Almost every writer runs into this sooner or later: you start with great hopes, the story is bowling along. And then either it stops dead and you’re not sure why. (And you can’t get past, even if you want to.) OR and this is arguably worse, you finish the book, but it feels so wrong you don’t even want it out where people will see it.
At which point, you have a choice: discard or change it.
But how do you change it? Do you, having realized you need a climatic scene go in and insert it? Change your male to female? Or vice versa? Or should you ditch the whole thing and rewrite it from scratch?Well, a lot of this is a judgement call. Just as I can’t, sight unseen, tell you that your book is great, I also can’t, without reading it and analyzing it, tell you “you should totally ditch this version, recast it with main character as a purple alien.” or “No, you’re fine, just put a new ending on, and you’re good bro.” That not how this works.
Even if I read your book, what I told you would be just my opinion. If I had a dime for every time an editor told me to take a story turn it upside down and paint it purple and I either ignored him and no one saw that problem or I did what he wanted and the book got criticized for the things he put in, I’d have a lot of dimes.
So, take everything I say with a serious grain of salt, because I’m not you. Ultimately all of this has to be your decision and your feeling. however, I can give you some pointers.
When to do a revision:
A revision is basically the same book, although the wording might change substantially, and you might add or remove scenes. This is detail work, often on a printed manuscript, with a red or blue pen.
1- you feel (and/or your first readers feel) that your book is basically sound, but you feel like there’s something missing.
2- what is missing can be improved with an extra scene, an extra character, going over with a fine tooth comb and making sure you cut out all your dead scenes, or you add more action or whatever.
3- In all you’ll be changing some wording, and maybe removing or adding a third of the wording.
When to do a Rewrite:
A Rewrite preserves most of the plot, probably the characters, etc. But:
1- you realize a few scenes don’t work
2- your character needs to change sex and you need to do all the attendant little changes to re-orient the plot (even if there’s no romantic involvement. The character will comport differently. No, trust me on this, okay?)
3 – you’re lifting the plot wholesale from planet X and putting it in NYC. Which means changing some of the scenes and adjusting the plot.
Note, a Rewrite usually requires you to work on the computer. The work is too extensive for pen and paper. Also in the end you might find you need a very careful edit, to make sure nothing is left of the old foreshadowing, and that ALL the new foreshadowing makes sense. massive work, but you’ll find you end up using probably half of your original wordage.
When to do a recast:
Sometimes when you finish a book, you’re hit with a clap of thunder and you go “OMG, I did this completely wrong.” More likely, this is when you’re looking back at your first tentative work, ten years later or so, particularly if when you started selling there was only indie, in which case you probably have two or three,and maybe as many as twenty novels in the drawer by then. And now you’re evaluating them for indie (Well, I’m evaluating them for indie) and you find that either:
1- You can’t finish it the way it is started. Maybe you could one day, but you wrote three chapters and an outline fifteen or twenty years ago, and you’re not the same person anymore.
2- awkwardness that would cause the plot to twist (or did cause the plot to twist) in bizarre, incomprehensible or even repulsive knots can be eliminated if you start the book in a completely different place, with completely different characters, or have the villain’s actions or motivation be completely different.
3- Your aliens are completely wrongly cast. You need to make sure their culture is consistent with biology.
4- Your novel was high fantasy, but you realize the main point is the war, so it really should be mil sf. (Was UF should be space opera or vice versa, or any other genre changing.)
You’re going to have to recast it. This means you take the manuscript you have, put it in the metaphorical drawer and don’t look at it. All you take in is your idea of what the story should be. And you write it now. With the abilities and understanding you have now. And you write it as best you can NOW.
Is it worth doing any of this?
Sometimes it obviously is. You know you’re just never going to be happy with the thing as is. And if you’re not happy, even if the readers love it, you’re always going to cringe a little.
Sometimes you have to sit down and do pros and cons of a change, and evaluate it very closely. And the evaluation would include “time it will take me to write this.”
If it’s the case of a trunk story and you’re doing a full recast, you should only do it if it’s a novel you can’t let go. You can’t ignore it. The characters, or the idea or even the setting still haunt you 20 years later. (Or thirty five. Ask me how I know.)
In the end, it is again your call. Does this story need to be sharpened till it is exactly what you want or — taking in account no story is ever perfect — can you let it go out like this, and not mind the flaws (which after all, is possible only you can see.)
I can’t tell you that. Only you can.
But now you know the different levels, and how much work it will all be.