Reviving an Old Manuscript, by Vicki Kiere
For most of us, becoming a writer takes practice. Writing is a craft, after all, that has to be honed, and that means multiple drafts and revisions to get it right. Personally, I wrote three books and a novella before I published my actual debut novel. And even though they’ve never seen the publishing light of day, I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Writing those “practice” books was where I learned how to write better dialogue, how to pick up the pacing, and how to (painfully) edit out those “little darlings” I had become so attached to. These books will always have a special place in my heart.
Every now and then, though, I start to hear the siren song of “What if?” in regards to these novels. What if I could polish them up enough to make them fit to actually publish? What if the rest of the world could love them as much as I do? What would it take to get them out of the darkness of my trunk and into the light of the reading public? These are completed novels we’re talking about, after all. How hard could it be?
Pretty darned hard, as it turns out. I’ve recently begun polishing up the novella, a paranormal love story about a haunted house, with the hopes of turning it into a longer, but still shortish, novel. Here are some of the things I’ve learned so far:
- Be as honest about your archived novel’s weaknesses as you possibly can. You’ve got to go into this knowing that you didn’t publish this for a reason, and that’s usually because it needs lots of work. It will be painful. You will wince at your bad dialogue, flat characters, and page long descriptions of setting. You have to ferret out the head-hopping and the telling instead of showing. It’s probably best to first proceed armed with chocolate, maybe even wine. But you’ve got to get a picture of the manuscript’s overall health, and it must be total and ruthless. Otherwise you have no real starting point for the work you need to do.
- Not all manuscripts are salvageable. That’s an unpleasant truth. It may have nothing to do with how well or badly they were written. Some ideas just simply aren’t marketable anymore, and that’s a situation that also calls for ruthless honestly. Take a good look at the books that are coming out now and ask yourself if your “trunk” novel stands a chance. I rejected two novels of mine as candidates for a revival simply because the market, wide open and welcoming when I was practice-writing, had become saturated with paranormal YA since then. I took a look at the books that were out there and asked myself what was new and different about my practice two-book series. The sad but honest answer was, “Not much.” I knew then it was time to look at another manuscript, even though I love these books and think the writing is pretty strong.
- If you do decide to go ahead and try to breathe new life into an old manuscript, be prepared for guerilla wordfare. I tend to write in a pretty straightforward manner, from start to finish with rare skips ahead if I get stuck. But this rewrite? Wow. That totally went out the window. I’ve found that I have a few chapters that can pretty much be left alone, and a whole lot of chapters in need of all kinds of work. It’s working out best for me to treat the original work as a kind of outline, when I’m dealing with an especially problematic section. It helps to strike through all the bad bits and rewrite the chapter fresh, including the good parts I can save from the original. I’ve also found myself working out of order a lot, focusing on the ending one day, and the middle the next. This is completely different than how I usually work, but I think it will help me become a more versatile writer when I am back to working on something wholly original. So hopefully, not only will I be able to rewrite my novella, but it will help me learn even more on my next project.
Vicki Keire grew up in a 19th Century haunted house in the Deep South full of books, abandoned coal chutes, and plenty of places to get into trouble with her siblings. She spent the last decade teaching writing and literature at a large, football-obsessed university while slipping paranormal fiction in between the pages of her textbooks.
Published works include the bestselling Angel’s Edge series, which includes Gifts of the Blood, Darkness in the Blood, and Blood Redemption, The Chronicles of Nowhere series, and the stand-alone novel Daughter of Glass. She is included in the Dark Tomorrows anthology with J.L. Bryan and Amanda Hocking, and the Primetime anthology with J.R. Rain and Anita Exley.
When not reading and writing about all things paranormal, she enjoys other people’s cooking and keeps vampire hours. She’d rather burn the laundry than fold it, and believes that when an author wins the Newberry, he or she gets a secret lifetime pass to Neverland. She is fond of lost causes and loud music. She currently resides in Central Florida on a lake-front farm full of many furry friends. She loves hearing from readers and can be reached on most social media sites or through her blog (link: http://www.vickikeire.blogspot.com/), of which she is awfully fond.