Writing Tips

7 Tips for Rewriting Your Old Stories

Sometimes we writers love chasing down new ideas, but other times, we stumble back across an old piece of writing and think, “Well, this isn’t totally trash. I should rewrite it.” Rewriting old writing is very rewarding and often more fun that we might first imagine. However, there are many difficulties, so I want to share three guiding questions and seven tips to help you rewrite an old story.

7 Tips for Rewriting Your Old Stories

My current project is actually a rewrite of an 11 chapter, 4000 word fairy tale that I wrote when I was nine years old. I am now 19 (as of today, actually), and last month, I sent an 80,000 word document off to beta readers. I have completely started over and rewritten the story twice and done a dozen other rounds of editing. My main character is no longer my point of view character. My least favorite character is now one of my main and favorite characters. The plot has completely changed. All my names have changed twice. My talking buck, naiad, and talking lark characters turned first into air, fire, and water elves and then into a mortal, a makhaedrac (a creature I created out of several myths), and a selkie. My world’s map is more realistic but of similar shape. My characters are more developed but true to their original manifestations, and hopefully, the sense of childish wonder still lies in my story. So trust me when I say that writing this old story was more than worth it. In fact, I think I learned a lot more by rewriting an old story, but that is a topic for another day.

Rewriting Ethelwin/Baehur
Here is a fun comparison that I put together from the first time the character Ethelwin (now Baehur) appears in my various drafts.

As I have rewritten this story over and over, I have found that there are three key questions to rewriting an old story well.

  1. What do I love about this story?
    • Do you love the characters? Then you should stay true to their particular personalities, quirks, and interactions that you loved. Do you love the premise? Then you should make sure to focus on developing that better and more in your rewrite. Take what you love and improve it. Use that to motivate you to finish the rewrite.
  2. How can I stay motivated during the rewrite?
    • Staying motivated can be a huge problem when you are rewriting an old story. It is all too easy to focus on the wince-worthy dialogue, boring plot, and horrendous description and narrative. So focus on what you do love, but also find other ways to motivate yourself to keep going. Maybe find some old drawings you drew of the characters and put them on your desk to make you smile. Maybe plot out your rewrite and get excited about a scene you will get to rewrite if you finish.
  3. What should I change and what should I leave?
    1. This question is the one we are most inclined to focus on, but it really is not the most important as the first two questions often answer the third. Leave and emphasis the parts of the story that you love or motivate you to finish. If a character, scene, chapter, or anything else is discouraging you from finishing, then leave it out! Of course, the rational side of your writer’s brain will tell you all sorts of other things to change, but leave in the parts that you love, even if you think them a bit silly. Let your beta readers tell you if you are just indulging yourself, but if you take out everything that you love in a story, then why rewrite it?

So ask yourself those questions and take time to really answer them. These questions will help you focus, stay motivated, and know how to rewrite, but here are a few other, more practical tips.

  1. List what you love in the old piece and post it near you when you write. Yes, I mean an actual physical list. If you don’t, not only do you risk losing motivation, but you also may accidentally change something that you love and only realize it years later (I am speaking from personal experience.)
  2. Don’t be afraid to completely start over. Get a new document. Grab a new piece of paper. Don’t edit in the old document, line by line. If you do, then you will not be able to take the story in new directions, add new scenes, or make your dialogue more realistic. You might try, but it will just be frustrating and come out disjointed.
  3. Remember why you wrote the old piece. This is something that has become key in my current round of edits on my novel. I was originally inspired by the wondrous sense that fairy tales have and the beauty in nature, but I lost this in one of my rewrites. Then I looked back and realize just how much I lost by making my story so dark and serious without the wonder and beauty. You once valued something and were inspired to write about it; just because you are more mature and a better writer does not mean that you should no longer value that thing and should abandon that inspiration. Write about that thing better and create a close story to your inspiration, but don’t get rid of your original motivation in writing the story.
  4. Remember not to scorn innocence, joy, and wonder for “realistic” themes, settings, and characters. Innocence, joy, and wonder are real– just as real as tragedy, pain, and sadness. You are more mature, but you do not have to be jaded. Sure, add some darker themes and harder questions into your story (I sure did), but do not throw out all of the childish happiness.
  5. Chase some bunny trails. Do not be afraid to take the plot in new directions. Focus in and expand one part of your plot. Take half the story to chase down a character’s backstory that you never developed. You may just find what you thought was a “plot bunny” becoming your new plot. I know this happened to me.
  6. Make sure that your characters have both weaknesses/unlikable traits and strength/likable traits. One of the biggest mistakes that we make in our early stories is to have poorly developed characters. One of my characters had no likable traits and most of the others had no unlikable traits. So take some time to fill out some character profiles and round out your characters.
  7. Reread your old story often and keep a clean, unmarked copy beside you as you write. This will help you stay true to what you love about the story and keep you motivated. It is also helpful for when you forget where you were going or need to check on a couple details. And don’t mark up this copy, that will just get discourage for you to see when you keep glancing over at it.

