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Tips for Scrapping a Novel in the most efficient way possible?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Netardapope, Nov 26, 2016.

  1. Netardapope

    Netardapope Sage

    So, after countless months of arduous work and stressful writing sessions, I've come to an unfortunate conclusion. I'm probably going to end up scrapping my current WIP. Now, what does this mean? First of all, I'm still going to finish the first draft. It's currently over 200k words and it'll still be good experience for me to finish it. Even if I'll probably end up abandoning ship once I revise this work, I might at least get a comprehensive guide on what NOT to do when writing fiction. (Who knows? Maybe I'll love it when I get back to it?). But to get an idea of how precarious this is, the best thing that can happen to the story at this point is me rewriting it entirely. No revisions, a FULL ON rewrite.

    I'd be willing to do this, because I love the characters that much. But I'll probably just go with another plot entirely. That being said, once I do finish this eldritch monstrosity that masquerades as my current novel, I want to know if there's a way of not allowing all my time on this...thing to have been an utter waste. I suspect that the key issues are in the structure of the story, so if possible, I'd like to know the best ways of spotting flaws in a story's structure. I was also wondering if it would be efficient to recycle elements that I enjoyed from the plot into the next book.

    So far, the main issues I found are the following:

    1. TOO MANY characters, I can scarcely find time to finish their plot arcs

    2. The 2nd Arc is a collection of episodic storylines and morsels of world-building. In other words, it's completely irrelevant to the actual plot :)

    3. I took too much liberty from the outlines I made of my story, to the point that I veered in a wholly different course. As a result, each and every one of my characters is emotionally-detached from the current "plot" I am weaving.

    4. All of my characters are so powerful that increasing their strength further would require me to "up the ante" so that each conflict had the capacity of destroying a sizeable chunk of the world.

    5. 80% of the necessary world-building for the story I'm trying to tell does not exist. (this issue is not that bad, since putting in the backstory should be easy enough of a task to relegate for revision.)

    6. I'm starting to get the feeling that the majority of the scenes I wrote for this book are padding. This is partly my fault and partly because of my experimentation this time around. I played with a lot of new concepts that still intrigue me, but I feel were added much too soon into the story, and too many at the same time.

    7. I didn't revise the book that came before this one in the "series". Some people can pull this off, and I wanted to find out if I was one of them. I'm not ;)

    8. Two important characters are too geographically isolated from one another. Think of it this way. Imagine someone created a story where they were chasing someone whom wanted to get to China. Now imagine that the MC, whom is the pursuer, starts off his journey in Minnesota. Whereas the villain starts the story about to leave Mongolia's southern border. Yeah.

    So, have any of you done something to this magnitude? As a reminder, I'm still going to finish the first draft, as I stated earlier. If you wouldn't mind, which issues do you think should hold my priorities in fixing for my next shot at this? I won't let this get me down, despite being a huge time commitment. I had a lot of fun at some parts, and there are elements I plan on reviving from this old work. Anyone that thinks they know of a proper way to deal with this is free to share their opinions in the thread!
    SaltyDog and DragonOfTheAerie like this.
  2. I've done this. My first novel. 79,000 words, a total monstrosity. I did a ton of editing as I went...I axed 5 major characters partway through, completely revised the plot...It was a total stumble in the dark the whole way but I learned a ton.

    What I did was let it be for 6 months. Didn't look at it, didn't think about it. Then, I sat back down in front of it after 6 months were up and re-read.

    Well, I didn't make it past the first page. It was THAT bad.

    So then I rewrote it. Completely. New plot, new worldbuilding, really nothing the same except a few scenes, some characters and the concept. It was pretty bad too, and I haven't re-read it. Then I repeated the whole thing and rewrote it AGAIN. I didn't complete that third rewrite and spent two years in limbo, and here we are.

    It perplexes me why you talk about making sure this hasn't been a total waste. The fact that you can see the problems with it shows that you've learned a lot and that alone means it hasn't been a waste. You realize what you did wrong. That's awesome! You've learned. You've grown. Nothing you write is ever a waste, really. The only thing that's a waste is not writing, sitting there and agonizing over whether you're good enough, procrastinating...

