Rewriting

Great post by PJ Parrish at Kill Zone Blog: Rewriting: Keep Your Eyes Open And Your Ego Closed

We’ve now re-published ten of our old books. Yes, we did some rewriting on all of them. The first one, Dark of the Moon, we have yet to re-publish because we believe it has fundamental problems that need more than a normal rewrite can solve. Here’s some of the things we learned in this process with our freshman effort book:

We got preachy.

We fell prey to stereotypes.

We lost track of “book” time. 

We didn’t know what we wanted to say.

Comments about all these points in the original post, obviously.

I think this is a great post because I agree: after ten years or so, you are likely to see your earliest book through new eyes, and giant things are likely to leap out at you, and you are likely to wonder how the heck you missed all that super obvious stuff the first time.

Here’s what PJ Parrish says about that last point, about not knowing what you wanted to say:

I’m going out on limb here and say all good books have themes. I don’t think we understood this until about book 4. Yes, you want to entertain readers. But beneath the grinding gears of plot, even light books can have something to say about the human condition. A romance might be “about” how love is doomed without trust. A courtroom drama might be “about” the morality of the death penalty.

We missed the theme in Dark of the Moon. Only now, as we rewrite it, are we understanding that the theme is every person’s search for home. For Louis, it was literally going back to the southern town where he was born and then understanding that it wasn’t “home” at all. The entire series now has a theme — Louis, a man who has walked uneasily in two racial worlds — trying to find his spiritual home.

This is important. It’s not all that easy to see the themes in your own novels (or that’s my experience).

Parrish adds:

Try this experiment: Write the back copy for your work in progress — three paragraphs at most. Ha! Can’t do it? Well, you might not have a grip on what your story is about at its heart. Now often your theme doesn’t show itself until you’re well into your plot. Well, that’s okay. But when it begins to whisper, listen hard. Good fiction, Stephen King says, “always begins with story and progresses to theme.”

For once I totally agree with King. Also, this is a good suggestion.

Also! Maybe try writing a review of your own book, the way I wrote one about The Crane Husband not that long ago. I didn’t see what I thought was the heart of the story until I wrote that review. That happens kind of a lot. It worked the same what when I wrote a review of Sarah Beth Durst’s Journey Across the Hidden Isles. In one case, I liked the story even less after I figured out what it was really about, what view of the world it offered. In the other, I liked the story even better after the same process.

So, write a review of your book where you try to pull out the same things — what is it really about, what view of the world is set at the heart of your story? There you go. Now you see the themes you put into your story.

To end, here is the post where I talk about rewriting my very first fantasy trilogy, thus turning that trilogy into two standalones, The White Road of the Moon and Winter of Ice and Iron. I didn’t really think about theme when I did that, however. That was all plot focused. It sure involved the same kind of realizations about story weaknesses. I specifically remember thinking Wow, a hundred pages where nothing really happens, huh. Sometimes you just don’t have the tools to see where your novel succeeds and fails until years after you wrote it.

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