By now y’all probably know that I am writing a YA fantasy book called Alen’s War. If you read my first post on the project, you might remember that I struggled a little with the characterization of the main villain. You may even have read the first-draft snippets on Facebook this week.
What you probably don’t know is that I wrote this story four times.
The book now affectionately known as Alen’s War used to be called The Manhattan Project. (So what? Son of Ren used to be called Beams.) It centered on the story of Alen, a reckless young squire, and his escapades with Tan the gruff dwarf and Ilkir the sullen elder brother. Their goal? Defeating a certain wizard named Qabar who had taken over Agran. There is also no shame in recycling.
Yet I gave up on the story before it was finished. While I had written an outline and even achieved a decent level of characterization, the story was a cliche and the plot was a series of rabbit trails. I tucked it away into a folder which I call “Unfinished Tales” and which my sister calls “the place where stories go to die.”
But last August I pulled out the old draft- now called Agran– and restarted the project. Deleted. Every. Word. This may not sound so impressive to you, but to a sixteen-year-old aspiring author, deleting 65 pages and eleven months of work is a bit of a downer. On the other hand, getting back in touch with the characters and bringing fresh ideas and skills to the game is quite a lot of fun. Oh, it would be so much fun, I said. I could draw inspiration from the wars between the Scots and Edward I, I said.
Well. The new draft, which felt much more like the current Alen’s War, lasted until October, at which point I utterly burned out. The story just wasn’t working for me, and I felt that I had lost all motivation to write the story. So back into Unfinished Tales it went.
Until NaNoWriMo, that is.
It was my first time doing NaNo. And probably my last, but that is a tale for another time. I had originally chosen another novel project, but unfortunately that story had absolutely no plot. Yet stubborn little me… I decided to reboot Agran and finish the darn thing in the twenty days I had left. And I did it, but at the expense of my poor exhausted brain.
As of December 1, I thought I was done with the rebooting process. I focused on publishing Son of Ren that month and only did minor edits for Agran. When Son of Ren was out and selling, though, and I came back to Alen and his friends, I realized that something was off. You know how the plot and the theme should work together? Well, they were really just fighting their own little civil war. My theme was unclear, even to myself, and combined with the scatterbrained plot, I knew I was in for what I call a “decimation of the fanbase.” Meaning, people would not like that book.
So I faced a very, very hard truth, harder than adamant: I had to rewrite the story. Again.
Not the plot, just the story. (If you don’t have any idea what I mean, read this explanation.) I put away the draft for as long as I could bear, which for me usually means two weeks, and thought hard about the plot. I came up with another message in the same vicinity as the last one and rewrote accordingly. But it still wasn’t sticking. So I repeated the process… and repeated again… and again.
Finally, only one week ago, did I get to the point where I could define the theme in one sentence. *thumps microphone* Last week, people. It took me nearly two and a half years to write one sentence!
And what did I get? I got Alen’s War– a story that forced me to think more than I ever have before about one single novel. I got some of my favorite characters I have ever written. I got a new level of skill at intertwining plot and theme. Most of all, I got to learn a very important lesson. Hear me now and hear me clearly, fellow writers:
There is no shame in starting over.
It may be painful. It will most certainly be harder than ignoring the issue. But you will not regret it.
Have you ever restarted a big- or little- project?