    And I don't just mean that in the sense of "you learn from everything you write" blah blah blah. There's really no reason to worry. If you love these characters, they won't go away. You might use them in other stories. Many of my characters have been recycled through many failed drafts before finding a permanent home. Many of my ideas have as well. And yeah, you totally might return one day. You might reconnect with this story someday.

    I don't even know if this counts as scrapping. Do we ever really scrap a novel? The ideas might inch their way back, somehow, find their way into later stories....

    Don't worry about making sure it's not a waste. It wasn't. I promise. Finish this sucker up, then get right onto writing a new story. That one will be better. Repeat. Until you're dead.
    Thomas Laszlo and Netardapope like this.
  3. Netardapope

    Netardapope Sage

    Thanks! I was having doubts about my own beliefs on whether this was a waste, but this comment affirmed my conviction that finishing this was something I had to do. It'll be a long road, but as long as the chracters remain, the essense of the story stays as well. And that's all that matters!

    Sent from my SM-J700M using Tapatalk
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    We writers are an anxious bunch. Imagine a musician developing a new song, worrying that time spent in multiple takes was wasted time.

    Those 80k or 150k of words in a published novel are the end product, not the original work. Keep writing!
    Thomas Laszlo and Netardapope like this.
  5. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I would say finish it and forget it.

    If you think that structure was the problem, and you think it might help you, you can list out your chapters against the "typical" structure formulas. You can do it in columns for each character, and mark the points where they overlap. I don't mean to suggest that you need to follow the formulas. But it can help you if it gets you thinking about where your Inciting Incidents and other plot points are.

    I wouldn't put too much focus on whether or not you like your work. You're too close to it. I've written stuff that I've thought I hated and gotten really positive feedback on it. Don't get too much into your own head.
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2016
    Netardapope likes this.
  6. Netardapope

    Netardapope Sage

    A part of me has the feeling that what your last paragraph says applies to me. When I finished my first story, I hated it by the end, but when I gave it to others, I realized that it wasn't as bad as I thought. That being said, even when I hated that first story, I could still tell that it had a concise plot. In my current case, everything is just spread all over the place.

    But who knows? Maybe I'll end up treating this like my baby by the end of it all [emoji53]

    Sent from my SM-J700M using Tapatalk
    Thomas Laszlo likes this.
  7. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    By not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. If your A plot and story is good, finish, then rewrite, tighten and throw out the plots that don't work. Now of course I don't know the story, it could be total rubbish without a means of rescue... but, it might not be. You won't know until you finish and take an axe to the parts troubling you.
    Netardapope likes this.
  8. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    If you believe that throwing out most of it and doing a rewrite will suit the story best, then follow your gut. And although I understand why many writers rewrite, it's not something I personally believe in.

    Redrafting? Sure. Rewriting? Nah. Here's why: when a story just isn't working, typically those problems are on the structure level. Something is wrong with the skeleton, if you will. Rewriting and upgrading the prose isn't going to solve the plot holes, strengthen characters, fix the tone, etc. This is something that I feel strongly about from personal experience in my own work and reading manuscripts for writing buddies. I've also read about this in several craft books and have spoken with a couple professional writers about the subject. Basically, it's impossible to pimp out a pile of poop, no matter how hard one rewrites.

    I also agree with the idea that the only way to truly improve writing skill is by finishing a work and writing another to completion, over and over again. Not by rewriting. Nothing drives me more batshit than when people say, "writing is rewriting."" Ugh. Writing NEW words is different than rewriting OLD words. Sure, you can improve the prose and add more to the setting and make the narrative flow more smoothly. But if I write a pile of crap manuscript, no amount of rewriting is going to fix that pile of crap on the structural level.

    This is why I'm a strong advocator for finishing a manuscript, editing to an acceptable level, then writing another book. With each new book, our skills improve. Perhaps we focus on characterization in one book, antagonists the next, the ending the next one after that, etc. So with all of this said, I do not rewrite. I do redraft, which simply means that once I'm done with a manuscript, I throw the entire thing out and start fresh if I deem it necessary. So far, I've only done that with 2 books. The rest of the stories I've written have been left in the drawers of time.

