Sunday, November 24, 2013

To Rewrite or Not to Rewrite: Go with Your Gut

       I'm in the process of revising The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars (yes, I'm actually thinking about publishing it, long as it is).  There was one scene I wanted to change.  It's an important and dramatic scene where we learn why a particular character acted as he did, producing disastrous consequences.  I have a friend who read all my books as I was writing them and she presented the opinion that the motivation in this scene was too old-fashioned -- that is, too old-fashioned for 21st- century sensibilities, to say nothing of the 28th century.  I do want this scene to seem urgent and believable, so I decided to adjust some of the elements to make what had happened more seriously horrendous.
       Does that make sense?  I can't tell you the details -- they shouldn't be revealed until you read the book.
       I ought to say parenthetically that when I decide to start preparing a story for publication, especially when I plan to divide it into volumes, I never work with my original construction.  I make a copy and divide into what I call Master Copies of the final forms, and then revise those.  Therefore, I still have the original piece for reference, with all the annotations, dates inserted, etc. 
       So yesterday I rewrote the scene in question, changing certain aspects.  And it came out all disorganized -- the plot points are more terrible and destructive, but the focus was diverted from the person who has to be seen as the guilty party.  It becomes more complicated -- the blame is not clear-cut.  Frankly, it just didn't work in my opinion.  Didn't feel right.
       This morning I took out the rewritten part, placed it in a document where I keep deleted segments (just in case), then copied the original from the basic manuscript and stuck it back in.  Then I started over.  I kept the same storyline but I beefed up some of the motivations and character aspects.  What happened may seem old-fashioned, but still, given the characters as they are presented, it makes a stronger and more striking case than my revision did.
       Just call me Jethro Gibbs.  My gut told me the old way was right in spite of my friend's opinion.  Sometimes you have to go with your gut and stick with what you wrote in the beginning.
       What problems do the rest of you have with rewriting?  Do you listen to what your gut tells you is right, or is it all intellectual analysis? 


  1. Perhaps it wasn't the scene that needed changing. Maybe there were insufficient tiny bits of character behavior earlier in the book to support the reasons given in the scene. I do hate the big reveal (e.g., The Butler Did It) when nothing prior suggested the revelation. The butler needs to be shown glancing suspiciously at the victim, or tenderly sharpening the knife, or an almost-revelation which makes us suspect the victim did something awful to the butler's mother years before. It's all in the build up, not the climax. The reader should think "of course!" not "what the...?"

    1. Well, this isn't a murder myster - it's an ethical question. And there is plenty of build up, I'm just telling you! If the book is ever published and you read it, then I can give you more particulars! Thanks for stopping by, Marva!

  2. Every book has mystery elements. The way you described the scene seemed like it was a reveal of some kind (the character explaining the ethical basis of his actions). That's the basis of a book, mystery or otherwise: things people (or aliens) do and why they do it. The same rule applies no matter what the genre. You can't have a character just up and do something without it being consistent with how they have behaved throughout the story. Otherwise, why would the explanation scene be needed at all?

    What do you mean "If the book is published...?" Of course, it will be published.

    1. Yes, this is a reveal, and an important one, and it's entirely consistent with how the character has been behaving. The point I was trying to make in the post is that if what you've written feels right to you, it probably is. Don't make radical changes unless you really feel it improves things, no matter what other people's opinions are.. In this case I didn't think the changes improved anything - they just muddled the picture. I still plan to do some more tinkering with the scene, but I don't plan to change the basic outline.