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Thread: Rewriting an Old Story

  1. #1
    I'm a Bolerian Hyperminimalism's Avatar
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    Rewriting an Old Story

    I think this might fit best here as I am still dealing with writer's block, but this is one of the ideas I've come up with as my idea well for new stories has dried up.

    A while ago, I wrote a lot of stories, but one of them I had quite a bit of fun with as it was more of a comedic piece than anything serious. It ended up being a little too cheesy. I was thinking I could revamp it, take the main plot and characters and just follow the general premise but fix some of the other details. My problem is that I don't know how to go about doing that. I am questioning whether this would even be a good idea, or if I should just continue to try and do something new instead.

    Have you guys used this tactic--taking old stories and rewriting them--to help out with writer's block? How did you go about doing it? Did you work on it alone or did you have someone to help out and bounce ideas around? Even with an existing structure and characters, was it easier or did you still find yourself struggling?

  2. #2
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Peggles's Avatar
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    I had a professor in college that made us rewrite some of our older work for class assignments, and I actually found it to be a very useful exercise. You come back to an old piece with fresh eyes, and you can see where you failed last time. I think it gets overwhelming trying to figure out where to go with the story to fix it, so I always try focusing on what the original idea was and figuring out a different way to present the same material. Maybe I start somewhere different in the story, change POV, or even take a different tone, but I always try to do something substantially different. Otherwise, I start thinking too much in the context of the unsuccessful version of the story and get stuck again. It sort of helps to think of it as two separate ideas from the same idea.

  3. #3
    I'm a Bolerian Hyperminimalism's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peggles View Post
    I had a professor in college that made us rewrite some of our older work for class assignments, and I actually found it to be a very useful exercise. You come back to an old piece with fresh eyes, and you can see where you failed last time. I think it gets overwhelming trying to figure out where to go with the story to fix it, so I always try focusing on what the original idea was and figuring out a different way to present the same material. Maybe I start somewhere different in the story, change POV, or even take a different tone, but I always try to do something substantially different. Otherwise, I start thinking too much in the context of the unsuccessful version of the story and get stuck again. It sort of helps to think of it as two separate ideas from the same idea.
    Yes, exactly! I know where I could have improved, so I don't necessarily want to focus on that even if it would be a good idea if I weren't experiencing writer's block. What I want to do is just like you said: figure out a way to take the same concept and present it in a different way. This is where I'll need to stretch my creative muscles, but that's where I'm having difficulties.

  4. #4
    practical experience, FTW Niccolo's Avatar
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    I have quite a few short stories I would like to rewrite one day. I keep them all in a folder and peek at them every now and then. Some of them I know what I need to fix and others will forever vex me.

    That's a pretty good fix for writer's block. Revising may come easier than new ideas, and since you're getting work done it might help with confidence when it comes to new works.

    Best of luck!

  5. #5
    I'm a Bolerian Hyperminimalism's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Niccolo View Post
    I have quite a few short stories I would like to rewrite one day. I keep them all in a folder and peek at them every now and then. Some of them I know what I need to fix and others will forever vex me.

    That's a pretty good fix for writer's block. Revising may come easier than new ideas, and since you're getting work done it might help with confidence when it comes to new works.

    Best of luck!
    Thank you! I'm trying to figure out a way to make this as simple as possible. Part of me is trying to overthink it, to make it into some perfect, extravagant novel, but I have to get my head out of the clouds and realize that's not what's going to happen nor is it what it needs to be.

  6. #6
    practical experience, FTW Dreity's Avatar
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    I just finished doing this. I needed a break from my novel, so I rewrote a short story I'd had tucked away for about a year. (Incidentally, I wrote this story the last time I took a break from the WIP.) I ending up expanding it from 1.7k to almost 4k. I had enough distance to notice what was good about the piece and what needed work, as opposed to thinking it was either solid gold or complete trash. It's buried deep in SYW somewhere, so I dug that up and read through the critiques again before I started revising. Not only did I follow suggestions by fleshing out summarized scenes and clarifying certain aspects, I also had my own ideas for improvement. I added new scenes, changed the ending, and even got all experimental and crap with POV. 4k is a bit long for SYW, so I don't know if I'll revive the thread, as much as I'd like to, but I do intend to get other people to look at it. Doing heavy revisions is one thing, but doing them effectively is another. Who knows? Maybe I got carried away and ended up with a bloated mess.

    For me, short stories are a good break from novels because they're about focusing on a single concept and trying to make it work. I can practice my craft and play around with moods and themes I like but don't fit my novel. They also take less time to finish, so I can get that feeling that I've accomplished something, which has a very energizing effect. It helps me get back to my novel with new verve.

    TLDR; I think it's a fantastic idea, but make sure to keep that early draft!

  7. #7
    Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred Chris P's Avatar
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    I've done that, and although I ended up with a better product, I think it is best to start from the beginning and don't try to salvage old bits. One of my projects is a major rewrite. The parts I liked the most were the new or rewritten parts and those I liked the least were the parts I salvaged from the old project. The reused bits felt forced and not at all in the same flavor as the rest of the book.
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  8. #8
    practical experience, FTW scifi_boy2002's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hyperminimalism View Post
    I think this might fit best here as I am still dealing with writer's block, but this is one of the ideas I've come up with as my idea well for new stories has dried up.

    A while ago, I wrote a lot of stories, but one of them I had quite a bit of fun with as it was more of a comedic piece than anything serious. It ended up being a little too cheesy. I was thinking I could revamp it, take the main plot and characters and just follow the general premise but fix some of the other details. My problem is that I don't know how to go about doing that. I am questioning whether this would even be a good idea, or if I should just continue to try and do something new instead.