    This is just my personal approach though. Some people really believe in rewriting. I happen to think it's a waste of time for me. I rather write another book and use what I learned in the last one to write the new one. Once I'm done with my WIP, it'll sit on the hard drive for 1-2 months (however long it takes me to write my next book), then I'll do several rounds of edits on it. I do edit as I write somewhat, but that isn't enough. So I'll do several passes of the manuscript by focusing on different things each time like dialogue one pass, prose the next pass, etc. I'll send chapters to my readers and make a list of ideas/grievances, do another round of edits, get the script as clean as possible, then it'll go to my editor. Then I'll make changes on that, have it proofread one final time, and it'll be done.

    So while I don't rewrite, I tend to be as meticulous as possible to have a clean manuscript with as little mistakes as possible. Of course, some always remain. One of the novelettes I published several months ago had spelling and punctuation mistakes even after heavy rounds of editing and proofreading. Some always remain, annoyingly so. But yes, I think editing to the best of your ability and then writing another book would be a better use of time but everyone is different so do what works best for you and how you learn.
    Thomas Laszlo and Netardapope like this.
  9. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    Back in the day, decades ago, I abandoned many a project, usually because of unsolvable plot problems or utter lack of ideas. Years later, I'd go back and look at them. Some were horrible. Others were pretty good. I recently modified and incorporated one of these snippets into my current WIP. Part of 'Labyrinth: Seed,' my NaNo project from last year, came from cut chapters of the first draft of 'Labyrinth: Journal.'

    So, I recommend -

    Do a quick finish, then set it aside for at least six months, maybe longer. Work on something else altogether.

    Then come back and take a look.
    Netardapope likes this.
  10. Bvboozell

    Bvboozell Acolyte

    I'm in the same boat right now. Wrote an 80,000-word fantasy novel that drew comments from multiple agents about loving the writing and the world but believing I was holding myself back from the darkness of the characters and the plot because of it being YA. It was suggested that I might want to think about updating it for the adult market, and if I decide to go that direction the entire thing needs to be gutted and reworked into an almost entirely different beast. So I understand where you're coming from, and I do think that if you realize that it needs to be a thorough rewrite, there's no actual harm in giving it a shot.

    I would suggest, however, that you take some time away from the story and write something else. You're too close to the manuscript right now, and taking a few months off and working with a different plot and set of characters might actually help you when you come back to it. I'd also read through the manuscript again and really dig down and decide whether it's actually worth reworking in the first place. Sometimes the stories we love the most are the ones we simply can't salvage.
    Netardapope likes this.
  11. Netardapope

    Netardapope Sage

    Well, by rewriting, I don't just mean fixing the prose. I mean modifying the story to the point were I get rid of undesirable plot threads and end up creating an entirely new story, because most of the story is currently filler. But I guess I won't know for sure until I finish.

    Sent from my SM-J700M using Tapatalk
  12. I think I'm quite a bit different.

    When I say rewrite what I often mean is writing it all over again. Throwing everything out and writing basically a new story using the good or at least workable parts of the original as resources.

    And you can fix almost any level of crappy, I think. It'll be super hard and painful and time-consuming but you can. I personally don't like telling writers, especially young (in experience not in age) writers, that you can screw up so bad there's nothing you can do, because it'll be seriously discouraging. I mean, I'm sure you can, but that's not the vast majority of cases. In a first draft I promise there is nothing worse than the pressure to "get it right the first time." Being afraid to fail.

    It may work for you to move on when a story's not working. It's a good idea some of the time. But some of us (like me) develop a very lasting attachment to our stories and really want to see them succeed. We want to fight for them even if we screwed up spectacularly the first time. This is our perspective on it.

    And I think you do learn as much or more fixing an old story as you do writing a whole new one.

    Just my two cents ;) The OP, of course, will have to decide what they think for themselves about all this.
    Heliotrope likes this.
  13. Exactly. ;)
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  14. SaltyDog

    SaltyDog Sage

    I'm gonna swing for the fence and add my two cents. Don't give up on it entirely. Ok, maybe that one story didn't work out, but you might be able to use the world building you did to spin off another story. Don't scrap all the cool stuff you've come up with, it might be used for later stories, whether long or short.

    My nature is not to give up. Ever. Probably originates from sports. Baseball will do that to you. You keep going, no matter the score. So for me, giving up my novel is ludicrous, just because I've worked on it for so long, I would feel terrible letting it go to pot. I'm going to stick with it, and get it done, even if the story isn't the best, I still have a platform for other stories to sprout from the world I've worked, so it's not a complete lost.

