Thursday, December 27, 2012

Rewriting "Completed" Work

I've spoken often of the editing we writers have to do as we put pen to paper.  Further, editing isn't a onetime process, but an ongoing one that requires multiple rounds.  Ensuring all the words are spelled correctly and you're using proper grammar is the easy part - it's when you have to change or remove things that the editing becomes more difficult.

However, I've run into another area that has been an unpleasant surprise for me and my writing.  I've long considered Akeldama to be complete, but the first chapter has always felt awkward.  The general scene is what I wanted - which has the book opening up with action so as to set the tone for the rest of the story - but it never felt right.  It was bumpy and uncoordinated, and I always wondered if it had enough pull to draw a reader into reading the rest of the novel.
(What a mess)
I always had the nagging feeling that the opening scene needed to be rewritten, but I was loathe to do so since it was already done.  It was that feeling you get when you've hung that doorframe slightly crooked - going back and getting it straight would mean re-doing work you thought was already complete, and, dammit, it still worked.

But since Akeldama is going to be my debut novel, I knew I had to go back and do it right.  It felt like that history paper you knew you needed to finish, but I dragged myself to my computer and looked at the chapter to figure out how to make it more compelling.

To my advantage, I understood the main character a lot better now than I did when I first wrote Akeldama.  Not only had I completed that novel, but I'd since written a second book with Seth Gendrickson as the lead, so I had a better sense of who he was and what motivated him.  He was too innocent in the first chapter when I originally wrote it, and although he hadn't been through the trials that would forge him into a harder person through the course of Akeldama, he'd still participated in several vampire hunts, as well as having seen his brother ravaged at the hands of one of the undead, and no one comes out of such experiences starry eyed, no matter how young they are.

The opening scene involves Seth concluding a mission that will culminate in his promotion to the official rank of Hunter, and I decided to give him an edge he didn't have in the original version.  He's not the person he will eventually become after the trials of the Vampire War are over, but he still needed to be a more commanding presence than the first time I wrote it.

Beyond that, I went a bit overboard describing the action in the original draft.  I thought I needed to be very vivid in talking about the creature and the damage it inflicted, and this time I've decided to use more allusion and allow the reader to imagine and infer rather than to see directly.  This will be a difficult task since the book hasn't yet established itself in the mind of the reader, but it will hopefully help set a more terrifying tone.

I'm not yet done, although I expect to be so in the next day or so, and I must admit that I feel a weight lifting off my chest that I didn't know was there.  Yes, I despised the thought of going back into something I thought was already done, but I was unaware how much the chapter's awkwardness was affecting the way I looked at the novel, and it's changed my entire outlook towards rewriting.  I don't think I'll ever truly look forward to it, but I won't dread it as much either, especially if, in my heart, I know it needs a rewrite.

Look at me - I'm growing.


  1. A writer will always grow. If you don't grow, then you're doing it wrong. If you don't questions something in your work, you haven't grown. It's what I like to call "growing pains" because it is a pain in the keister.

    Good for you to feel compelled to rework that first chapter. I've thrown out whole (1st) chapters because it wasn't right. That's like cutting off a finger or a hand.

    Wish you best of luck, RD

    1. Thanks, Lorelei. You've got it right - it's painful, but better a little discomfort now than a poor product when you publish.