Rebooting an Old Idea

Earlier this year (so, not that long ago), I made a plan for the year, outlining the projects I was going to work on and when I’d work on them. I’ve already gone off the plan, and it’s all the fault of that cheesy fantasy movie I watched last month. That got me started thinking about how much I love those fantasy stories in which two people team up on a quest or a journey, bicker for a while, save each other’s lives, and fall in love.

And then I realized that I’ve written a book along those lines. Sort of. It had the raw material for that sort of thing, but I forgot to put in any conflict, and then I separated the characters for some strange reason. I first came up with this idea the summer after I graduated from college, and what I originally came up with was a later story about one of the main characters, but then I decided that the story of what led up to that needed to be told first, and this was that book. I played with the idea for a couple of years, and then I needed something to enter in a manuscript contest at a conference I was going to, so I wrote a synopsis and the first chapter — and I won the contest.

But it took me nearly ten years to really write that book. There were a lot of stops and starts and many drafts. Finally, I got something I was willing to submit. It was rejected. A couple of years later I took another stab at it, and it was rejected. I wasn’t even too disappointed because I knew that it didn’t quite work. I just couldn’t say why. Still, I never forgot the story or the characters, and if an idea sticks with you for thirty years, then there may be something to it. It wasn’t until now that I realized what was wrong with it.

I’ve spent the past few weeks reworking the idea, doing some more detailed worldbuilding, digging deeper into what’s going on with the villain so that I can figure out what he’s doing and why, and reworking the plot. Not only did I entirely miss the story I was really telling, but I’d been way too vague about what was going on, and being specific made a huge difference in making a plot take shape.

I started another draft of the book this week. Well, not really a new draft, as it’s almost entirely different. I’m not even looking at previous drafts, so it’s like writing a new book. It just happens to have the same title, two main characters, situation, magical system, and big-picture plot. All the words will be different, unless there’s something in my subconscious that pulls up bits and pieces from before. I guess you could call it a remake or a reboot. I’ve been thinking of it as revisiting.

So far, the scenes I’ve written weren’t in the original version. I’ve gone in the opposite direction of most rewrites and added scenes before the beginning instead of cutting away scenes (usually the beginner’s mistake is to start the book before the story really starts). I needed to establish the conflict and the situation better, now that I know what it actually is. We need to see the characters apart and figure out what they need before I throw them together.

I don’t know if this will go anywhere or what I’ll do with it if it does. Right now, I’m just playing with it, figuring it out, and I’m learning a lot about what makes a story work by doing this analysis. At the very least, giving this story another try may finally make those characters shut up and leave me alone. One thing I find amusing is that in the new first chapter, one of the characters finds a body. I guess writing mysteries has really affected my writing style.

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