Unraveling the story
This one’s not a how-to; this one’s a request for help. Have you ever put down something you blocked hard on, only to pick it up months or years later, and go “Oh! That’s where it went wrong! …well, and there, too. And I could have done that better. And that’s not quite right… I should explore this bit of worldbuilding, and flesh that out…”
If so, how do you decide when to edit, when to rewrite, and when to rip the characters out and start anew?
See, Tiny Town Texas’s Library has a writing group, and two months ago, I was informed that I could no longer duck out of it, and had to show up with something to crit. As a pantser, I’ve heard a few too many horror stories about feedback completely messing with the work in progress… So I grabbed an old story I’d blocked on hard 14K words in, well over a year ago, and brought in the first chapter of that.
They had some really good feedback, from catching continuity errors (“What happened to his luggage?” “Oops! I’ll write that in!”) to asking questions because I hadn’t explained the character background and expectations clearly. (Done that before. Once upon a time, I asked someone to beta-read a chapter. I had forgotten to note that the viewpoint protagonist was trying very hard to avoid meeting a group’s eyes because they’re vampires, so the beta reader thought he was a cowardly, ineffectual pansy who didn’t want to look his opponents in the eye like a man. Details matter!)
One thing several people asked was, “Where’s his backup? Why didn’t backup show up?”
…well, in real life, backup (and the police) take 12 minutes to an hour to show, so if someone yelps for help, they’re still going to have to fight alone, and it’s going to be over long before anyone else shows up. But in movie-land, that’s not the trope. And I mentioned backup coming and going in passing, but it was an “in the aftermath” sort of reference, unimportant, unemphasized, and apparently easily missed.
But then I got to thinking. What if backup hadn’t come? Why would that be? …and suddenly I have the same major cast and crew, but the plot is completely different. And I’m rolling my eyes at my muse, going, “I’m already working on something! I don’t need to go back to that old thing!” But it’s not listening.
I know I’m not the first person to get ambushed like this. How do you deal with a stubborn, inventive muse stuck on the wrong story? And do I try to salvage the rest of the 10K words of wrong plot, or rewrite from scratch, or…?