These days, it seems like remakes are everywhere. From comic book heroes to fairy tales to classic musicals and cult favorites, Hollywood is bringing plenty of re-imagined stories to the big screen. Sometimes these stay fairly close to the original material, other times only the bare bones of the familiar stories remain. And since people have been retelling old stories pretty much as long as stories have been told, I doubt that trend is ending any time soon.
Revision is just another form of this kind of adaptation. You take the story you originally wrote, and turn it into a fresher version of itself. You might introduce a whole new cast of supporting characters. Maybe you’ll move things to a new setting. In my current project, I’m drastically changing the plot. Glancing just at the series of events that occur in the book, my rewritten novel bears little resemblance to the first draft. Yet both are undeniably the same story at heart.
So how do you know what to keep when you know your story doesn’t work in draft form? Unfortunately, this is one of those situations where the answer depends on the story and the writer. It’s also why I don’t recommend taking a first draft to critique partners, even very good ones. Knowing what to cut and what to keep, which direction your new adaptation of your story should take, comes from within yourself as writer. What made you write the story in the first place? What is sacred to you within it? With PQ, my urban fantasy, I could not sacrifice Celtic mythology influences on the magical world I created, or my main character and her unique definition of beauty. In my current rewrite, I’m putting my focus on making sure the magical elements are present throughout the story, and on strengthening my characters. To do so, I’m tightening my plot and removing anything that detracts from the core of the story I want to tell.
One of my favorite things to do is play the “What if…” game. I do this most often in the pre-writing stage, when I’m brainstorming new story ideas, but it’s really helpful when I’m stuck on how to fix a problem draft as well. I ask myself questions like, “What if this happened in Spain instead of the US?” or “What if Bob isn’t the villain? What if it’s Suzy instead?” The more outrageous the question, the better the results. My writer friends are great at asking good questions when I’m stuck. I’ll give them a quick elevator pitch of what I’m working on, or break the problem down into a few sentences, and they’ll throw out awesome questions for me. Since change can be hard, one of the best things I’ve learned is to just roll with their questions or suggestions rather than dismissing things out of hand. They may not always know the best way to change my story, but they always give me a fresh perspective, which is just what this sort of re-imagining work needs.
If you’re feeling stuck in your revision, take a break from the manuscript and start asking yourself questions. You may feel like you’re losing your mind, but let’s face it, if you’re a writer you’re at least halfway there already. In addition to the “What if…” starter, other favorite questions are, “What’s the worst thing that could happen here?” and “What’s the last thing you would expect to happen next?” Both are great for building conflict and keeping the reader’s interest.
If you’re participating in NaNoEdMo or otherwise doing revision, I’d love to hear your own tricks for re-imagining your stories, as well as any stumbling blocks you’re hitting along the way. I’m behind on editing hours because I got an amazing writing opportunity with a looming deadline (more on this when I can share it later). I should be able to get caught up in the last half of the month, though. I’m really having fun adapting my rather wrecked first draft into a much better version of itself. This is one story that needed a remake, and I’m happy to see it shaping into something new.