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Rewriting When It's Godawful (1 Viewer)

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VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
Another important thing is to purge your brain of other people's styles. The absolute worst, most 'godawful' writing is that which is dishonest through attempting to ape a certain style or incorporate gimmicks. Good writing is just writing, just words without psychological gimmicks and shoehornery.

I'm not at all trying to argue this point, just discuss it, because I'm not sure that's even possible from my own view of the world. If we're widely read, we've probably read authors with every style that interests us. Face it, there aren't that many unique styles to begin with. Having one or more of those styles influencing our own is natural. It's very common to read an interview with a famous author where they discuss which author(s) influenced their style.

I can name three or four which influence mine, and it's not out of any desire to consciously copy their style. For my favorite author, whose entire body of work I've read since I was a kid, and my favorites several times, there is no question that some of him makes it into my writing. However, many of his books did have a little bit of business concerning meals which I include on purpose in mine as a tribute. :) I do the same thing with a bit from Elizabeth Peters, who occasionally has her narrator think something, then immediately repeat it in dialogue. She always manages to make it amusing, and I've done that on purpose a time or two in tribute. However, I wouldn't necessarily call either of those things 'style', so I'm digressing.

I certainly agree that a conscious attempt to 'ape a certain style' probably isn't going to turn out well, although in the right hands and with the right skill I don't see why it couldn't turn out just fine. On the other hand, the styles that naturally influence us are, I believe, endemic to authorship.
 

David K. Thomasson

Senior Member
I certainly agree that a conscious attempt to 'ape a certain style' probably isn't going to turn out well, although in the right hands and with the right skill I don't see why it couldn't turn out just fine.
Yes, and you're in good company. Imitating Authors [Colin Burrow, Oxford University Press, 2019] is a serious study (and defense) of authors imitating authors. Abstract:

Imitating Authors analyses the theory and practice of imitatio (the imitation of one author by another) from early Greek texts right up to recent fictions about clones and artificial humans. At its centre lie the imitating authors of the English Renaissance, including Ben Jonson and the most imitated imitator of them all, John Milton. Imitating Authors argues that imitation is not simply a matter of borrowing words, or of alluding to an earlier author. Imitators learn practices from earlier writers. They imitate the structures and forms of earlier writing in ways that enable them to create a new style which itself could be imitated. That makes imitation an engine of literary change. Imitating Authors also shows how the metaphors used by theorists to explain this complex practice fed into works which were themselves imitations, how those metaphors changed, and how they have come to influence present-day anxieties about imitation human beings and artificial forms of intelligence. It explores relationships between imitation and authorial style, its fraught connections with plagiarism, and how emerging ideas of genius and intellectual property changed how imitation was practised. Imitating Authors includes detailed discussion of authors who imitated (notably Virgil, Lucretius, Petrarch, Cervantes, Ben Jonson, Milton, Pope, Wordsworth, Mary Shelley, and Kazuo Ishiguro) and of the theory of imitating authors in Plato, Cicero, Quintilian, Longinus, Castiglione, the Ciceronian controversies of the sixteenth century, in legal and philosophical discourses of the Enlightenment, and in recent discussions about computer-generated poems.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
IMO Few if any authors start out writing in their own voice, because that voice takes time to grow and develop. Most authors have probably read A LOT before ever striking out into their own work, and when they do they tend to stumble around a bit before finding their direction and voice. Through imitation of others, we discover ourselves.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
I am postponing my short story's rewrite since my descriptive skills have been a lacking which is frustrating. That and I think my short story needs more conflict. I could delete parts of it that don't add conflict. This is the same one I workshopped on the forums. Since I don't think the exposition in the story is helping me set the setting or add tension. I see it as being expository since it's a summary of the character's situation. I did find a book that explains how to apply syntax to write descriptive phrases. It's an old grammar book. No linguistics is mentioned. The book can be used for self-study for description and narration. I need to describe better what happens in the story like a movie. That is a scene which is similar to a kidnapping of the person.

That said the story idea seems good to me since no one has tried this trope before (the invention and how it impacts the character). That is why I will keep trying. I think descriptive prose keeps people from wanting to read my work. It's difficult to write dialogue only and expect them to read the story. Having said that since I have a specific problem regarding that. I keep trying. I invested a lot of money. I want to know if I have what it takes to write only short stories.

I don't want to abandon the idea. Especially when I think it has potential.

I think I may delete assets just to use the shiny idea like Kyle calls his discovery of a new story idea in a draft.

