Nice little fixer-upper


That’s Australian for renovation, just as a service-station in is a servo, I am Dave-o and Oh is Oh-o. Really. Would I come the raw prawn on you?*

What happens in reno is quite different to what happens in Vegas (or even vagus, for the nervous). It doesn’t stay there for starters. Home reno is major entertainment and aspiration for millions of Australians, which is not surprising as: 1)Our homes are made of ticky-tacky 2)They’re ridiculously expensive, and constitute a far too large a part of our economy, expenses and most dangerously, savings. But that aside, there are major similarities between this and taking that book that you’ve had in your bottom drawer, or have profound dissatisfaction with and working it into something else. Note: I do not say ‘better’. That, like in many a house reno, is not a foregone conclusion.

The first step is always to actually have a house. I say this as the guy engaged in putting up a shed with the management, and having her planning the alterations to it already.  We hadn’t got the walls up before they were, so to speak, already coming down to make way for the expansion. Without actually joking at all: this is one of the hurdles that so many writers fall at. They’re already doing home improvements and major changes – often in totally different directions and giving up on one to focus on another LONG before they get to four walls and a roof.  The end result is a lot of wall panels – none of which attach to the others, none of which belong properly together and none of which will ever be finished.

My advice (and it is my advice that works for me, maybe not you): Get it done. Get your basic working structured story finished. THEN start fixing, adding and altering… if it needs it.

My second step would be to realize that this is not a ‘reno to give me the kitchen/story I always wanted.’ That’s fine and noble – but it won’t sell your book (or your house) unless you’re lucky. And luck is nice, but I’m the sort of guy who is unlucky when that is all I am relying on. The purpose of the reno is make the book/house attractive to someone else. And here’s a clue-by-four. The dream kitchen in a shambles of a house, or the great 21st century kitchen that seems tacked onto a 1970’s style house (even if both are immaculate) are no way to top dollar, if they sell at all. And this is something else that seems to bypass so many writers. You wrote the book 20 years ago. Couldn’t sell it, and wouldn’t act on the advice first readers or editors gave about say needing a love interest, or more action, or more of a certain villain… and now as time has allowed you to come to grips with that being good advice… (I’ve got a few of these) you try to write those bits in.

And they’re GOOD. They’re like the dream kitchen.

The dream kitchen attached to the 1970’s house.

If you ever watch any of those TV programs so popular in Oz –like ‘Escape to the Country’ or various house redecorating-to-sell shows… the same reaction comes again and again from potential buyers ‘did not flow’. It’s not just the spice that needs to do that. As often as not it’s a failure to blend often very good separate sections of a house together. This is doubly true of your book (or at least mine).  There might be sections that work, repairs or extensions… but that has to be made consistent through the whole book.

Finally… if it ain’t broke sometimes not fixing it is a really good idea.

*Look it up 🙂

20 thoughts on “Nice little fixer-upper

  1. So, my takeaway, I need to a) finish my Swain reread b) defer worrying about the design tradeoffs of my secondary goals, and get the central plot up and running c) write in earnest.

    Thanks, putting this on a sticky so that I will remember.

  2. Thank you. This was very useful. I have a LOT Of ‘trunk novels’ I need to be whipping into shape and this isolated one of the problems I was having. (The modern kitchen in 70s house.)

  3. In response to your comment on ticky tacky here’s the link to Little Boxes by Malvina Reynolds.

  4. So true! I finished a story that I started three? four? years ago, and had stalled on (finally grew enough in craft to figure out where I’d messed up about 1500 words before I stalled out)… only to find that while the ending was workable for the story, the entire story was riddled with problems. It’s not publishable as is, so it’s set aside in the drafts folder, and when I get better at editing, I’m going to take it out and take a whack at fixing all the 70’s wallpaper and 50’s wiring with early 80’s wiring grafted on, much less see if the never-resealed wood floor is salvageable, or needs to be covered in carpet…

  5. Flow . . . even a few months’ break can mess with my transitions as I re read and “This ought to happen first” and “Needs to be explained” and “what was MC#2 doing while all this was happening” starts happening, and I wind up with the writer’s version of Picasso instead of the van Vogh style I was hoping for.

  6. The “-o” endings aren’t the bad thing. It’s the “-ie” endings that are odd.
    Like “bikie”. It just sounds too friendly and cheery when you see “Bikie Shooting Kills 3”.

  7. Some of it may have to do with localization. Such as ‘why is the master bedroom usually in front of the house and the family room in the back’, which frankly, gives me the heebie-jeebies, but is standard apparently here in Australia. Also would apply to writing for the genre and target audience.

    1. “why is the master bedroom usually in front of the house and the family room in the back”

      So you can hear when company comes over without calling first, and get your pants on in time to answer the door?

        1. Yeah, the large windows are so you can see them driving up the street. Or for neighborhood performance art, I suppose.

          You can tell by the cries of “NOOOOO!!! PUT IT BACK ON!!!”

  8. I was digging through the vault the other day and unearthed “The Untimely Demise of Thog” from a dusty corner. An early effort, and not bad IMHO, though I say it myself.

    It occurred to me that if I gave it a wash, a coat of wax and added a couple of lippy robot spiders, it could be an early/opening chapter of something pretty fun.

    Lippy robot spiders make everything better, you ask me. ~:D

  9. Excellent point on NOT fixing it if it’s not broke… Sigh. That usually doesn’t end well, in either home repair OR writing.

    1. Which is why I’ve been busy once spring sprung, busy fixing a bunch of items I noticed too late in 2018 to deal with before it got too cold to use the necessary paints, sealants, or adhesives. Now if the rain would just stay away, and work cooperate…

  10. Depends on the story. There are stories where I didn’t bother to dig up the story that I knew had used an idea but took a new pass. Those tended to be “keep the bare bones and not all of that,” to be sure.

    You knock down the house when it would be more work to renovate than to rebuild.

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