Friday, February 24, 2012

To rewrite or not to rewrite?

That is the question.

I was reading an MS from the slushpile today, and getting very frustrated with the opening paragraphs. My frustration was for many reasons, but one of them was the way the MC was introduced to new concepts.

The MC was starting in a state of ignorance, as are many MCs in YA fantasy, and is found by people who know more than her whose job it is to educate her. And herein lies my problem. It's not interesting to read about an MC being lectured in what they don't know. It's passive. The MC is not actively seeking this information, she didn't even know it was out there. It just fell into her lap. She was even ignorant about her ignorance so there was no reason for her to go actively searching for an answer. And ... I was not terribly entertained. The end result? I stopped reading after about four chapters. (I would have stopped earlier but I'm still nervous as a new intern about not giving MSS enough of a chance.)

My story, to a certain extent, suffers from a similar problem, and it's taken me til now, pinpointing it in this story, to realise it's what's causing me grief with mine. I've rewritten my first 40-60 pages or so about four times now. Each times it's gotten marginally better but I'm never fully happy with it and now I know why: my MC is ignorant, and, rather than not taking no for an answer when her seniors refuse to give information, she accepts her ignorance and waits for it to fall into her lap.

The thing is, her ignorance is so important to the story (but not ignorance of her ignorance - she knows there are things she doesn't know and this is imporatant). So, the solution as I see it is to remove the sources of information that are handed to her and make her go out and get it. And that means ... well ... basically a rewrite, probably from start to finish.

If I can find time around two internships, full time work and part time uni.


Have you ever found yourself in this situation? Have you found ways to make your current set-up work with minimal rewriting, or did you have to do a complete overhaul? If the latter please just lie to me and tell me it was easy peasy! Kidding, I really do want to know about your experiences and your words of wisdom.

PS. Please excuse me if I'm making little to no sense. It's late, and I'm tired, and I've just had an unepiphany that looks like it's going to equal oodles of work.


  1. Sari! I am the worst CP ever that I haven't given you my crit yet. I really like what you've done with the first chaps, but I do understand what you mean here...I was planning to ACTUALLY get it to you soon, so I'm going to reread with this in mind and will give you my thoughts. :)

    I do think that, to an extent, a character who knows nothing needs a little info given to her...hmm. Interesting question!

    1. Maggie, you're a great CP! Don't stress about it, I've been know to take ages to get crits back. O.O Sometimes life gets busy.

      I agree that a character that knows nothing does need to be given some info. It's just hard to find that balance where they're not being told too much, and their actively seeking a lot of what they don't know.

  2. The prospect of a rewrite is so daunting! But at least you can take heart knowing that you have some direction. Knowing that you need to imbue your MC with more knowlegde is a huge step. See, there you go? Knowledge is the thing, even for the writer!

    Hang in there. It might not be easy, but it'll be worth it. (And I - though a hideously delinquent CP, too - am also looking forward to seeing the rewrites).

    1. Thanks, Gilly! It is very daunting. Especially given how long it's taken me to get this far, and now I'm busier than ever!

      Yes, we really gotta get back to swapping some words. ;)

  3. Oh, what an awesome post! I have only done one rewrite. One. ONE, Sari. And NEVER AGAIN WILL I LET IT HAPPEN OH MY GOD MY BRAIN ARGHHH THE MEMORY IS SO PAINFUL.

    Seriously, it was the worst. But maybe it was because the material I was rewriting was so dense - a YA Fantasy (I think I'm sensing a theme here) - and I found my character, as you said, was being told everything so boringly, like, all the time. Action, action, action! That's what I had to inject.

    So, in conclusion, I feel your pain. But remember, you're your own worst enemy in writing. Something you think is painful might not be to others. Also remember, we're here, cheering you on from the sidelines! :D

    1. Haha Caitlin, at least your honest! ;)

      Yes, I'm still trying to figure out if what I've got is fixable before I embark on a massive rewrite.

  4. I've found myself in this situation recently after getting some very helpful critique. So yeah, I may be facing a full rewrite at some point soon, too. ;)

    1. Ahh, so you feel the pain. ;) Good luck with your rewrite, Trisha! Let me know if you need to drown your sorrows...

    2. Thanks Sari! Well, I started on a rewrite last night, and am loving it so far. Feel very inspired. However, this isn't one of my "official" projects this year so I don't know whether to include it in my projects or not... :P

  5. The main character could experience tension if there are indicators that the information is suspect. She may have to act on the info, even if she doesn't know which part is false. Or she may have to pay a price for the information. Or a key part of it gets left out because of a crisis. As you've figured out, that much information cannot simply be a gift.

  6. Hmmm. I have little experience of the YA genre so I may be way off course here :)
    Do people really start from a position of total ignorance? Even young adults? I might find that hard to accept.

    If someone was ignorant - yet realised there were things they didn't know, and then did absolutely zilch to help themselves, to find out a little more, I definitely would find that hard to accept.
    This isn't real life. It's a book. The character has to be interesting to some degree and I have to feel something for them which is sympathetic or empathetic rather than just plain irritated :)

    As for rewriting; I wouldn't go over and over the same piece, rewriting and rewriting, especially if it was near the beginning. For me writing through a story helps me get better acquainted with my characters, and allows them to interact. By the time I'm at the end, I've a better idea of where and how I should start.

    I'm pulling out a sub-plot of my novel right now. I thought it was going to be horrendous. When it comes down to it, I think it will take less time than I'd imagined.

    Someone said to me recently 'no words are ever wasted'. Even if we don't use 'em, we're learning from them.
    Good luck with your project and finding time to write it! :)

  7. Um, YES YES YES!!!!!!!

    I had to do a COMPLETE overhaul! Still, sometimes when I look back, I wish I had written less ignorance with my MC, but then THAT ignorance is what propelled my MC forward *shakes head*

    It's awesome that you're able to do what you're doing, reading through a slushpile. I truly believe editing/reviewing someone else's work is the only way to really highlight our own issues....GOOD JOB! Can't wait to see what you come up with!