    This probably doesn't help at all though. You're the final judge, so if it really isn't working out, scrap it and try something else, lol.
    Netardapope likes this.
  15. Netardapope

    Netardapope Sage

    Nah, man, this is probably the most "core" piece of advice that writers need to understand. No word is time wasted, each word is a learning experience. No matter how many times that advice is given to me, it never loses it's power.

    Sent from my SM-J700M using Tapatalk
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  16. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    My first novel was 275k. I wrote 4 major drafts for it. I was about to do a 5th, but then I realised I wasn't sure how I was going to solve a lot of the issues, and I realised the time it would take me to do another draft, I could finish another novel.

    I'd spent 3 years on the novel, and was on the verge of spending at least another year. That's when I decided to move on. I wasn't growing as a writer. I wasn't learning to work with new ideas. I was just tossing around the same ones over and over. I wasn't learning to take a story from beginning to end.

    So I set that first novel aside and jumped into the next one. I took everything I learned form finishing that first novel and applied it to the second. I finished the first 50k of what would eventually be a 110k novel in a month. That second novel is done and out for submission. While I'm waiting for responses, I'm working on the second draft to my third novel.

    Midway through writing my second novel, I had a moment of clarity. I suddenly knew exactly what was wrong with the first novel and how to fix it. I though about going back, but I decided not to. I just wrote down my thoughts and moved forward.

    It's not that I don't love that story. I do. I love everything about that world. The idea for the story and all the world building from it came from a short story I wrote when I was 18. It was/is near and very dear to me. But for now at least, I have to move forward, not look back at what could have been.

    Now this doesn't mean I won't ever go back. I like to think if I ever get picked up and an editor demands a book ASAP, I could drag that first novel out and rewrite it. It's all still in my head. Though, I'm part way through writing a short story that I think may or may not take place in the same universe. Soo... nothing is ever wasted.

    This brings me to if you must rewrite it, and are determined to do so right away, don't refer back to any of your old notes or prose. Start right from scratch. If it was really important, you'd remember it. It'll help you avoid getting bogged down by different versions and the desire to cram something you really like, that once fit nicely into your story, but now simply doesn't belong.

    This is like killing your darlings, but instead of killing them, you simply don'l let them in the door.
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2016
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  17. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    Penpilot, I feel ya, buddy. I know we've shared this stuff before, the similarities in our journeys, and the thing that resonated so much with me was when you said you moved on because you weren't growing as a writer. I'm doing that right now.

    A few days ago, I lost my mind a bit. I wrote a weird scene into my WIP that's sitting at 66k words and is just past the climax of act 1. Yeah, 66k words, I know. But anyways, there's this scene where I just went mad. I put in some shocking stuff that was unplanned and I guess it came about because I'm mentally exhausted and my character had a really devastating personal moment, and anyways, I just did some stuff and now I feel like this thing has pulled out of my grasp and i'm no longer in control (which bears a striking similarity to what led my character to the shocking scene in question).

    The last two days, I spent reading "On Writing," and "Writing the Breakout Novel" and then I had a sort of epiphany. I am really struggling with where to go in this novel because half the story feels obsolete to me now. I have this main character who I've spent months (almost a year) redefining, rendering in loving detail. Everything about her life, her background, her thinking, her speech...I feel it. I'm so tuned into this, and I can write it with my eyes closed most days. But at this climax of act 1...things will change. She'll be out of her home, out of her environment i've been setting up for 50k words. She'll be thrust into a new setting, with a crotchety old man who has a really dry sense of humor and a rigid view on almost everything. He's sort of stern and calm, and not really a conversationalist. And the thing is...I just couldn't decide WHY.

    I am writing a story about a woman who discovers herself while she's trying to look for something bigger. The main plot I had was that these people are trying to save some dragons, and then this other group was treasure-hunting, and they would converge on this place...and the MC is the only person who can open it...and so on...and it just feels like that plot is a flat tire on the new story I'm building. When I set out to make my character more interesting, I thought the plot would stand up on its own...but it now looks hopelessly shriveled and useless to me.

    So I decided that I needed to go back...two more books. Book 5 (the one i'm writing is book 7) was the story of the old man...when he was a young man. It was a really important story in this series because it's when my werewolves became a thing, and he was the first. So...I spent all of today with my "Breakout Novel Workbook" and a blank notebook, writing all the important questions down, while I prepare for a full rewrite of the book two before the one I just stalled out on.