This idea seems to be interesting. I think I can fix the story I have written but it's mainly the description and conflict which is the problem. As of now it seems to be a dumping ground for ideas for a future draft starting from scratch maybe. I will save the ideas. I might delete the whole thing. Just because I have new ideas to begin a new story based on the story's problem.
 

InTheThirdPerson

Senior Member
My user name here (and the Patreon page I'm working on setting up) is a direct reference to this very topic.

I wrote a novel in the first person. Super proud and feeling accomplished to have completed my very first full length novel. Then I went back and actually read it from some distance. What I realized was that narrating it in the first person simply required way too much exposition from other characters to describe the action -- I simply couldn't have the main character actively participate in EVERYTHING.

I still really liked the story and the concept, but realized that the only way it has a chance of being any good at all is if I completely rewrite it -- almost from the ground up -- as a third person narrative.

So that's where I am. I'm roughly 3/4 of the way done with the rewrite. It's a tough process because it's really forcing me to rethink some of the story, which I honestly feel like is making it better.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
I'm not at all trying to argue this point, just discuss it, because I'm not sure that's even possible from my own view of the world. If we're widely read, we've probably read authors with every style that interests us.

Imitating Authors analyses the theory and practice of imitatio (the imitation of one author by another) from early Greek texts right up to recent fictions about clones and artificial humans. At its centre lie the imitating authors of the English Renaissance, including Ben Jonson and the most imitated imitator of them all, John Milton. Imitating Authors argues that imitation is not simply a matter of borrowing words, or of alluding to an earlier author. Imitators learn practices from earlier writers. They imitate the structures and forms of earlier writing in ways that enable them to create a new style which itself could be imitated. That makes imitation an engine of literary change. Imitating Authors also shows how the metaphors used by theorists to explain this complex practice fed into works which were themselves imitations, how those metaphors changed, and how they have come to influence present-day anxieties about imitation human beings and artificial forms of intelligence. It explores relationships between imitation and authorial style, its fraught connections with plagiarism, and how emerging ideas of genius and intellectual property changed how imitation was practised. Imitating Authors includes detailed discussion of authors who imitated (notably Virgil, Lucretius, Petrarch, Cervantes, Ben Jonson, Milton, Pope, Wordsworth, Mary Shelley, and Kazuo Ishiguro) and of the theory of imitating authors in Plato, Cicero, Quintilian, Longinus, Castiglione, the Ciceronian controversies of the sixteenth century, in legal and philosophical discourses of the Enlightenment, and in recent discussions about computer-generated poems.

IMO Few if any authors start out writing in their own voice, because that voice takes time to grow and develop. Most authors have probably read A LOT before ever striking out into their own work, and when they do they tend to stumble around a bit before finding their direction and voice. Through imitation of others, we discover ourselves.

Just to clarify the point, there are some key observations/differences:

'Imitating authors' is written in the plural and that is a key aspect. Imitating authors is a great way to develop when the net is cast to include a large variety of different voices, structures, styles, etc. With that in mind, this is a variance on the T.S Eliot quote, to paraphrase: "Good writers borrow, great writers steal".

But this would be a long way from 'wanting to be Stephen King so badly it hurts', which is an affliction and a tragic one.

Point being, one's own voice should be paramount and the goal should never be 'to write just like X' because in doing so you will likely fail...but even if you succeed your writing will not be honest and while you may be able to provide a subpar emulation of *whoever* what exactly is the point?

The other key difference is the act of imitation (as opposed to influence, which is entirely different) should be a transitionary thing. Totally fine, if we are talking the early stages of learning to craft a narrative and stuff. But ultimately this is a matter of training wheels versus the Tour De France: At a certain point, we do need to kill our idols. Or, at least, come to view them and their work dispassionately.

My user name here (and the Patreon page I'm working on setting up) is a direct reference to this very topic.

I wrote a novel in the first person. Super proud and feeling accomplished to have completed my very first full length novel. Then I went back and actually read it from some distance. What I realized was that narrating it in the first person simply required way too much exposition from other characters to describe the action -- I simply couldn't have the main character actively participate in EVERYTHING.

I still really liked the story and the concept, but realized that the only way it has a chance of being any good at all is if I completely rewrite it -- almost from the ground up -- as a third person narrative.

So that's where I am. I'm roughly 3/4 of the way done with the rewrite. It's a tough process because it's really forcing me to rethink some of the story, which I honestly feel like is making it better.

I think the difference between effective writing in third person and first person comes largely down to the strength and comfort level with the characters internal voice.

