A couple weeks ago I posted about finishing a story through because every part of the journey is valuable. However, I’m currently restarting my novel from the beginning, after only 80 pages in. Why?
To start, here’s a little background. This is not my first full-length project. I started it back in February, after I found a 400-page bound journal at Borders (may that particular store R.I.P.) for only seven bucks. I decided to write it long-hand, since I had written the first draft of a novel a couple years ago long-hand, and I liked the process. On this new story I’ve logged in about 80 pages, but I began to feel that, while I had story elements I was proud of, the plot as a whole was moving too fast. I know that a lot of writers use long-hand, so my next statement is meant only to apply to myself, but I felt that the slow process of hand-writing made me feel that more time had elapsed in my story than in reality, and may have played a part in the rushed feeling.
So, I read through the 80 pages, made notes on all of the characters, major or minor, typed up a summary of the plot by chapter (as is), and shared with my writing group. At our next meeting we had a good feedback session where my trepidations with the story were confirmed. I spent the next week replotting the story, fleshing out the characters, and trying to make everything come together. Before, it was like I had written a string of ‘cool’ ideas, which would be hard to consolidate later. In writing the updated summary, I removed some elements and expanded on others. Characters, settings, and events that I had randomly introduced before became a part of a larger connection, and I worked out logical explainations for their actions/existence that connected back to that larger whole.
One thing that I’m particularly proud of is that I drew a map. My book is one of those ‘small town’ horror stories and I realized that the town itself must be treated like a character. Besides, geography plays a significant part in the story, and there are a lot of different players from various parts of town. Before, I would make up on the spot where certain people lived, or how to get to a certain area, and as I read through the 80 pages, I saw that quite a few things were in conflict. I also realized that I had been loosely basing the town off of a city my mother is from, and where I used to visit my grandmother every summer when I was a boy. I looked up the map of the city on Google, took note of where the landmarks were located in relation to the residential areas (Wal-Mart, for example, is a staple of this particular community). I divided the residential areas by socioeconomic status, chose where all of my characters lived, and made sure I had the types of business and resources every town needs. Then I looked up the history of my mother’s hometown and wrote a similar fictional history for mine to explain the current economic and mindstate of its inhabitants. It was the first time I’ve done anything like that (I suck at both Geography and History), and it was a rewarding experience.
I’ve shared all of this with my writing group (for clarification, the summary includes the first four chapters) and we will discuss it tomorrow. This week I will start writing from the beginning, this time on my computer.
So, why don’t I consider this running away? Aren’t I starting over, just what I suggested not to? In a way, I am. But those 80 pages aren’t a waste. I will still use a lot of the elements there, and some of the narrative will probably be transferred word for word. Some people suggest writing scenarios for your characters, or backstories to get a feel for how they act, react, and what’s important to them before you proceed with your main story. So any writing that I don’t end up using was still valuable in letting my characters live, and letting me learn more about them.
If you haven’t noticed yet, there isn’t a right or wrong way in writing. Plot your story beforehand and just make it up as you go? First person or third? If you don’t think the story is working out, chug through to the end or try a reboot? Successful people have taken extreme stances on all of these and everywhere in between.
In the end, one thing stands true: unfinished stories don’t get published. So, whatever you do, make sure it supports to finishing the story. For me, I feel I will be more motivated to write everyday if I get some of these nagging kinks worked out. For someone else, starting over might mean nails in the coffin.