It’s a commonly known fact that rewriting is a big part of writing. Although there are exceptions, you don’t tend to get a story right the first time and while it can seem daunting and frustrating to start something again, there is nothing quite like the satisfaction of finishing a stellar second draft that took your clumsy foundation and turned it into something that sits within the same ballpark as good.
Every now and then though, a nightmare situation comes along, a story that is so fundamentally dysfunctional that it’s hard to see how you can make it work. When I first wrote the Boone Shepard series, I was generally happy with each of the books and while they would certainly need work, the bones of what I had intended were present. There was however one big, glaring exception, and that was book two, Boone Shepard’s American Adventure.
Even writing that first draft was a nightmare. I wasn’t sure where to start the story, I wasn’t sure what the themes were, I didn’t even really know what would happen in those pages apart from that I wanted to take Boone to America and that there were a couple of major plot points that would be important for other books. Beyond that, all I had were a shapeless mass of poorly defined ideas that, stupidly, I decided to go ahead and write anyway. Predictably, when I eventually wrote ‘the end’ it was the capper to a scattered, poorly thought out mess of a novel. But I wasn’t going to linger on that, so instead of trying to figure out what went wrong I ploughed ahead to write books three and four, both of which I had a much clearer handle on and turned out way better.
At the start of the year, around the time the first book was published, I decided to go back and retackle American Adventure. I’d already tweaked a few bits and pieces here and there, but I knew that it needed a major overhaul to work, and so I did my best to rewrite big chunks, cut extraneous subplots and rework previous writing into what was almost a completely different plot to the first version.
Maybe it was the fact that, coming off the editing for Boone Shepard and mired in the release I was just sick of the characters. Maybe it was that my new ideas just weren’t much better than the old ones. But those rewrites sucked. Every time I put fingers to keys what came out felt forced, stilted and unnatural. I found myself finding as many excuses as I could to hang on to old material as long as it kind of worked, and recontextualising parts that originally belonged to vastly different subplots to fit the new elements. By the time I finished this draft it felt not much better than the first one, and so I moved on to other things.
All of which brings me to a couple of weeks ago. I had sent the manuscript off to my publisher a while back and after reading through it she provided me with a list of plot holes. Looking over them, I realised that there were two ways I could go about fixing them. I could add lines of dialogue to clarify them and remove any doubt, or I could rework the story in a way so that the plot holes would not be plot holes.
The more I thought about it the more I realised something; every time I look at the third and fourth Boone Shepard books I get excited for people to read them. They’re both manuscripts that I’m really proud of, full of twists, reveals, pathos and laughs. Do I have any right whatsoever to ask people to pay for the second one when it’s not up to that standard? Do I have any right to hand it over to my publisher when I’m not happy with it?
It is imperative that the second book is every bit as much worth your time as the others are, and furthermore it is imperative that it is better than the first so that the audience feels like the series advances with each instalment. So I asked for more time, was given a Christmas deadline, and got to work rewriting. This time, I would not just be adding scenes and leaving stuff in provided it was better than awful. This time I would be writing most of the novel again from scratch and ensuring that every scene earned its keep and strengthened the story.
I don’t know what changed from the start of the year. Maybe it was taking a break, maybe it was the handful of short Boone adventures I’ve written over the last few months, but not only did this draft flow beautifully, I also found myself coming up with exciting new ideas as I went and for the first time I actually felt like I knew exactly what American Adventure is and exactly what it brings to the broader Boone Shepard canon. For the first time, it feels like an essential part of the series that I am so excited to share with people.
I finished the rewrite about an hour ago, and I’m still buzzing, because I’m pretty sure that this book is really bloody good. It’s funny, action packed, and has lots of heart. It’s a very different novel to the first one; tonally lighter but thematically deeper, and I cannot wait for it to hit the shelves so you can see what has me bouncing up and down in excitement right now.
I could be wrong. I’m bound to be slightly biased after all. But being happy with this manuscript is very different indeed to how I felt about it at the start of the year. That at least feels like an enormous step forward.
And even if it’s not as good as I think, it still has a scene where someone takes out a flying saucer with a grenade fired from a slingshot, so there’s that.
Writing words about writing words.