by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

As you could tell from my last (MIA) post I am currently in the throes of a house remodel and thus ‘enjoying’ life without a kitchen or living area (having decamped into the basement), trying to keep everything on schedule, taking the opportunity to buy a new memory foam mattress and deciding whether tile or carpet would be better. I know that a lot of people struggle when it comes to deciding what they want doing to their house when they are thinking about having it remodeled. Some people might just struggle with figuring out where they want a knock out wall to add, whilst others only worry about the color scheme. When we bought our house we knew we would have to undertake some sizable renovations to bring the 1957 ranch house back to its former glory. Although, we are quickly blasting through our budget so I might have to find some cheap, discount furniture in the sales!

Oddly enough, our house remodel coincides with a significant ‘remodel’ I’m undertaking of a story a wrote a couple of years ago. This particular story had a great premise but, for some reason, turned into a way-too-convoluted novel (it took me about a year to realize the novel was actually three stories in one – a YA novel, an adult novel and one novel that was only good for the garbage!).

Once I realized this, I faced a dilemma, should I try to go beyond mere edits and totally ‘remodel’ it, or was the book really only fit to be burned. As it was, I knew my agent loved the main idea (so the foundations were solid) but felt I needed to streamline some of the multiple plot and mythological elements. When I started to pull apart the three different stories, I felt I could see my way clear to writing the YA novel trapped inside. The question was, would I be able to pull off this kind of major renovation?

Gutting most of a novel and starting again creates a number of challenges – not the least of which is ensuring that the new story structure holds together and doesn’t teeter on the edges of the old one. For me, the decisive moment came when I realized that changing the time period provided the ideal opportunity to refashion the story whilst keeping the critical elements in place. After doing further historical research I came to realize that the new time-frame provided a much better grounding for the story and (thankfully) it looked as if the remodelled story would be much stronger and clearer than the original.

Now I feel like, despite the chaos of the physical renovations occurring at my house (estimated to take about 10 weeks…), I’m ready to face this new challenge – especially as the story has been gnawing away at me (which is a good indication it wants to get written) and I have time now that my previous WIP is out on submission. Still – it’s a daunting task.

So, my fellowTKZers, have you ever managed to successfully remodel an old story. If you have, how did you approach the process? How did you gauge whether the story was salvageable? What about if the remodel was a failure – any lessons learned?(Be kind now – for I’m facing not just the cutting block but an HGTV worthy scrape and rebuild…)

20 thoughts on “Remodeling

  1. This post rang shockingly true for me. The novel I’m working on is a book I remodeled not once, but twice. Maybe it’s my third time–I can’t even remember. I fell into a similar trap as you, Clare, by writing two or three books into one jumbling mess. First time I rewrote my draft, I wasn’t feeling too bad, excited even. But the second time, after I realized that particular remodeling had failed, I felt strung out.

    This is the risk of remodeling: you get burnt out and sick of your own novel. You give up.

    Then again, this is the risk of writing in general.

    In the end, it was my faith in the world I created that kept me going. I chose to treat the previous drafts as practice, kind of like the terrible first few books you shelve deep deep into a trunk. Then I deluded myself into thinking that remodeling allows you to really *get* your characters. Given how you’ve written them, say, half a dozen times.

    Anyhoo, rewriting all came down to plot. I went through many, many false starts. At one point, my fantasy adventure story even drove off the cliff and turned into a political family drama until I forced myself to realize, “Yeah no, this is not the story I want to tell.” This also marks the point when I evolved from a pantser into an outliner, though now I’m trying to loosen up and teeter back to pantsing territory more.

    It’s been crazy difficult, with enough people squawking in your ear, “When is your novel going to come out?” but really, the only thing you can do is keep writing.

    • Silvia – I fear all of what you’ve experienced! I just hope my current remodel works now at least I’ve realized my initial mistake. Now of course I have to try not to fall into a different trap or make a round of different mistakes!

  2. Clare, I share your pain. I moved last summer while trying to finish a book. I still have boxes in the dining room that need to be unpacked.

    I have remodeled a story once (still working on my house). I took it chapter by chapter and stripped out everything that didn’t fit with the story I wanted to keep (from sentences to adverbs to characters). It left me with a bare bones shell that would work with the new outline I had worked on.

    What I learned from that experience was that I always need an outline. I can pantster the story as I write it, but I do need an outline for the plot.

    Best of luck with both worlds.

