do this?”
            Galen only shrugged, “Sorry, human; I enjoyed your company while it lasted, but—“ he broke off and stroked the large bag of gold Griggum had given him.

Lame, right? Ugh, so many run-on sentences and interruptions, not to mention plot holes and other annoyances... Jeez! When I make it into a list, it might look like this:

-encounter troll camp
-warm welcome
-eat soup, pass out
-wake up tied
-Galen gets paid

Not the most detailed, but I am familiar enough with the original scene that I know the key elements of each point: the troll is big and burly with a deep voice, the soup is thick and makes Laura woozy, she wakes up suddenly, and the betrayal is revealed when it's too late to do anything.
Step 2: Get your head in the scene

Since I was already used to writing in this fashion, I simply took the list and began "listening" to my imagination, as I had done when writing "The Last Inkweaver." This helps the scene to flow smoothly, and it is also an effective method of bringing out my natural "voice" in the writing, instead of resorting to slapping words on a page in an effort to achieve a word count, which more often ends up turning into a rip-off of whatever I am reading at the time. (This was a NaNoWriMo project, incidentally, but I "failed" that year in that, "on accident", I wrote it over the month of October, not November... Oops...) 
Anyway, what I really wanted to do in the rewrite was ignore the word count (except keeping the chapter length at a reasonable average), and just focus on getting the story in, without so many long, drawn-out sentences. The resulting segment ended up like this:
We had just passed the first few tents on the outskirts of the camp, when a huge figure loomed in the middle of the path. Its floppy, triangular ears bore tiny golden rings, and its warty, bulbous face looked for all the world like a folded mass of putty. I had only a moment to register this before the creature lunged for us, wrapping the massive arms around me in a bear hug so tight, I could feel his belly jiggle as he laughed.

"Well, I'll be a hump-backed resia! Welcome, welcome friends!" He let me drop and thumped Galen on the back, meanwhile executing an elegant bow before Jerak. "Good sir, how kind of you to join us! I am Griggum, and I bid you welcome to our humble camp!"
I was still trying to get my breath back after that hug. My nose caught a wonderful smell as Griggum led us further in.
"I am Galen," our dwarf companion introduced himself, "and these are my friends Jerak and Laura."
I felt a pulling at my sleeve, and another squash-faced troll loomed behind me. They stared—as nearly everyone else in this world—as if they had never seen my kind before.
Griggum expressed as much. "Now, unicorns I am familiar with," he said, "but, if you don't mind my saying, what kind of a critter is she?" He regarded me with twinkling eyes. "Looks like a mermaid with skin on!"
Having never actually seen the Phantasmian version of a mermaid, I could not discern whether it was an insult or not.
"I'm a human," I explained, as we arrived at the place where the smell originated: a rag-tag troll stirred a small pot of something thick, brown, and simmering. "Is that soup?" I asked.
Griggum slapped his bald head with a wide hand. "Where are my manners? Forgive me for acting like a plain old grumpy troll! Please, eat! It's not much, but it'll fill ya!"
He placed a steaming bowl in front of each of us. A burst of laughter erupted behind me, and I turned to watch a troll juggling no less than a dozen items. On my other side, another troll pulled out something that looked like somebody tried to cross a lute with a squeeze-box. It played all right, but somehow the music didn't quite match the motions. As I swallowed more soup, a delicious warmth spread over my whole body... I tilted backward...

I flinched hard—and felt a round, knobby stone digging into my back. I blinked for a moment, wondering what I was doing out in the open. The night had lasted only seconds, and dawn had already broken over the land. My lips were stuck closed. I tried to sit up—then I realized that it wasn't a stone I lay on; it was my own hands, tied behind my back. A troll waddled over and hooked a hand under my arm to lift me to my feet, wrenching my shoulder painfully.

All that remained of the troll camp was a solitary bonfire. The tents, pots, props, and all the rest had already been loaded back into the wagons—but how could it happen so quickly?
Griggum stood next to the fire, conferring with Galen. The troll hauling me came to a stop, just in time for me to witness Griggum handing over a large sack that jingled with coin! I lunged forward with a cry—but my hands were still bound, and my mouth wouldn't open. I immediately recalled the last memory before passing out: the troll stew! They were both in on it! I thrashed and tried as hard as I could to pull my lips open, but no amount of effort worked. Griggum stumped over to me, lifting my chin with his hand.
"See, human," he mused, "everyone knows that 'troll stew' is never something you should eat, even if it is offered by a gracious host!" He laughed.

I kept my gaze fixed on Galen. I nailed him with my renown Babysitter Death Glare that would squelch the most belligerent child. It worked; he shuffled nervously and gulped. Of course, he regained his composure when he remembered that I was still bound and gagged.
"Sorry, human," he mumbled disingenuously. "Traveling with you has been more than fascinating, but, well, you were asleep, and Griggum offered me money to let him keep you, and—" he shrugged and held up the bag.
Much better, don't you think? A writing buddy I am reading this to, chapter by chapter, recently expressed how much she loved it because of the whimsical style (which is the first time anyone has described my writing to me in exactly the terms I was going for!) whereas the first time I read the original, the listeners reacted with a measure of incredulity. (Which is the absolute worst reaction in my mind! Hence the ensuing months of soul-crushing disillusionment... but I'm over that now) 

Step 3: Adjust the transitions

Rewriting is tough when you are still attached to some of the old stuff, but it doesn't fit in the new stuff. (Which is my problem with "Laurel of Andar") Even the process of making a "plot list" one chapter at a time isn't completely foolproof; sure, it breaks the long project into manageable chunks... But at the same time, what if the new segment ends up way "off base", and you end up with separate, disjointed, jumpy chapters?
Sometimes the transitions need to be adjusted. I find myself ending chapters in a different place, merely because it is too long in itself, so what was once the end of the old chapter gets shuffled to the top of the next chapter. This is okay. It works this way, and the result is still a significant improvement. 

So that's what I'm working on right now, and it seems like a pretty effective method. Getting through this first novella will definitely be a plus, since I haven't gotten to the point of being able to consider any of the other ones... FINALLY IT'S HAPPENING! Color me motivated! Catch you further Upstream!
Do you write? Have you had to struggle through the rewriting process? What are some words of advice you can leave for others going through the same experience? Leave a comment to let me know your helpful tips for rewriting!