There is nothing like starting over in the New Year. But what if your plans to start over begin with something old?
It’s not unusual to want to go back to an abandoned manuscript when you’re feeling the urge to write. Sometimes starting from scratch is just too daunting. If you’re thinking of resurrecting a manuscript instead of initiating a new novel, keep a few of these tips in mind so that the process is as smooth as possible.
Where to Start
Once you decide to initiate a reboot on a story, there are a few steps to take before you start pounding away at the keyboard.
It may seem obvious, but don’t assume you remember your work. Time and experience changes the way we write (and read). Make sure you re-read your revived manuscript from start to finish to be sure it’s still the story you think it is.
- List What You Like
Once you’ve given it a thorough read, make a list of what you like about it (and what you don’t, if it’s helpful). Are you still obsessed with your main character? Did the existing plot points have you on the edge of your seat?
Know the parts of your story you want to keep for the rewrite, and consider what aspects of your story this updated version could do without.
- Edit or Start Anew
It’s important to decide now what you’re going to do with this existing work. Are you going to make some edits and pick up where you left off? Or are you going to start anew? It may be helpful to assign a percentage of what you think is worth keeping. If you are happy with more than 60% of your existing manuscript, then maybe there’s a way to bring this abandoned tale back to life. If you feel it needs a lot of work, you’d likely be better off just starting from scratch and modifying your old manuscript into an outline.
Fun Ways to Freshen Up
Now if you’ve found yourself in the oh-so-common position of liking the “bones” of your story, but feeling it’s flat, there are a lot of ways to amp up a story that has lost its pizzazz.
- Swap the Gender of the Main Character
If you’ve fallen out of love with a character, don’t worry too much—there is a fast way out of a dull persona. It seems so simple and yet devastatingly complicated, but by turning your hero into a heroine or your high school hottie into a heartthrob, you can quickly reignite a story.
Suddenly the familiar becomes unchartered, and you’re seeing your story through fresh eyes.
- Set the Story In a Different Time
This could be a slight shift or a major deviation from the story you intended. If your book-to-be is about a marriage falling apart, that story is highly dependent on when it takes place. A couple in the 50s considering a divorce is much different than a contemporary break up.
In some cases, time can just be a fun addition to a story. Take Ready Player One and Stranger Things for example: both have a compelling, action-filled plot with likeable characters. The fact that these books are set in the 80s just gives them a fun, nostalgic feel for today’s Gen X readers and viewers. It’s not a make or break element of the stories; just a fun nod to the past.
- Sharpen the Genre
If your story is lacking focus and feels off track, your story might be suffering from an undefined genre. If when describing your old manuscript you find yourself saying something like “it’s sort of paranormal-y, romance, YA, steampunk with a hint of sci-fi” you’ve identified your problem.
Though not every story has to fit into a single definition, committing to a genre (or two) can help you focus your attention and write a story that readers will enjoy.
Defining genre does a few things for your writing:
• It allows you to embrace genre expectations.
• It maps out the tropes you (and your readers) will want to include.
• It gives you comparable titles to read as a reference.
• It gives you parameters for the story arch.
Everyone wants their book to be “unique” but the truth is, readers have certain preconceived expectations when they pick up a book. Knowing what genre you’re writing to—no to mention who you are writing for—can help you craft (or recraft) a story that satisfies.
- Look at the Current Market
Writing and rewriting doesn’t have to be a purely artistic endeavor. It’s okay to take a look at what’s currently selling in the market and make some tweaks. If housewives in New York are so out and southern working women are so in, are you able to adapt your story to fit the current trends?
Identifying modern themes that your story lacks could be all it takes to bring it into the current year. If you’re missing the sexy, steamy feel of modern thriller novels, add a few scenes that turn up the heat. If your prose goes over the top with flowery descriptions when the current trends are about short and punchy dialogue, try adapting your style a bit. There’s nothing wrong with bringing your writing techniques up to date.
Write, Write, Write
The reality is that unless you want to go through this again five years from now, the only way to go from dusty old manuscript to finished draft is to write, write, write.
You aren’t going to create a perfect story. You aren’t going to nail it the second time around because you’ve given it time. What you need to do is finish your book. Expel it from your brain and then go back and edit when it’s done. You can’t really know what a story will be until you’ve written it. So give yourself the freedom to explore a new path or pick up right where you left off. The truth is, no matter how many times you “dust it off,” nothing will feel as good as typing “The End” for the first time.