So what do you think about rewriting old stories? Have you ever rewritten one of your old stories?

Good luck with your writing this week, and God bless,

Gabrielle

Open Pen

The River Flows: An Open Pen Critique

Open Pen is a critique opportunity that I run on this blog. It is specifically meant for teenage writers who want feedback from their peers, but anyone is welcome to submit. If you are interested in submitting or learning more about Open Pen, you can on the Open Pen page.

Today, Annalia Fiore has a very interesting albeit unsettling piece for us to critique from her presumably fantasy or dystopian novel. Annalia blogs over at Appreciating the Joy of Writing and is looking for any type of critique so long as it is honest and is “the hardest that we can give.” In short, she would like to hear exactly why we hate her excerpt. Yikes, Annalia! I hope you have prepared yourself.

Please note that this excerpt does contain some violence; however, if you have ever read the biblical book of Judges, it is still less violent that some of the stories there, so I have no problem posting it on my blog. However, if this might bother you, then you may not want to read this piece.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to comment on this piece. Even short, simple comments are very helpful. So please do not feel obliged to give a long, comprehensive critique.

God bless,

Gabrielle

_______________________________________________________________

The River Flows (Excerpt from Chapter 1) by Annalia Fiore

Me and the crowd

Saturated in a war like society, I could sing our national anthem with pride. Every year, all the citizens of Nemmule gathered together in an amphitheater that seated 450,000 people. Down below on the stage, our Ophar would stand, surrounded by twenty-five body guards and four other men, holding Nemmulen flags. I can recall his high pitched, excited voice, that grew louder and louder as his speech commenced. Every year, the speech was the same. The Ophar spoke of the strength and bravery of the Nemmulen people. One of his key points was that he had the full support of his advisors and the nobility of Nemmule. The crowd and I would agree and clap our hands with approval. No one even questioned, why the Ophar was surrounded by twenty-five body guards. After his speech, four prisoners of war or four criminals were dragged to the stage, kicking and screaming, before the Ophar. Their crime was stated, but it was always the same crime, mind you.
“These four men,” the prison ward rasped, “are traitors to the country of Nemmule, its noble citizens, and the grand Ophar himself. My lord! What shall be the punishment for these men.”
The Ophar walked around the stage for a while, and then, like every year, he abruptly stopped and looked at me and the crowd. He gave a wide smile, lifted his hands up and said, “Let the people decide! What do the citizens of Nemmule say? What shall be the punishment for these criminals?”
“Death! Death!” the crowd and I screamed.
“Death! Death!” the nobles agreed.
“Death! Death!” the prison ward would shout, and then, he would raise his hand for silence. When all was quiet, he would look at the Ophar standing in his white robes before the crowd.
“My lord?”
“Death!” whispered the Ophar. Though many of us could not hear his answer, we all knew what it was, as it was the same answer every year. The twenty-five bodyguards began to pound the floor with the but of their swords. Then, as one body, the crowd and I rushed at the four criminals, trampling them under our feet, ramming their heads against the stone floor. The criminals had their feet and hands tied together, they could do nothing but scream and curl up into a tight ball. The crowd and I beat them until their bodies were indistinguishable, all the while chanting: “Death! Death!” The crowd’s excitement grew increasingly, and we would have torn the criminals to piece if the prison ward had not risen his hand.
“Enough!” he shouted. Our bloodthirsty eyes dimmed, and I looked down at my clenched hands and my robe that was no longer white. The Ophar walked back and forth and then said: “Good! Very good…,” he said. My father, the Ophar smiled at me and the crowd.

Writing Tips

Writing Fake Answers to Real Questions: Part 2

Writing Fake Answers to Real Questions: Part 2

So you know that you need to write about hard, real questions and that you should explore the complicated aspects of those questions and not resign to cliches. However, if you have ever truly wrestled with a hard question, either by means of storytelling or not, you know that it can be extremely hard to find a real answer.

So, this post will be addressing what to do when you can’t seem to find a real answer and even if you should leave the question unanswered.

In my last post on answering hard questions, Kumquat Absurdium commented:

“Should we not only deal with difficult questions but begin to admit that sometimes we don’t known the answer instead of covering our ignorance with cliche? I know there are answers and legitimate ones at that but I was wondering if sometimes it is better to leave them unanswered? Or is that just unhelpful and leaving the reader feeling cheated?”

These are really great questions (hard questions in themselves), but I think we need to focus on answering the two unspoken questions in the comment. First, can we always find a real answer? And second, are answers helpful? 

The first question truly deals more with theology than good literary practice. I am a Christian, so my answer is simple. Yes, real answers exist to every question, and humans have the ability to devote themselves to answering those question and can answer (but not grasp) the truth behind any question (though this may require a life-time or more of devotion to a single question.) However, I do want to mess with theology as little as possible in this post. Even if you do not believe that there are real answers to hard questions, then the second question still applies.