If your main character is one who you can write from an internal perspective -- if, that is, you feel totally comfortable being 'inside them' (...said the actress to the bishop) -- and that an intimate perspective on their thoughts is better, then a first person perspective makes far more sense and is probably easier. If you see this character as being kind of the center of the universe.

If not, if the person needs to be viewed as something small amid bigger things, third person is often better. I prefer to write characters in the third person when I want the reader to feel something toward them rather than be ​them, if that makes sense?
 

InTheThirdPerson

Senior Member
Just to clarify the point, there are some key observations/differences:
If your main character is one who you can write from an internal perspective -- if, that is, you feel totally comfortable being 'inside them' (...said the actress to the bishop) -- and that an intimate perspective on their thoughts is better, then a first person perspective makes far more sense and is probably easier. If you see this character as being kind of the center of the universe.

This was exactly the problem when I revisited the story. It was much bigger than the main character.
 

Moose.H

Senior Member
I am facing that at the moment. A great theme and first 3 chapters. I have had to go back and redo the technical aspect to dumb it down and the rest of my Scifantisy has gone from Orsen Scott-card to decafe-children's hour. So here I wait with my trusty water blaster by my side for the return of the monkeys. I know they will come, I know they will come. Like a dog returns to its vomit a monkey will head for my bin. I am soh frustrated.....
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
I prefer to write characters in the third person when I want the reader to feel something toward them rather than be ​them, if that makes sense?

It makes very good sense to me, I shall remember this.
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
My user name here (and the Patreon page I'm working on setting up) is a direct reference to this very topic.

I wrote a novel in the first person. Super proud and feeling accomplished to have completed my very first full length novel. Then I went back and actually read it from some distance. What I realized was that narrating it in the first person simply required way too much exposition from other characters to describe the action -- I simply couldn't have the main character actively participate in EVERYTHING.

I still really liked the story and the concept, but realized that the only way it has a chance of being any good at all is if I completely rewrite it -- almost from the ground up -- as a third person narrative.

So that's where I am. I'm roughly 3/4 of the way done with the rewrite. It's a tough process because it's really forcing me to rethink some of the story, which I honestly feel like is making it better.

I'm in the middle of that with my WIP, and I realized I would need a lot of narration from other characters to fit the model I want to achieve. So I reread Zelazny's Amber series. He does just that. Other characters narrate much of the action which the first person narrator cannot witness. Since it's one of the most brilliant works of fiction to my experience, that can work if you do it well.

The caveat is exposition by other characters must be compelling, and it absolutely CAN be. Essentially, you write multiple first-person POVs. It's just that all OTHER first person POVs are narrated to your MC, rather than directly to the reader. This has an odd advantage. Your MC can react to the other narratives, which is something you can't do for the reader.
 

WailingDusk

Senior Member
Ok, so this is my story regarding this topic. I write a book series 11 years ago, and I had never written a novel in my life. In fact, I'd never written any story before. The reason I wrote it was because I had a dream that inspired me, and before I knew it, I created characters I loved and plot that was solid. It was 109,000 words, more than I'd ever written before all at once. I posted it to a site (in its rough stage mind you) and it got me like 300+ followers in a couple months. I even started writing the second book, and I got around 90k words into it before I noticed something had gone terribly wrong with the plot. (Yeah I'm a pantser, and this happens to us all the time)

People loved the story, but when I went to go back and read it, I HATED THE WAY I WROTE IT! Everything was wrong: the creepy/cheesy dialogue, the voice, the confusing 3rd person omniscient PoV, the constantly shifting characterization, the deux ex machina magic system, everything. After writing that book, I noticed all of this without being told, because I do read and I realized I levelled up. I tried revising, but I was not happy with the result. I eventually pulled it down, stuck all the word documents into a folder on a backup drive and left it alone.

A decade goes by, I have a new career as a software developer, a parent dies, other tragic deaths and events take place, and my creativity takes a nosedive. I never get around to rewriting the story, and I wasn't sure I wanted to. This year during lockdown, the creative muse smacked me across the face one evening, and I sat down and started writing a sci-fi romance. I wrote 100k words and I wasn't done, but when I went back to read earlier chapters I noticed pacing problems. This story wasn't really something I wanted to take seriously, it was something I wanted to write to get the creative juices flowing again. I had levelled up again.

I wanted to really hone in on my craft, so I started reading writing blogs, watching authortube, reading books I wasn't interested in, but liked the writing style. I got so many ideas, and then I remembered that book I wrote a long time ago. Even after 10 years, the plot really stuck with me. I loved the characters and the world I developed, despite all the flaws. It was so good that people I got to know from my first time posting it would tell me they still think about it as well. When a book does that to other readers and yourself, and the plot stands the test of time, you know you may have a gem.