    Have you guys used this tactic--taking old stories and rewriting them--to help out with writer's block? How did you go about doing it? Did you work on it alone or did you have someone to help out and bounce ideas around? Even with an existing structure and characters, was it easier or did you still find yourself struggling?
    My current WIP is a novel that is over 10 years old. I had been sending it out to publishers all these years, but only got feedback from a publisher this past fall. Actually, a couple of editors looked at it and there were many problems that they detailed. This encouraged me to do a rewrite. Basically, it is a complete rewrite. I'm going chapter by chapter. I will read the old chapter then go back and rewrite the chapter. I leave a gap between what I am working on and the old manuscript so I can keep where I am. I'm just taking my time with it. That is working great for me.

    I won't let anyone see it unitl I am finished with the rewrite and then I will try to find a beta reader.

  9. #9
    I'm a Bolerian Hyperminimalism's Avatar
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    I think what I need to do is revamp a huge portion of the plot, but keep the main idea and work around it. So really it's going to be a complete rewrite, which means I'll have to come up with new stuff and that's where I'm having trouble. This isn't for any monetary compensation, just something I'll share with the online community, but I still somehow convince myself it has to be perfect.

  10. #10
    practical experience, FTW
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    Glad I'm not the only one. I've got about...six WIPs that I'm completely stuck on, the oldest being 10 years old now, and haven't touched in ages, except to add bits and pieces here and there. I have, however, completely written my oldest story which keeps evolving, so I suppose in some sense I don't have writer's bloc on that one, though I've made no major progress since. I might try re-writing it from a different part of the story or perspective. I hadn't thought of that.
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  11. #11
    Lurking in the Shadows Kris Ashton's Avatar
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    I have had considerable success rewriting old stories - sometimes five years after I had given up on them. I had developed as a writer in the interim and could see immediately what was wrong with them.

    With one I chopped out nearly 2000 words of superfluous 'scene setting'. With another, I realised the story ended too abruptly and added another 1000 words to give it more closure and make it thematically satisfying. I have even taken a 100,000-word unfinished (and unpublishable) manuscript and parlayed its 'high concept' into a short story that I sold to a pro-paying market.

    Resist the urge to tinker around the edges. If the central premise is strong, rip it out and then build a new story around it. It sounds scary, because you've invested so much time and energy into thousands of words, but once you do it, you'll likely find it liberating.
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  12. #12
    practical experience, FTW chickenma's Avatar
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    This is the way I used to do it: Read it till I felt stuck, get stoned on home-grown leaf, stare at it without thinking for about _ (well, how do I know how long I stared), then drink a strong cup of coffee and start writing. Nowadays, after having a job for years where I had to write to deadline, I rarely get blocked.

  13. #13
    figuring it all out
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    I rewrite stories from a number of angles: scene setting, character motivations and narrative momentum. For scene setting I flesh out sensory descriptions and ask myself if it's interesting and relevant. For character motivations I put myself in other people's shoes and ask myself if that's how they would behave and what happened in that character's life to make him behave that way. For narrative momentum I mercilessly cut extraneous details, rearrange paragraphs and "How would I shoot this if it was a movie?" That generally yields stronger prose. Hope that helps.

  14. #14
    Sunny with a Side of Evilness V.J. Allison's Avatar
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    I have an old manuscript I'm going to be rewriting sometime in the future. It's over 200K, filled with passive and wordy areas, and just isn't fit to publish or send out again in its current condition. It's a mess. It's going to take me a long time to get it cleaned up good enough for even my friends and family to read as an example of my work. To get it up to a publishing level is going to take even longer. It's that bad. *SIGH*

    I'd like to publish it sometime, but only after it's more than up to snuff, and completely rewritten. The characters are solid, the storyline and idea are good, it's my writing that needs improving. I finished that one almost 2 years ago and I've learned a lot in the time since its first draft was finished.

    What I'll be doing is opening a new file/document, and rewriting it in that while I have the current draft of it open as well, for reference. It's just the way I work in a case like this.
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  15. #15
    Not a straight-up rewrite, but a heavy revision--that I've done. And it's usually only after I've sent it out to betas or workshoppers for feedback. In fact that's where I am with my WIP right now--adding a new POV to flesh out some details and reach my target word count. Not easy, but it is much better for it.

    I agree with what everyone else has said, that it can be a useful exercise, but sometimes it's better to just let it go. Personally, I find that most things have at least a salvageable piece--like a character, or a setting, or a particular sub-plot--but they won't fit back together they way they did. It's better to start fresh with one or two of those, see what comes out, and toss the rest.
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  16. #16
    paralibrarian GingerGunlock's Avatar
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    I've been doing this with some regularity, recently. I'll pick a story from one of my folders, put it in its own spandy new folder (this is all virtual anyway, no real office supplies necessary), cut and paste it to a new file, and reread and change to my heart's content.

    I think the most frequent thing I've changed is the starting point. Some of them just got started "too early", and lacked a hook.

    At times, its "easier" than writing something new, since I already had thoughts on the original body of work, and can build on that, look at it with a more sage eye, etc.
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  17. #17
    I'm a Bolerian Hyperminimalism's Avatar
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    Well, I haven't started on it yet. I think I'm terrified of tackling it despite having a premise and characters set up. The thought of re imaging certain aspects is a daunting task, but I'm still keeping it open as an option. I thought maybe I was making some progress with this writer's block, but that's obviously not the case.

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