HOW TO THROW OUT YOUR 65,000 WORD STORY – And Use The BEST BITS To Build a Better One

I’m currently working on my next YA novel, Street Racer.

This novel was one of those ones that just came to me. The main character sat on my shoulder and told me his story – and I knew who he was and what he wanted from life.

The problem was, he told me his story in verse.

This wasn’t actually a problem for me, but it was for my publisher. Apparently, verse novels don’t sell.

More important than the publisher’s comment was the feedback from my teenage son. My eldest reads just about anything, but he told me he wouldn’t read a verse novel and neither would any of the boys he knew.

Street Racer was a book that I WANTED teenage boys especially to read. This story was really important to me so I had to try and rework it in prose.

I’m now on the fifth draft and it’s better – but still not working. In the transition from verse to prose I’ve had to add a lot more detail and here’s what’s happened:

  1. I’ve ended up with character ‘devices’ that don’t ring true.
  2. I’ve ended up with too much plot detail that takes the focus away from my main character.
  3. The setting needs to be more clearly established.
  4. Some of the character reactions aren’t authentic.

All these things were pointed out to me by my editor on the weekend – and she is absolutely right about every single one of them.

I read my latest draft over and over, and had it workshopped by a number of writer friends, but none of us picked these things up. Of course we’re not trained editors, but it made me wonder why.

Another author friend, Sandy Fussell and I were talking about this and I think she’s right. She says that workshoppers and the author can get distracted by beautiful writing…and I think it’s true.

If something sounds good when you read it, it can be hard to recognise the fact that it’s not actually relevant to the story or doesn’t move it along…and shouldn’t be there.

After thinking about what my editor had said and my discussions with Sandy, I realised exactly what the problem was with my story. In the transition from verse to prose, I LOST my character’s voice – and to some extent, my character.

So hard as it is,  this means discarding my 65,000 word current draft and starting again. There are lots of parts I can use. I think the plot is sound and I think that most of the other characters in the story are working well. There are some action scenes that I like that will hopefully just need a ‘tweek’ and I don’t think the dialogue needs a whole lot of work. So these are the good bits that I can use in the next draft.

But for the rest of it, I’m going right back to basics. I’ve started by doing another interview with my main character and trying to find his voice again.

I’ve asked him all sorts of questions about

  • where he lives
  • what his relationships with his family and friends are
  • what makes him happy or sad
  • how he spends a typical day
  • how he sees himself
  • how others see him
  • the best thing that could happen to him would be
  • the worst thing that could happen to him would be
  • his biggest problem
  • how he’s going to solve it
  • things/people/situations that are stopping him from getting what he wants

Fortunately, despite the fact that he’s a teenage boy, he has had plenty to say. He has let me inside his head again… and although he’s not quite sitting on my shoulder yet, he’s getting closer.

I’ve also realised there are too many issues in the current draft so I’m taking out one of the main characters to simplify the plot and strengthen the themes that will stay in the manuscript.

And I’m starting my next draft of Street Racer from a different point – from somewhere further into the action.

Have to go now. Ric is calling me. He’s impatient for me to tell his story – and get it right this time.

Happy writing

Dee:-)

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18 thoughts on “HOW TO THROW OUT YOUR 65,000 WORD STORY – And Use The BEST BITS To Build a Better One

  1. Dee, you are my hero! That is such a difficult decision to take, yet I can hear in your “voice” that it’s the right one. I look forward to reading about your process.

  2. Thanks Book Chook,

    It wasn’t easy, but I’m happy with the decision. I think my publisher might have been a bit horrified when I told her, lol, but basically the bones of the story are still there. I just have to find my character’s voice again and I feel I’m well on the way to doing that.

    Dee:-)

  3. Hi Dee,
    Thanks for blogging about this! I have a feeling that it happens all the time but we are so busy moving to the next draft that we don’t end up talking about it.
    I spent a great fat wad of last year working on a middle grade novel that is 40,000 words. It now lives in my bottom drawer. I’ll come back to it one day – I can already see which thread needs to be removed and how the main character needs to be changed, but I have to wait a while.
    It is one of the tough things of writing – to spend so long on something that isn’t working.
    At least, though, it makes the successes feel so much more amazing.

    Anyway – thanks for blogging and I know this is all part of the process, just one that doesn’t get discueed all that often!

    Thalia

  4. You’re biting the bullet in a very professional manner. Big Kudos to you!
    Sounds like it almost may have been a candidate for the Library of Automatic Writings in its first form. This is a library were stories are dictated to people who act as mere cyphers and write them down almost as if they are mildly possessed.
    Amy Tan bookended up her story, Saving Fish From Drowning with a mock automatic writing tale. I thought it was real till the end of the book (still miffed at her for pretending it was a real automatic writing story.)

  5. Thanks, Bren,

    The verse novel was very much one of those ones where I felt like a kind of cypher. I’ll have to check out the Library of Automatic Writings. Sometimes the process is easy and sometimes there are a lot of false starts.

    Dee:-)

  6. What an informative post! I totally get what you’re saying about other writers getting caught up in the fabulous prose and missing the big picture. I’ve done it myself when I’m critiquing. Good luck with this next draft.

  7. Thanks Sherrie,

    I think that standing back from the work when you are self-editing or critiquing someone else’s writing is one of the hardest things to do.

    Dee:-)

  8. Wow, Dee. What a huge step! But it sounds like you know it’s the right one. It’s such a good feeling when things become clearer, even if it means doing a whole lot of rewriting. I went through nearly the exact same process through my mentorship with Kate – I think of the 30,000 words I had I only ended up using about 8,000 of them. If you’d told me before hand that I’d have to do that it would have terrified me, but when I worked out where the novel was Vs where it needed to be, it just felt so right. Good luck with the rewrite!

  9. Dee, it was great hearing your decisions while chatting at the recent CBC Conference and again now, here in your blog. I must say I am somewhat astounded at your speediness in collating it all together, but it sounds as if it’s very clear to you. Good wishes with it.

  10. Oh Dee, i often done this time and time again with my fantasy novel i’m writing- but gee the part about verse novels not selling stung! sometimes I get to the core of what I write through verse, then switch to prose.
    street car is a labour of love! all the best with the rewrite.

  11. Thanks Janeen,

    It was so great to catch up with you at the CBCA conference. I must admit that since I have realised what I have to do, the direction has become a lot clearer.

    Dee:-)

  12. Hi Lorraine,

    To be honest, while I think the character worked much better in verse, I must admit that even in that version I think he might have been too passive.

    Verse novels not selling is the opinion that was expressed to me – I don’t necessarily share it:-) I love Ellen Hopkins work and her novels don’t seem to have any trouble selling – and I love your verse novels and Sally Murphy’s and Steven Herrick’s and Sherryl Clark’s and so many others. You are the people who inspired me to write mine:-)

    I totally agree that writing in verse gets you to the core of the story and the characters – and I hope to have many more of your verse novels on my bookshelves:-)

    Dee:-)

  13. Hi Dee
    It takes great courage to put all that hard work behind you and begin again. It shows how strongly you believe in this story and your characters – and that’s what will make them shine.
    Sue

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