Are answers (whether true, false, or non-existent) helpful to others?

As writers, we must answer the second question based on how the answers might help our audience. Like I mentioned in my first post, we should write real questions because desperate people have real questions. Real questions and fake answers have driven people to suicide. It is our duty as writers to seek to help those people as best we can, especially since many of us have been helped by books in similar ways.

Several other commenters contributed to Kumquat Absurdium’s questions by suggesting that answers to hard questions may be intellectually satisfying but not emotionally so. Therefore, they suggested that leaving the question addressed but answered is a good option, so long as the writer leaves the readers with a sense of hope and not despair. One commenter pointed to how intellectual answers can give a sense of self-reliance, confidence, and even pride. I agree that this false sense of power over a question is bad, not only because it leads to arrogance and selfishness but also because the sense of power is not true. Human beings only have the power that is given to them and possess nothing. If you think you understand something intellectually or scientifically, you give yourself the impression that you have power over it. As I mentioned, not only does this lead to undesirable behavior towards others, but it also simply isn’t true. You don’t actually have power over anything outside of yourself.

Therefore I disagree that merely intellectually satisfying answers are true.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do not think that we should disqualify an answer simply because our emotions are revolted by it, but I do think we should consider our emotions in the process of answering hard questions. Our intellectual answer should also satisfy emotionally. Granted, our emotions can be and often are wrong. We may be initially revolved to an answer but then learn to be emotionally satisfied by the same answer. However, I think there is a true difference between the emotions involved when someone is mortified at the idea of revealing himself as a liar and when someone is mortified that a mother would kill one of her own children to save the rest of her family. One reflect man’s twisted sinfulness; the other man’s inherent goodness and morality.

So, if you are answering a hard question and find yourself with a merely intellectual answer, then I would suggest that you have actually only produced a false answer and are ignoring the important world of emotions.

This also applied in reverse. If you have found a merely emotional answer, then you also have only a false answer and are ignoring the important world of emotions.

Finally, if you have found an answer that leads you to the sense that you have full understanding and power over the situation, then you also have a false answer.

So, if we assume that real answers do exist and answers that are merely intellectual are false, then should we or should we not write until we find real answers and write those real answers? 

First, with the idea of helping our desperate readers in mind, we must consider how not answering the question might affect this reader. By merely addressing the hard question, in all of its emotion, physical, and intellectual complexity, we are providing the reader with empathy. The reader is no longer alone in their search and struggle.

This is very important, but I suggest not the most important. The reader is given temporary peace and encouraged that others are looking for the same answers. The reader enjoys and is encouraged by the story. However, I have found this enjoyment and sense of peace to be temporary. All you, as the writer, did was sympathize with and encourage the reader to search harder. You encouraged them to continue searching, while you yourself did not continue until you found the answer. At best, this is lazy; at worst, it is hypocritical and a scam.

The reader may continue with their search for answers based on your story, and they may even get farther than you and find the answer. However, too often, I believe the reader will still fail to find the answer and fall back even further into despair, since even his favorite story cannot find the answer.

So since, a real answer can be found and should not lead to self-reliance and pride, and a leaving no answer is likely to indirectly cause more problems, I purpose that posing a question and leaving it unanswered is also a false answer and even morally wrong– however, well intended.

Now, this is all great. We should write and answer hard questions. Fantastic. But that is harder than it sounds, especially if you start writing about truly hard questions. You will know this all too well if you have ever tried addressing a hard question in a story.

So here are some practical tips for writing hard questions and writing real answers, when you can’t seem to find real answers:

  1. Read books that answer hard questions:
    • I’d suggest starting with C. S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, no matter what question you are asking. This book does a fantastic job of providing a true answer to extremely difficult questions within a well written narrative.
    • Also read books written by writers that are primarily writers (not philosophers, apologists, or theologians) on the question. If you decide to read a narrative by a philosopher, you are most likely to get a false intellectual answer or simply find the answer forced into a story rather than a natural narrative approach.
  2. Find an older, mature person to talk about your question with. They may be hard to find, but there are some older people out there who might be able to help you with your question.
  3. Keep writing. If you have not found your answer yet, just keep writing. Don’t end the story. Ask your next question and keep writing. (You can edit later and fix the plot once you figure out an answer.)
  4. Set the story aside. Perhaps, you are just not ready to answer that question yet. Pick an easier questions and get back to your other story later. I mentioned Till We Have Faces above. When he was 18, Lewis wanted to write the story focused on the question, “Are the gods/God not just?” Lewis ended up finally writing the story near the end of his life, though he tried multiple times before. Maybe you just are not ready to answer your question yet, so wait but don’t give up.

So do you agree or disagree? Should we write answers to hard questions? Do you have any tips for doing so? What do you think of stories that pose hard questions but never answer them?

God bless,

Gabrielle

Why Writers Should Ask Real Questions                 Writing Tips: Avoid Fake Answers to Real Questions (Part 1)