    • Thanks Anne and best of luck to you too! I’m listening to the demo guys removing sheet rock as I type…so interesting times indeed… I am, thankfully, an outliner so I have recast the entire outline and world building backstory to make the remodel go according to some sort of plan:)…hopefully…

  3. I have not yet successfully rewritten an old story, but I imagine it must be kind of like starting from scratch, although with characters and major plot elements already laid out in the previous version. Kind of like stripping the walls of a house to the studs and rebuilding from there! Good luck on both projects. I found staging and upgrading our house for sale traumatic enough –wouldn’t dare tackle a major remodel!

    • Kathryn – Sometimes I do think I’m a loony for attempting both a remodel and major rewrite but it does feel a little like starting from scratch – with a firmer plan and foundation in mind (I hope!)

  4. I’m curious, Clare. When you look back, do you see anything you could have done to avoid writing three books in one, or do you feel like you needed to go through the whole process?

    • That’s a great question Eric – I think my mistake was trying to pack in way too much in terms of mythology and world building which gave the novel a degree of complexity that overburdened the plot and the story. It did mean though that I could extricate very specific elements and mythology/world issues that were better suited to a different book. I know that my biggest weakness in terms of writing is always making things way more complicated than they should be. Have I learned from this?? Hmm…not sure…I fear I will always do way more research and get intrigued by way more themes and elements than are needed…but at least I know that!

  5. Good luck with the remodel of both your house and your story, Clare! If it were me, I’m afraid I’d find it hard to concentrate on writing with all the work going on upstairs. Kudos to you for your determination!

    It seems you’ve got the major weaknesses of your original story figured out, as well as your own tendencies to maybe spend too much time on researching and world-building, to the possible detriment of plot and characterization. I can’t wait to read the results!

    And by the way, I’m downsizing and decluttering in preparation for selling my house next spring or summer and moving across the country to an apartment or small condo. The task ahead of me seems overwhelming at times, so I’m trying to attack it little by little, on the weekends. But it’s cutting into my writing time and energy! (Weekdays are mostly spent editing.)

  6. Thank you for your post, Clare! It resonated with me as well.
    Here is a description of my adventure so far: I was frustrated when I found out that my novel wasn’t working. The third chapter had nothing more than endless descriptions. But then a light went on: I discovered that that 3rd chapter was a part of my outline. Not a bad piece of work, but simply the information I needed to understand my characters and relationship between each other.
    Then another realization, this strange and seemingly “bad” feeling helped me realize that there was something to change and I addressed some books for creative writing and found out: the point where I started the book was too early. The first chapter was good, but it is actually a prologue. And the voice and the tense had to be adjusted.
    So, all these dragging, bad feelings were meant to be there: that is to make my work better.
    Don’t judge yourself and enjoy your rollercoaster ride!

  7. Having just finished a two-month remodel, I know your pain and can’t believe you are even writing. lol. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I have remodeled a story…my first book. Other than the original crime, I think the only thing that remained was the location. Even the character’s names changed. Good luck on both remodels. Oh…that remodel of mine comes out in February. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Hoo-boy, have I been there! I’m awaiting editorial notes on a novel that I rewrote three times. Each version was good, but not good enough. Finally, I sat down to do a spinoff short story with my major secondary character and realized that the book was supposed to be *his* story. Doh! The good news is that I had all the world building and character development necessary to write this “new” book’s first draft in a month AND the remaining material will form the basis of the second book in the series. Just wish I’d realized all of this sooner.

  9. That just sounds like a lot to tackle M’Lady.But one nice thing about the physical remodel is that you are probably somewhat imprisoned in the basement and therefore shackled to the story. Focusing can, to some degree at least, be sharpened in that environment. Or distracted…could be that too.

    As far as rewriting my own story, I haven’t had one left behind yet but am sure will soon. One rewrite I did recently undertake was redoing someone else’s work, in this case a public domain Vonnegut story titled 2BR02B. I was intrigued by the story, originally in a 1960 Sci-Fi magazine, and since it was very dated in style decided to give it a modernizing whack. That turned out to be quite a bit harder than I thought, and a lot more fun. In the end though I was fairly pleased with it. The eBook and Audiobook are available via Amazon & Audible for $0.99 & $2.06 respectively.

    If you try it I’d love to hear what you think!

    Basil Sands – ICE HAMMER

  10. Good luck on both counts. My major WIP seemed to turn into a Frankenstein WIP. It was the first one out of the box. It has been my learn-by-doing project. Eventually, I decided that I needed to salvage it–no matter what. Now that moment is at hand, and I’m glad I didn’t dump it. But it was a bear. Meanwhile, I have plenty of other WIPs moving along. I’ve learned so much. But I will never go through the salvage process again.

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