    And by "rewrite" I mean not prose or finding better words, because I've never actually heard anyone call that a rewrite. What I mean is taking the book back to the most basic elements (if that's all you can salvage) and beginning again with whatever made the cut. Sometimes just a character concept and a couple plot elements that were cool enough to keep.

    I haven't started the rewrite (because I need a couple days to just mull over whether I want to take this on right now), but I feel good about being able to finish the book quickly. I feel like the thing I'm aiming for is to get the story told, continue to improve on my skills that are improving right now as I step further outside my comfort zone and just be myself with my voice. The rewrite is not something I'm close to, so I think it'd be a perfect project to work on while I take a much-needed break from the thing I've been toiling on for a year.

    So yes, keep going. Do whatever you need to. Take breaks, change projects, whatever keeps you motivated and writing. There's loads of advice on whether to set things aside, whether to keep reworking the same project to hone your skills. I have done both, and I think each has merit. The trick is finding out what makes a difference for you, and what keeps you doing what you need to do. If you burn out (as I'm doing), you stop working. So that's not great.

    And no writing is ever time wasted. It's true it takes a million words before you're proficient. It took me twice that before I felt I had a true breakthrough (an event where I made changes and gained understanding and could repeat the results with some consistency). Just forgive yourself for not being awesome at some stuff, and KEEP WRITING so that one day, you'll be able to rewrite those books that aren't great. That's what i'm doing, and I sort of love it. it was horribly uncomfortable at first, but I'm getting more out of myself right now than I ever have before, and it's really thrilling. I'm not waiting for good days to come around and other times where things just fall into place. I'm actually moving mountains when I set my mind to it. I'm enacting great change in my writing ability, and it's really exciting. Before I just felt like when people liked things I was getting lucky. Now I know I can make people like my stories on purpose. So much funner!
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  18. Netardapope

    Netardapope Sage

    There's a lot of truth in what you say. I know that writing is an act of discovery, but I feel that every risk we take when we introduce an unplanned concept has the potential of swerving our novel away from that "core" story we wanted to tell. On occasion, this leads to more compelling tales because it follows the needs of the character in a natural way. But more than often, it can make a book lose its sense of identity or aesthetic.

    It's hard to explain. If I could phrase it in any way, it's like ripping out the spiritual frame in which your story was based on. I know it's a pseudo-philosophical answer, but that's the best way I can put it into words.

    Sent from my SM-J700M using Tapatalk
  19. Netardapope

    Netardapope Sage

    Your prospect excites me. I want to make a similar plotline, in the same world, with most of the characters intact, but in a completely different geographical location. I'm also planning on rebooting my entire series, because I realized that some key characters are not as fleshed out as I want them to be.

    But I don't see it as starting from nothing anymore. I see it as just another opportunity to go on an adventure with my heroes. The other books feel like extended universe material[emoji23] . They were just adventures that didn't get the chance to become canon. So rewriting is really a fresh breath of air for me.

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  20. Heidi Hanley

    Heidi Hanley Dreamer

    Always learning...

    Grateful for all the responses to this post. I recently received my first manuscript back from an editor and was overwhelmed by the work I still need to do. After hanging out in my cave for a week in tears, I came out ready to face the battle again. Your comments are encouraging and a good dose of magic that I dearly need! My issues are a tangling of the plot and subplot and, according to my editor, characters that are not as strong as they could be and occasionally unbelievable. After reading these posts, I am convinced that my story is more than salvageable. Once I dried my tears and thought about the editor’s evaluation, I could see the opportunities to revise and rewrite for a better story. Nothing about this has been wasted and is only a learning of the craft. As DragonoftheAerie says, the only thing that would be a waste (and I add, a tragedy) is to stop writing or lose faith and confidence. I love your statement, “But some of us (like me) develop a very lasting attachment to our stories and really want to see them succeed. We want to fight for them even if we screwed up spectacularly the first time.” I feel a real sense of responsibility to the characters and story that was given to me to tell. I have promised them I will do my best on their behalf and not quit until they see the light of Kindle world!! I am now feeling grateful for the editor’s thorough and helpful job on my novel and helping me learn more about the craft. She is the one who encouraged me to find a fantasy writers group, which led me here! Wow, what a blessing!

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