I’m home sick today. While I’m counting down to my doctor’s appointment this afternoon, I’ve been trying to think about House of Cards and where I want to go with it. And I’m getting absolutely nowhere. I’m having a crisis of conscience on what to do. When I finished the first draft back in September, I already knew several things, which were confirmed by my beta readers:
- I needed to make the romance and the suspense subplots more in line and entwined
- I needed to eliminate the assorted subplots that didn’t really add substantively to the story
- I needed to come up with a way to avoid having DNA testing done on the body of–well I won’t mention who, but an important person
- I needed to make my heroine a bit less tortured (it was that over angsty Mary Sue thing going on)
- I needed to seed more clues as to who the bad guy was throughout the book
- And I generally needed to shorten the timeline in the name of suspense and pare things down to the essentials
I don’t have a problem with any of that. However, as I sat down and began working on this “new draft” it doesn’t bear any real resemblance to the old. It’s an entirely new book. The only things that remain the same are the fact that the hero and heroine had a past, the heroine lost her spouse, the killer picked off the same victims as before, and the heroine still works for the FBI. That’s about it.
I’ve changed the location. I’ve eliminated those subplots. I came up with a satisfactory reason to avoid the DNA testing. But then I changed all this other stuff, and I’m wondering whether I’ve totally lost the essence of the original book. There were problems with the first version, certainly. But I don’t know that it sucked as much and needed quite as many changes a I am trying to make. I am wondering whether I’m throwing out the baby with the bathwater so to speak.
Then again there’s the issue of my emotional attachment to the original story, the fact that starting over from scratch is freaking hard, and the fact that I put so much effort and work in the first one it seems a shame to throw it all away.
Which leaves me no closer to an answer than before.
I will probably continue on my current path of writing an essentially new book. Why? Because I don’t think I can keep most of the old one without falling into the same traps and mistakes and rule breaking I did the first time. Which kind of sucks, but there you go. It means I’m going to be taking longer to get this one done and will probably have some dead time writing wise as I wrestle with what the hell I’m doing with my plot and where I’m going with it. I’ve spent a lot of effort thinking about the victims and the killer and the disposition of bodies and how that implies this that or the other thing in a profile of the killer. I know the order they happen, and I’m starting to get a better idea of how I can frame the hero for it. But as to the actual STORY…it’s a blank slate, and that’s just a little scary. I half wonder if I’d be better off pretending it IS a whole new book with new names, etc.? I wonder if that would help me let go of some of these assumptions and issues with my old characters and the old story. Probably not. That’s probably just an excuse to play with names again.
Drugged and sick is probably not the best condition to make these decisions in.
Speaking as someone who has gone through this, I’m here to offer my two cents. And it’s this: You have to do what’s best for the story. It’s certainly not easy to slash and burn pages that you hold dear, but sometimes that’s exactly what the story needs. When I originally started rewriting FI, I clung to every little scene I could–somehow finding an excuse/reason to keep them. Some were elephants in the room that took some serious juggling to squeeze in. Others were just bits I really loved that I thought _could_ work in the new MS. Most of them are gone now. As I got further into the process, allowing myself to open up to new possibilities, it eventually became clear that they just didn’t belong. After the first few painful slices, they DID get easier. I’m at the point where nothing is sacred.
And I’ve somehow figured out ways to resurrect bits I thought were slashed for good. Nothing is permanent — just make sure you save _everything_.
So my advice?
Make the big changes you think need to be made… and well, keep an open mind about the rest. Allow the book to grow organically…and don’t FORCE a piece in a space it doesn’t really fit. I know that sounds all good in theory, but I think if you leave yourself open to changes…knowing that you CAN and MAY cut everything, it’s a lot easier to tackle.
Also, focus on small pieces at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself by having to know how every thread in the book will run its course… baby steps. It’s a big thing to tackle. Remember…you didn’t write this book overnight…and revisions will take just as long, maybe longer.
Good luck…you’ll be fine! 🙂
Dear God I hope this one doesn’t take as long as the first…the first one took ten years! I’m mostly okay with slashing and burning everything that needs it because deep down I know that’s the best thing to do in service to the story. I guess I’m just in mourning a bit. Thanks for the encouragement!
Yay Jen! When I was in the hotseat this morning I was like: well…what does Jen think?
And I agree. It’s less a rewrite than a revision. Or a re-envision. We’ve talked about it at length by now, but I think you’re doing the right thing. And I’ll help!
I know how hard it is to change your vision of a story that you’ve put a lot of years into. My first novel was that way. I tinkered with it for years before I finally sat down and finished it 4.5 years ago (the first book I’d completed).
I ended up rewriting that book FROM SCRATCH not once but TWICE. I’m not talking “revisions” but toss out the entire draft and start all over again. The last time was the hardest. I knew it needed to be done, but every time I tried to write the new story, I got stuck, I waffled, I agonized. Finally, I had to mentally murder the heroine. Dead. Then create a new heroine. The only “leftovers” from her earlier self were her hair, eye color, and name.
I mourned for her like I’d cut off my own arm.
I’m not saying you have to do anything that drastic to HoC. I read it, and it’s a good story already. Can you make it TERRIFIC with these changes? Now matter how much work it is? Then go for it. Save that old beloved draft and in a year or two, you’ll look back and be stunned. I know I certainly was.
It doesn’t mean the current draft is garbage, either, because it’s not. But “good” may not be good enough to get it published the way you want. The second rewrite of my book finaled in every contest I entered it and sat at a major NY house for three years (I queried after 18 months and it was still under consideration). It just wasn’t quite there. At the time, I couldn’t see why.