I decided I'd revisit the book. I read it, cringed, but knew exactly what I'd cut and how I'd write it. I changed the point of view to first person for a more "voicy" narration, and to add more mystery to the plot. I kept the idea and the plot, but rewrote every character arc and even deleted/added some. The book ended up being 126,000 words. A little long, but it's the first draft and I'm an over-writer (if you can't tell from this post). I wrote it in one month from May to June. I let it sit for a month, sent it to my critique partners and then reread it. I liked the story, but the pacing was so bad I couldn't salvage it. I rewrote everything, changing narration to dialogue/action, doing way less telling, adding more interesting subplots at the suggestions of critique partners and alpha readers.

It took another month of writing for around 5-6 hours on the weekdays, and 8-12 hours on the weekends to get the second draft finished. Then it took another 2 months to revise the book twice. By this time everything was tightened up and the pacing was fantastic. It was ready for beta readers. I found 25 random beta readers online (everywhere from Twitter, Goodreads, old contacts) and gave them access to comment on the google doc. Not only did everyone finish it, the reception was incredible. Here I thought I had a niche book I didn't think many people would enjoy, only to have strangers not able to put it down. There's no better feeling than pouring every bit of work and energy into something and having it show in the form of praise and complements (and suggestions, criticism, corrections, and comments littered throughout the document). I fully expected at least half of these people to hate it. I've received most of the feedback I requested, still waiting on two more people (one of which wanted to read it again before he submitted the form).

Right now I'm taking all of those suggestions and comments, everything I've learned and making the final draft to send to a line editor in January. The deadline I set for myself to publish is July of 2021, a year and two months after I started writing the first draft.

What was the point of all of this? Well, just because you have to rewrite your whole story (in my case rewriting a whole story two times), doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad story idea and you should give up. If you really love what you wrote, and it's all you can think about, you have to bite the bullet and learn how to love to edit, revise and rewrite. And keep all those drafts, because it's amazing to see where you started, and where you ended up. A lot of love, hard work, time, and tears went into writing the first book of this series, but it was worth it to me. I hope a lot of people also get as much enjoyment from the world and characters I created. There are still two more books to write, and I'm looking forward to taking everything I've learned and applying it to the next.

Sometimes you have to trunk a book idea and come back to it later to see if it's something you still want to put the work into. Sometimes the story might not be interesting to you anymore. You've outgrown it and it's time to move on. Most of the time though, don't be afraid to rewrite a bad draft. Learn from your mistakes, and you'll do a lot less rewriting in the next book.
 

Twisted Head

Senior Member
You're describing what a lot of writers refer to as the "first draft". :D

This is my thinking too and is one reason I outline. By outlining, I basically have the entire story in front of me by the time I get to the actual writing. I've already figured out what's going to work and what's not. I know if there are holes in the plot as well as if the story will be entertaining. In the end, it definitely saves me a ton of time.

~T.H.
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
This is my thinking too and is one reason I outline. By outlining, I basically have the entire story in front of me by the time I get to the actual writing. I've already figured out what's going to work and what's not. I know if there are holes in the plot as well as if the story will be entertaining. In the end, it definitely saves me a ton of time.

~T.H.

For a short story, I go with the flow. For a novella or novel, I plan with rigor and don't pick up the pen until I have an outline and synopsis of every chapter.
 

J Anfinson

Retired Supervisor
Depends on if I feel it's worthwhile taking another crack at it, or maybe I'd rather chase a shiny new idea, or maybe the inside of that oven is looking good.
 

natifix

Senior Member
I'd go with something between options 1 and 2 if you were attached to the main story idea. And if you were tired of working on it, or had feelings that it just doesn't sit well, likely option 4.
 

Newman

Senior Member
Here's the situation: You have written a story...and it sucks.

You like the general idea behind it, enough you don't want to just throw the whole thing away, but the problems are rife throughout, to the point there are very few or zero scenes that are remotely in the ballpark of acceptability.

Do you:

(1) Start completely over, referring to the original as a guide
(2) Start completely over, not referring to the original, try to revisit it 'fresh' and with no loyalty to the prior iteration.
(3) Go through the existing text and make a zillion painstaking corrections to try to rescue it
(4) Give up and go stick your head in the oven.


Certainly not (4). My instinct would be to improve it incrementally, but hey sometimes you just have to rip it up and start over.
 
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