Monday, July 18, 2011

How to Handle Unexpected Rewrites in a Story

Last week we put new carpeting in our entire house. What a hassle. We had to move almost everything into the garage. We asked the gal at the carpet place if the carpet layers would do the upstairs first. She said yes and that they would start in the room farthest from the front door. So we thought we had it made. We moved all the books (twenty huge boxes at last count), bookcases, my office, filing cabinets, nightstands, small couches and etc. to the garage, but we put some things in the living room. We thought installing new carpeting would take two days and that the carpet layers would finished with the upstairs the first day and that would allow us time that night to move everything from the living room. 

Well, here's the deal. The carpet layers arrived and said they could have the entire house done by 2:00 in the afternoon. Oh boy did we do the hustle getting everything out of the house. The new carpet is beautiful, but brother did we have to scramble. As I have thought back on the experience, I realize that even though I can do everything I can to prepare for a major event, the unexpected can still happen.

Which brings me to unexpected rewrites in a story. You can write your story and think your baby is perfect but then the unexpected happens.  For instance, when I first plotted River Whispers I pretty much knew who the killer was. I wrote the book and felt good about it. But when I sent the book to readers, a friend told me that she was very disappointed in learning who the real killer was. I was  shocked. However, I thought about what she'd said and realized she was right. I had to change the killer. 

Now a change such as that is a major overhaul, like getting new carpeting. I had to take out all the old to make room for all the new. AND I had to do it so the story felt natural and the reader would be satisfied. To do this a writer needs to revamp character background, use logic, and be thorough.

Revamp character background . . .
For my villain to change I had to think which character could have suffered from a severe past that could have scarred them so badly that when pushed they might be capable of doing something unthinkable. I looked at each possible suspect and reworked several backgrounds before something finally gelled, and I had my new villain.

Logic . . .
To change my villain I couldn't have the character act out of the perimeters I'd set. I had to be logical and add some character flaws throughout the entire book, leaving a  trail of little things that when added together would lead to who the villain was. I found it fun to go in to some scenes and plant new hints.

Thorough . . .
I only know of one way to be thorough and that's to read the entire book several times. First to find the spots that need to be changed. Then to make certain the changes flow naturally. I read that book at least two or three times after I made the big change.

Unexpected rewrites to a story can be a lot of work, but when it's finished it should be clean and soft like a new carpet. :)

Have you ever had to go in and make changes to your story that turned into a major rewrite? What did you learn from the experience?



  1. Yikes! That's a major fuss! I'm glad you managed to get it all done in time. :)

    That's also a major rewrite. I'm struggling with a rewrite. I've never really done it before and it's not easy! Good luck :)

  2. One major rewrite I did happened because I'd let one character take over. True, she was the main character, but I'd let her take over as a young girl, when I needed her to be in her early twenties. I had to go cut her out as a child and have snippets of what I'd written of her at that time come into play only in flashbacks.

  3. Hi Kathi -

    I can empathize with your carpet story although mine involves cleaning out a basement and two storage sheds. It's something I'm glad is behind me.

    When I brought my first manuscript to a conference, I was informed it was too short. This necessitated a total re-write. Subplots were added to bolster the original story.

    Susan :)

  4. good post. and speaks to me at the moment! :P

  5. I had to do something similar in the manuscript I just finished. I learned a lot. I'm doing much more preparation on my current project. At least with this one I'll know where I started from.

    Enjoy your new carpet!

  6. Jemi:
    The rewrite is over, the book sold, and is in stores right now, so it was worth all the work. Good luck with your rewrite! And thanks for stopping by. :)

  7. Helen:
    Don't you hate it when characters don't do what you want them to? I had a secondary character try to take over my last wip. Cost me several chapters to get her back in line. Sounds like you handled your problem very well. You have to love the use of a well timed flashback. :) Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Susan,
    I remember times when I've had to add more story to a novel. But I found out with my last book, that was 20,000 words over length, it's much easier to add than to cut. That was very painful. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Carol,
    Sounds like you're on track with this next book. With any luck you won't have something unexpected jump out at you.

    I looooove my carpet. Thanks!



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